ADMINISTRATION CALLS NSF A MODEL AGENCY BUT DENIGRATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR - White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels has characterized the National Science Foundation as a "true center of excellence" and said that the agency deserves continued support for successfully minimizing administrative costs and maximizing returns on the investment of taxpayer dollars. Daniels cited the fact that more than 95% of NSF funding is allocated to merit-based research. While Daniels has reportedly dropped his crusade against earmarks, this comment regarding merit-based research suggests that it is still of concern to him. Unfortunately, Daniels does not seem to hold the Department of the Interior in high esteem. The past summer, according to the Washington Post, he was heard to say that the Department of the Interior has been described as the worlds' largest lawn-care service. Interior Secretary Gale Norton has informed the Department's employees that the department plans to identify nearly 3,500 jobs that will be subject to competitive sourcing of the next two fiscal years. In this redux of Reagan downsizing/outsourcing strategy, the administration seems to be oblivious to the effect on the morale of current employees and is seemingly unconcerned about the ability of the Department to attract and retain the best employees in such a climate. At the same time, the Office of Personnel Management has been seeking ways to make the government more competitive in the job market. Critics of the plan, which will ultimately extend to all federal agencies, note that no one has ever tracked the cost of outsourced work. The Washington Post (28 November 2001) article stated that jobs that could be put up for competition include biologists, architects and engineers.
ADMINISTRATION TARGETS SMITHSONIAN RESEARCH CENTERS' FUNDING - The Office of Management and Budget, headed by Mitch Daniels, wants to take the federal funding from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), and the Astrophysics Lab and assign it to NSF. The stated reason for this move is to increase the competitiveness of SI research funding. It is critical to note that at least with regard to SERC, no research funding comes from the federal budget - it is all outside, competitive funding. By taking the federal budget allocation for these research institutions, OMB is actually taking their operating budgets. It isn't clear if OMB intends to give this money back to SERC and STRI in the form of competitive grants to be administered by NSF - in other words, a pool of funding limited to SERC but administered by NSF - or if it will be generally available for NSF grants in relevant fields. This seems to be the latest salvo in OMB's effort to increase competitiveness and to improve the quality of research. It is also consistent with this administration's view that the government should not be engaged in activities that could compete with private sector activities, and with the administration's plan to outsource a substantial portion of government activity to outside contractors (see story above). This plan came in the absence of any study of the quality of SI research. It is unclear why OMB developed this plan while the Smithsonian Science Commission has just gotten underway. It is likely that the Congress, having directed the establishment of a Science Commission, will reject this idea out-of-hand, at least until the Science Commission has had an opportunity to complete its work. Further, the mandate states that any federally-funded research programs at the Smithsonian should focus on those areas unique to the Smithsonian. NOTE: There is no mention of the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center (CRC) in Front Royal, which the Smithsonian Institutions targeted for closure last year. That plan was thwarted by Congressional directive, after the scientific, conservation, and zoo communities voiced strenuous objections. It was also the CRC issue that resulted in the Congressional mandate for a Science Commission.
USDA WILL MOVE FORWARD WITH DEVELOPMENT OF REGULATIONS EXTENDING ANIMAL WELFARE ACT TO RATS, MICE, AND BIRDS - In the latest chapter in the long-running battle by animal welfare activists to force the USDA to extend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to rats, mice, and birds, the USDA has started to develop regulations to cover these taxa in research, exhibition, and commercial trade. Since the inception of the AWA, the USDA has taken the position that the AWA does not apply to birds, rats, and mice. In fact, these taxa were expressly exempted. An organization known as the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation, which is affiliated with the American Antivivisection Society, filed a petition with the USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)/Animal Care program, asking the USDA to amend the definition of "animal" in the AWA to eliminate the express exclusion of birds, rats, and mice. These same petitioners also filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, trying to compel the USDA to change the AWA regulations to include birds, rats, and mice.
In October 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture settled this litigation. The settlement required the USDA to commence a formal rule-making action to develop standards of care for the rodents and birds used in research labs. However, the Agriculture Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2001 contained language that prohibited the USDA from using any appropriated funds to develop a proposed rule to re-define the term "animal" - meaning that at least for Fiscal Year 2001, the USDA can't take any action to implement the terms of the settlement.Biomedical organizations, such as the National Association for Biomedical Research, tried to persuade appropriators to extend this restriction in the FY02 appropriations bill. Although the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture included language to extend this restriction, the Senate did not do so, and in conference, the language was deleted from the final bill.
Therefore, the USDA will proceed to develop regulations. However, the agency is barred from finalizing any rules before 30 September 2002, which will give the appropriations committee another chance to consider the issue, and will also give the House and Senate agriculture committees time to take up the possible amendment of the AWA. Further, it typically takes at least one year to draft and publish proposed guidelines, from 60 days to several months for public comment, and several more months to finalize a regulation.
In reality, IACUCs have always exercised oversight of research involving rats, mice, and birds, in part because the Public Health Service (PHS) Extension Act applies to all research activities involving all vertebrates. The National Science Foundation and other government and private funding agencies adopted the PHS standards. Furthermore, under the PHS regulations, universities are required to give the National Institutes of Health (which administers those regulations) an "assurance" document that details the institutions' compliance with those regulations. Violation of the assurance can result in ineligibility for federal research funds.
The regulations are expected to include standards of care - such as housing, feeding, veterinary care, and "enrichment" standards. If your facility is AAALAC-accredited, it will no doubt pass muster under any USDA regulation.
PRESIDENT BUSH CREATES BIOETHICS ADVISORY COMMITTEE - By Executive Order 13237 dated 28 November 2001, the President has created the President's Council on Bioethics. The mission of the 18-member Council will be to advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology. In connection with its advisory role, the mission of the Council includes the following functions:
1. to undertake fundamental inquiry into the human and moral significance of developments in biomedical and behavioral science and technology;
2. to explore specific ethical and policy questions related to these developments;
3. to provide a forum for a national discussion of bioethical issues;
4. to facilitate a greater understanding of bioethical issues; and
5. to explore possibilities for useful international collaboration on bioethical issues.
The Council may study ethical issues connected with specific technological activities, such as embryo and stem cell research, assisted reproduction, cloning, uses of knowledge and techniques derived from human genetics or the neurosciences, and end of life issues. The Council may also study broader ethical and social issues not tied to a specific technology, such as questions regarding the protection of human subjects in research, the appropriate uses of biomedical technologies, the moral implications of biomedical technologies, and the consequences of limiting scientific research.
In addition, the Executive Order provides that the Council shall strive to develop a deep and comprehensive understanding of the issues that it considers. In pursuit of this goal, the Council shall be guided by the need to articulate fully the complex and often competing moral positions on any given issue, rather than by an overriding concern to find consensus. However, the Council shall not be responsible for the review and approval of specific projects or for devising and overseeing regulations for specific government agencies, although the Council may accept suggestions of issues for consideration from the heads of other Government agencies and other sources, as it deems appropriate. In establishing priorities for its activities, the Council shall consider the urgency and gravity of the particular issue; the need for policy guidance and public education on the particular issue; the connection of the bioethical issue to the goal of Federal advancement of science and technology; and the existence of another entity available to deliberate appropriately on the bioethical issue. The Council shall include members drawn from the fields of science and medicine, law and government, philosophy and theology, and other areas of the humanities and social sciences.
EPA SEEKS PUBLIC INPUT ON THIRD GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT - In 1992, the United States signed and ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The parties to the convention are required to submit Climate Action Reports, and the EPA is now preparing the third of those reports. The CAR provides an update on key activities conducted by the U.S. since the second CAR, an inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and sinks, an estimate of the effects of mitigation measures and policies on future emissions levels, and a description of U.S. involvement in international programs, including associated contributions and funding efforts. In addition, the text discusses U.S. national circumstances that affect U.S. vulnerability and responses to climate change. Finally, the CAR presents information on the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Global Climate Observing Systems (GCOS), and adaptation programs. The U.S. Government has prepared an initial draft of the third national communication for public review and comment. The EPA is soliciting comments on the draft chapters on:
1. Executive summary (not yet complete)
2. National circumstances
3. Greenhouse gas inventory
4. Policies and measures
5. Projections and effects of policies and measures (not yet complete)
6. Vulnerability assessment, climate change impacts, and adaptation measures
7. Financial resources and transfer of technology
8. Research and systematic observation
9. Education, training, and public awareness
these may be downloaded from the national communication web site listed at the following web site: http://www.epa.gov/globalwarming/nwinsite.html.
Written comments should be received on or before noon, December 17, 2001. Comments should be submitted to Mr. Reid P. Harvey via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via postal mail to Reid P. Harvey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Atmospheric Programs (Mail Stop 6204N), 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20460.
You may view the 1997 U.S. Climate Action Report on the Internet
AIBS TEAMS WITH MEMBER SOCIETIES ON BIOTERRORISM ROUNDTABLES, USDA ANNOUNCES HOMELAND SECURITY COUNCIL - In the first of a series of public events on bioterrorsm, AIBS convened a roundtable on the topic of agricultural biosecurity on 30 November 2001 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Panelists included Laurence V. Madden (Dept. of Plant Pathology, Ohio State University, past president of AIBS-member the American Phytopathological Society, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee for the report "Biological Threats to Agricultural Plants and Animals); Mark Wheelis (Section of Microbiology, University of California-Davis, and author of Agricultural Biowarfare and Bioterrorism); and Rocco Casagrande (Surface Logix, and author of Biological Terrorism Targeted at Agriculture: The Threat to US National Security). Attendees, numbering approximately 75, included local scientists and NGO staff, government officials, and members of the press. Commentary was provided by Curt J. Mann, Special Assistant, Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, Ann M. Veneman, who announced the creation of the USDA Homeland Security Council. Video tapes of the roundtable are available for $20 per two-tape set + S&H by contacting 202-628-1500 x 202; email@example.com.
Additional bioterrorism-related AIBS roundtables being developed for 2002 include
1. The role of the scientific community in guarding against bioterrorism and contributing to homeland security;
2. Threats to urban and natural ecosystems (co-sponsored with AIBS-members, the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers and the Ecological Society of America; and
3. The ecology of infectious diseases and the evolution of resistance and virulence.
SOCIETY OF ENVIRONMENTAL TOXICOLOGY AND CHEMISTRY MAKES IT 15 TO FUND AIBS PUBLIC POLICY OFFICE EXPANSION - SETAC has become the 15th AIBS member to contribute funds in excess of regular AIBS dues to help expand the staffing and operations of the AIBS Public Policy office. The following societies and organizations, with AIBS's own additional funding, are making this expansion possible:
American Fisheries Society
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
American Society of Mammalogists
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study
Estuarine Research Federation
Organization of Biological Field Stations
North American Lake Management Society
Society for Economic Botany
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Society for the Study of Evolution
Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Society of Systematic Biologists
Society of Wetland Scientists
Additional contributions from other member societies and organizations are sought to help ensure the robustness of the funding stream for this position and for other AIBS public policy activities from one year to the next, which, with sufficient additional funding, could include additional public policy staff and/or intern positions. Contributions are made on a rolling 12-month cycle with a three-year commitment. All contributions to this initiative are ear-marked for public policy activities, some of which have a strong educational component. (NOTE: AIBS's activities in support of evolution education and research are jointly handled by the AIBS Public Policy Office and the AIBS Education Office.)