WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY POLICY TO HAVE ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR TECHNOLOGY - President Bush announced 27 October 2001 that he intends to nominate Richard M. Russell to be Associate Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Russell has served as Chief of Staff in the Office of Science and Technology Policy since January. From 1995 to 2001, he served with the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, first as professional staff for the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, then Staff Director for the Subcommittee on technology and finally as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Science Committee. Russell was a professional staff member for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries Subcommittee on Oceanography, Gulf of Mexico and Outer Continental Shelf from 1993 to 1994. Russell has a bachelor's degree in biology from Yale University. Russell may be part of a slimmed-down senior staff split between science and technology. Sources say that White House planners may eliminate two existing senior posts, overseeing the environment and national security-international affairs.
ANTITERRORISM LEGISLATION MAKES PROVISION FOR POSSESSION OF PATHOGENS FOR RESEARCH PURPOSES - The antiterrorism bill (H.R. 3162) that passed the House on 24 October and the Senate on 26 October includes provisions concerning possession of biological agents and toxins. These provisions include the explicit exemption for legitimate research purposes that was sought by Association of American Universities and the American Society for Microbiology. The bill would authorize prosecution of any person who knowingly possesses such substances "of a type or in a quantity that, under the circumstances, is not reasonably justified by a prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purpose." Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services is developing additional proposals of its own dealing with possession of biological agents and toxins. These proposals will be submitted to Congress as proposed legislation. Another measure on this issue may also be considered by Congress - House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) may still try to move his panel's earlier bill, H.R. 3016, as separate legislation. That bill would authorize prosecution of anyone who "possesses, uses, or exercises control over a [biological agent or toxin] in a manner constituting reckless disregard for the public health and safety." It would also add possession of these substances to the already-existing requirements under federal law that anyone who transfers or receives these substances must register with the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, the bill would prohibit access to biological agents or toxins by any non-U.S. citizen who is not a permanent resident (including individuals in the U.S. on student visas). However, the bill would allow the Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Justice Department, to grant waivers for specific classes of visas and specific individuals with "expertise valuable to the United States."
Congress is also considering regulating certain kinds of equipment used to produce weapons-grade biological agents. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has asked the scientific community for their views on legislation that would require the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Defense, other federal officials, and the scientific community, to compile a list of equipment that could be used to minimize the size of a biological agent or distribute the agent broadly over a large population. Feinstein is also promoting legislation that would require certification of labs that work with certain pathogens, background checks for workers in those labs. It would also prohibit possession of biological agents by anyone outside of certified labs.
AIBS INITIATIVES RELATED TO BIOTERRORISM - In response to the ongoing bioterrorist attacks in the U.S. and to the challenges that the post-9/11/01 war climate presents to the scientific community, AIBS has new initiatives now underway and seeks to collaborate on additional projects with its member societies and organizations. The initiatives include:
* The Scientific Peer Review division of AIBS (www.aibs.org/spars/index.html) continues to work on a number of long-running service contracts with various government agencies to review research grant proposals in biological defense.
* AIBS is putting on one or more free roundtables at the National Press Club over the next few months. The first has been scheduled for Nov. 30th, 12 noon - 3 p.m., and will be on the topic of agroterrorism. Contact rogr...@aibs.org for program information; contact firstname.lastname@example.org to register to attend. Information about the panelists will be available soon. Other topics being considered for additional roundtables include: (1) evolution of resistance and virulence in infectious organisms, (2) vulnerability of urban and natural ecosystems, and (3) the role and responsibility of the research community with regard to safeguards on possession and transmission of dangerous pathogens.
* AIBS will publish appropriate and related articles in BioScience.
* The AIBS website now has a new section that provides resources and information about bioterrorism, at www.aibs.org/bioterrorism/index.html.
* The 2002 AIBS Annual meeting (22- 24 March 2002, Washington DC, theme is "Evolution: Understanding Life on Earth") has added a plenary speaker, Stephen R. Palumbi, of Harvard University. His talk is titled, "How Humans Control the Evolution of Resistance and Virulence of Infectious Organisms." He will also lead a discussion group at the meeting with the title of "Evolution, Infection, and Biology as a Weapon." He is the author of a 2001 Science paper: 2001. Palumbi, S. R. Humans as the world's greatest evolutionary force. Science 293: 1786-1790, as well as the book, "The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change." The AIBS meeting program and registration are online at www.aibs.org/meeting2002/index.ldml
* The 2003 AIBS Annual meeting (March 2003, Washington DC, theme is "Bioethics for a Changing World"), will include in its program the relevant topics at that time.
LEGISLATION AIMS TO BOOST HOME-GROWN SCIENCE - A bipartisan group of five Senators--Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Christopher Bond (R-MO), Bill Frist (R-TN), and Pete Domenici (R-NM)--on October 14 introduced the "Tech Talent bill," a measure aimed at increasing the number of scientists, engineers, and technology workers in the U.S. A companion measure was introduced in the House Tuesday by Science Committee chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Reps. John Larson (D-CT), Melissa Hart (R-PA), Michael Honda (D-CA), and Mark Udall (D-CO). The Senate bill is numbered S. 1549. The House bill is numbered H.R. 3130. The legislation would establish, on a pilot basis, a National Science Foundation competitive grant program that would reward universities, colleges and community colleges pledging to increase the number of U.S. citizens or permanent residents obtaining degrees in science, math, engineering, and technology fields. The pilot program, which would award three-year grants, would be authorized at $25 million in FY2002 with funding expected to increase in the future. The sponsors envision an ultimate funding range of $200 million a year for the program.
INTERNATIONAL PHYTOSANITARY STANDARDS UNDER REVIEW - The USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will hold a public meeting on a draft international standard for the environmental impact of quarantine pests, including quarantine pests that are invasive. The draft to be discussed can be reviewed at is available on the Internet at http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpp/pq/ and
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/ppq/pim/standards/#01. The meeting will be held at the Yates Auditorium at the Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, DC. The meeting will be held on November 15, 2001, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Please use the entrance at C Street. Preregistration is not required. However, upon arrival, all participants will be asked to sign in. Also, members of the public will be required to present valid photo identification, and Federal employees will be required to present valid government identification. APHIS will also accept written comments before or after the meeting. Written comments may be addressed to Dr. Ron A. Sequeira, Biological Scientist, CPHST, PPQ, APHIS, 1017 Main Campus Drive, Suite 2500, Raleigh, NC 27606-5202; (919) 513-2662.
The draft standard would supplement the existing ``International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures Number 11 (Pest Risk Analysis for Quarantine Pests),'' which is available on the Internet at http://www.fao.org/ag/agp/agpp/pq. It was developed under the aegis of the International Plant Protection Convention - a multilateral convention adopted in 1952 for the purpose of securing international cooperation in the control and prevention of the spread and introduction of pests of plants and plant products and to promote appropriate measures for their control.
In April 2001, the IPPC's Interim Commission on Phytosanitary Measures agreed to establish a technical expert working group to develop an IPPC standard for considering the environmental impact of quarantine pests, including quarantine pests that are invasive. The technical expert working group charged with developing the draft standard met in August 2001.
The first draft of the standard includes consideration of the following five elements relating to potential environmental risks of plant pests, which were identified in the June 2000 working group meeting:
1. Reduction or elimination of endangered (or threatened) native plant species;
2. Reduction or elimination of a keystone plant species (a species that plays a major role in the maintenance of an ecosystem);
3. Reduction or elimination of a plant species that is a major component of a native ecosystem;
4. Ecosystem destabilization caused by a change to plant biological diversity;
5. Control, eradication, or management programs that would be needed if a quarantine pest were introduced, and impacts of such programs (e.g., pesticides or release of nonindigenous predators and parasites) on biological diversity.
NSF INITIATES MASSIVE EFFORT TO REBUILD TEACHING LEADERSHIP IN SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS - NSF has launched a $100 million initiative to regenerate leadership in teaching and research in mathematics, science and technology by establishing Centers for Learning and Teaching throughout the country. The centers will encourage the development of new faculty and new materials to boost learning in kindergarten through 12th grade as well as prepare graduate students in areas of critical national need to eventually assume leadership roles. The new Centers for Learning and Teaching will help encourage undergraduates to go into research and teaching in sciences and mathematics and create a new cadre of faculty with fresh ideas and talents. In order to address the needs, NSF is funding five new centers for $10 million each over a five-year period. NSF funded two prototype centers in the past fiscal year and intends to fund three more, bringing the total funding to $100 million. NSF officials pointed to the lack of math and science teachers who have majored or minored in those disciplines in college, as well as the pending retirements of large numbers of university faculty who train teachers. The programs will emphasize a diverse approach to teaching in recognition of the need to reach diverse student bodies, students in urban schools, or other challenges of teaching.
NATIONAL SCIENCE BOARD RELEASES REPORT ON FEDERAL RESEARCH RESOURCES: A PROCESS FOR SETTING PRIORITIES - An NSB report entitled Federal Research Resources: A Process for Setting Priorities has been released. Reviewed at a May symposium at the National Science Foundation, the report is the latest of several recent efforts by the National Research Council and the National Science Board to develop a widely accepted way for the federal government to make priority decisions about allocating resources in and across scientific disciplines. The release of the report concludes a two-year effort by the Ad Hoc Committee on Strategic Science and Engineering Policy Issues appointed by NSB. This effort culminated in the NSB draft report, issued in March for comments and discussed at a May symposium at NSF.
A key recommendation is that the White House, federal departments and agencies, and the Congress cooperate in developing and supporting a more productive process for allocating and coordinating federal research funding. They are urged to give priority to investments in areas that advance important national goals, that are ready to benefit from greater investment, that address long-term needs and opportunities for federal missions and responsibilities, and that ensure world-class fundamental science and engineering capabilities across the frontiers of knowledge. The priority-setting process would start with an evaluation of the current federal portfolio for research in light of national goals, and it would draw on systematic, independent expert advice, studies of the costs and benefits of research investments, and analyses of available data. The report also calls for a strategy for addressing data needs to ensure commitment by departments, agencies, and programs to provide timely, accessible data for the evaluation of federal investments in research. To ensure international competitiveness, the allocation of US research resources and performance should be benchmarked against those of other countries.
For more detail about the report, which can be found at http://www.nsf.gov/cgi-bin/getpub?nsb01156, or the May symposium, see the Washington Watch column in the May 2001 issue of BioScience, available online at http://www.aibs.org. Follow the link to AIBS Today.