INTERIOR APPROPRIATIONS GIVE USGS, SMITHSONIAN SLIGHT INCREASES - House and Senate appropriators on October 17 completed their work on appropriations for the Department of Interior and Related Agencies (including the U.S. Forest Service and the Smithsonian Institutions). As expected, Congress rejected the very substantial (nearly 11%) cuts proposed by the Bush administration and actually increased the agency's budget by $31 million, to a total of $914 million - an increase of about 3.5% - more than originally proposed by either the House or the Senate. The Biological Resources Division received a 5.8 million dollar increase (about 3.6%). The USDA Forest Service will receive $241 million for forest and rangeland research - a 5.3% increase. The Smithsonian will receive a 9.5% increase, although more than half this amount will go to construction costs. As anticipated, the conference report language prohibits the Smithsonian from closing or changing the scientific research programs, including the closure of facilities, relocation of staff, or redirection of functions and programs without approval by the Board of Regents of recommendations received from the Smithsonian's newly-created Science Commission. For more information on the Science Commission, see the Washington Watch column in the November issue of BioScience. Washington Watch columns are also available on the AIBS website (look under AIBS Today and under BioScience online).
AAU, AAAS WORKSHOP ON EARMARKING ATTEMPTS TO DEFINE EARMARKING AND IDENTIFY POSSIBLE REFORM MEASURES - An October 3 workshop organized by the American Association of Universities, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academies of Science, and the National Association of State University and Land Grand Colleges took an in-depth look at, "Earmarking of Science: Definitions, Interpretations and Implications." The workshop was timely - a few weeks prior to the workshop, the White House issued a request for support from academic and science-policy groups in opposing the earmarking of federal funds for university research projects. Federal earmarks in science have increased dramatically in the past ten years. Since 1990, congressional earmarks to academic institutions have increased from around $500 million to an estimated $1.7 billion for fiscal year 2001.
Although definitions of earmarks vary, and this figure represents only 3.9% of the federal research funding in fiscal year 2001, there are concerns that these earmarks divert money from administration priorities - which comprise the research priorities identified by the research funding and government research agencies. However, there is little evidence that eliminating research earmark funds otherwise would be put into peer-reviewed science projects. In fact, former Senator Bennett Johnston (D-LA) argued that a fight against earmarks would be a fight against science. As a former Congressional appropriator, Johnston argued those funds would just go to some other pork-barrel project in a member's district. Additionally, by denying congressional members the opportunity to pursue research dollars for their district, the community would lose strong allies for federal R&D funding.
Johnston said plainly that an effort to ban earmarks in science would fail, and history seems to support this contention. The late George Brown (D-CA) tried valiantly in the early 1990s to eliminate earmarks in one appropriations bill. His amendment to eradicate the earmarks was accepted, but the eliminated in the conference report with a rule to protect against an amendment to remove the offending provisions.
Short of a sweeping reform that would stop earmarking in science, there are some reform measures that would address the negative effects of earmarking. Other arguments against earmarking funds for research are that it undermines the peer review process, it is wasteful and ineffective, and it is biased towards groups who are politically active. Raymond Bye, Vice President for Research at Florida State University, who worked to fend off earmarks while at NSF, suggested guidelines already in effect at Florida State, where the targeted project must: avoid federal agencies which have an established peer review system (such as NSF); avoid basic research; build on existing strengths and priorities within the University; fall into a new funding area that agencies are hesitant to fund; and most importantly must have a short maturation period. Bye also said that the project must have a concept paper or proposal that has already been reviewed and shared with Congressional staffers.
SENATE CONSIDERS NOMINATIONS FOR SCIENCE-TECHNOLOGY POSTS IN BUSH ADMINISTRATION - On Oct. 17th, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation voted unanimously to approve the nomination of John H. Marburger III to head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). As the director of OSTP, Marburger will co-chair the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and play a key role in advising President Bush on science and technology issues. The director of OSTP also oversees the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), which coordinates science across the various agencies of the federal government. Marburger believes the federal government plays a key role in the advancement of science. In the written testimony for his confirmation hearing, Marburger stated that the economic rate of return on federal R&D spending averages about twice that of private sector R&D spending. He also noted the importance of a balanced research portfolio to "maximize our returns, both financial and technical."
In the past, the OSTP has had mixed success in influencing policy decisions and many believe Marburger's success will depend on the amount of access he has to President Bush. During Marburger's confirmation hearing on Oct. 9th, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chair of the Subcommittee on Science, Space and Technology, questioned whether Marburger would have sufficient access to the President. Marburger said he has been assured he will have "appropriate access" and has already been consulted by President Bush on science policy issues such as the federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Wyden questioned Marburger how the Congress can filter good science from "junk science" to ensure that Congress has only the best information to inform its policy decisions. Marburger responded that the peer-review process is a fairly good guide, however there needs to be sufficient flexibility in policies governing the use of science to account for the "occasional wild card" good idea coming from "left field".
Most recently Marburger served as the Director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory. He is on leave of absence from the State University of New York at Stony Brook where he served as President from 1980-1994 and as Professor from 1994-1997
Updates on other key nominations for the Bush Administration:
* Oct. 16, the nomination of Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. (retired), to be the next Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere was sent to the Senate for consideration. This position is also frequently referred to as the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing for Lautenbacher.
* Oct. 17, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to consider the following nominations: Kimberly Nelson to be Assistant Administrator of the Office of Environmental Information for EPA and Steven Williams to be Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
NATIONAL ACADEMY TO REVIEW SCIENTIFIC DECISIONS, NEEDS OF AQUATIC ENDANGERED SPECIES IN KLAMATH BASIN PROJECT - The Department of the Interior announced on October 2 that the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) will review scientific and technical information regarding aquatic endangered species conservation in the Klamath Basin. The Klamath Project, operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, is located in the Klamath River Basin of southern Oregon and northern California. Over the past year, water shortages have resulted in clashes among farmers, conservationists, and the Klamath tribes, all competing for water for agriculture, a national wildlife refuge in the basin, and two endangered fish species. All parties have assailed the quality of the science underlying resource use decisions made by the Department of the Interior. Announcing the decision to engage NAS, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton said, "I believe we should base our decisions on the best available science. We hope that by seeking this independent review we can assure the many constituencies affected by the Klamath Basin Project that our decisions meet that standard."
The NAS review will examine the underlying scientific information used by the Interior Department's Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service to evaluate the effects of operations of the Klamath Project on aquatic species listed under the Endangered Species Act, particularly coho salmon and Lost River and short-nosed suckers. The NAS will consider hydrologic and other environmental parameters (including water quality and habitat availability) necessary for the listed species at critical times during their life cycles. The review will also evaluate probable consequences to these species when environmental parameters fall below these conditions. The NAS review will examine the scientific underpinnings of aquatic conditions necessary to recover and sustain these listed species. The NAS will evaluate existing scientific information and review the way it was applied in developing the February 2001 biological assessments of the Bureau of Reclamation and April 2001 biological opinions of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The NAS will provide an interim report by January 31, 2002, and a final report by March 30, 2003.
PRESIDENT BUSH CREATES ADVISORY COMMISSION ON EDUCATION EXCELLENCE FOR HISPANIC AMERICANS - By Executive Order, President Bush has created an Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans. The commission's members will be selected from educational, business, professional, and community organizations who are committed to improving educational attainment within the Hispanic community. The commission shall provide advice to the Secretary of Education and will issue reports to the President concerning: (a) the progress of Hispanic Americans in closing the academic achievement gap and attaining the goals established by the President's ``No Child Left Behind'' educational blueprint; (b) the development, monitoring, and coordination of Federal efforts to promote high-quality education for Hispanic Americans; (c) ways to increase parental, State and local, private sector, and community involvement in improving education; and (d) ways to maximize the effectiveness of Federal education initiatives within the Hispanic community. In addition, the Executive Order creates, within the Department of Education, an office called the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans, which will provide staff and other resources to the commission.
Ultimately, the commission is expected to produce a multi-year plan, based on the data collected concerning identification of barriers to and successful models for closing the educational achievement gap for Hispanic Americans, that provides for a coordinated effort among parents, community leaders, business leaders, educators, and public officials at the local, State, and Federal levels to close the educational achievement gap for Hispanic Americans and ensure attainment of the goals established by the President's ``No Child Left Behind'' educational blueprint. The commission is also tasked with developing a monitoring system that measures and holds executive branch departments and agencies accountable for the coordination of Federal efforts among the designated executive departments and agencies to ensure the participation of Hispanic Americans in Federal education programs and promote high-quality education for Hispanic Americans; and to ascertain that programs designed to improve educational attainment by Hispanic Americans are successful.