HOUSE APPROPRIATORS APPROVE 15% INCREASE FOR NSF RESEARCH, INCLUDING THE BIO DIRECTORATE, BUT DENY FUNDING FOR NEON - On October 9, the House Appropriations committee approved the VA-HUD and Independent Agencies appropriations bill. Among the agencies funded by the bill is the National Science Foundation. Like the Senate, the House provided NSF's Research and Related Accounts with an increase of ~15%. Unlike the Senate, however, part of that increase went to the BIO directorate, which is slated to receive $584.67 million - that is $76 million above FY 02 and $59 million above the President's request (and the Senate mark). After the Senate marked up its version of the bill in July, the biological sciences community protested the lack of inclusion of the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO) in the Senate's efforts to double NSF's budget. On September 10th, AIBS delivered a letter signed by nearly 1800 biologists requesting a fair increase to biology to every member of Congress. Additionally, the AIBS policy office, other scientific societies and individual scientists have made personal visits to congressional staff to discuss the need for BIO to be included in any House doubling plan. The House and Senate must still reconcile the bills. AIBS will continue to report on developments in upcoming AIBS Policy Updates.
Overall, funding for NSF would increase by 12.8 percent under the House Appropriations Committee bill approved on October 9, 2002. The House bill would provide $5.42 billion for NSF in fiscal year (FY) 2003, an increase of $614 million above the FY 2002 plan, $395 million above the President's budget request for FY 2003, and $70 million above the amount approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee for FY 2003. Relative to FY 2002, NSF's Research and Related Activities account would increase by 15.3 percent to $4.15 billion.
Despite the change in fortune for the BIO Directorate, the House failed to provide funding for NSF's proposed National Ecological Observatory Network, a project proposed to be funded by the Major Research Facilities Construction and Equipment (MRE) account (not a part of BIO), even though the House bill provided nearly twice as much money for this account than the Senate. The House bill would increase funding for the MRE account by 14.9 percent to $160 million but the Senate bill would decrease funding by 43.1 percent to $79 million. In declining to fund NEON, the appropriators wrote, "This decision, made without prejudice to the NEON project, allows the Committee to use its limited MREFC resources to fully fund ongoing projects as well as begin funding for one new research effort, the EarthScope project." Several Washington insiders have expressed little surprise that Congress would not fund both new projects, given that NSF's management of MRE facilities has come into question several times this year (for more information see Science 297 (5579): 183). However, the committee's use of the language "without prejudice" provides hope for NEON's future. When an appropriations committee defers a project "without prejudice" it indicates that they are not opposed to the project, just not prepared to fund it at that particular time. This language is often useful when the administration is deciding whether or not to request a project the following year. While the President's budget request for FY2004 will not be made public until February 2003, it appears likely that NSF will request NEON again next year.
PRESIDENT'S COUNCIL OF ADVISORS ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY HAS YET TO ISSUE RECOMMENDATIONS ON FEDERAL R&D BUDGET - In a brief discussion at its September 30 meeting, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) stated that it had not yet issued a letter and report to President Bush recommending budget and policy changes for the federal science and technology research and development enterprise. The letter and report, which had been posted in draft form on the PCAST website, were discussed in an August 29 PCAST conference call that was open to the public. (Those documents have now been removed from the PCAST website). One recommendation - to focus funding increases on the physical sciences - drew the attention and consternation of numerous scientific societies, including the American Institute of Biological Sciences. A letter to the subcommittee from AIBS detailed the importance of the biological sciences and the very low funding levels and suggested that the subcommittee "address the very serious omission of entire field of research that is not only integral to the health of our environment and to human health but that has also been suffering from flat or decreasing funding for the past decade." The full text of the AIBS letter to PCAST can be found in the AIBS News section of the October issue of BioScience. Apparently, PCAST received numerous other comments expressing concern about this particular recommendation. The delay in issuance of the letter and report is due in part to the fact that PCAST is considering the comments that were submitted.
Whether PCAST's recommendations can still have a significant impact on the Fiscal Year 2004 R&D budget at this late date remains to be seen. During the August conference call, Presidential Science Advisor and PCAST co-chair John Marburger said that PCAST wanted to get the letter to the President within just a few days to impact OMB's development of the FY 2004 budget request. But by mid-September, executive branch agencies such as the National Science Foundation have already submitted their budget requests to the White House Office of Management and Budget. These requests reflect the Administration's priorities. As the PCAST report has not yet been transmitted to the President, it is unlikely that the Administration's priorities take into account the PCAST recommendations. In fact, the Office of Management and Budget is already reviewing the agency requests, in preparation for what is known as the "pass-back" in late November, when OMB will review those requests and pass back the requests with cuts and other changes. Therefore, the potential for the PCAST report to have any impact on the FY 2004 budget diminishes every day. Staff for PCAST have told AIBS that a revised letter and four reports are currently being approved for delivery to the White House - those documents will not be available until after they have been delivered.
Meanwhile, the RAND report commissioned by the subcommittee for the purpose of developing recommendations to the President is now available on the RAND website at http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1639.0. The report - a comprehensive assessment of total federal funding and funding by agency and disciplines - makes no recommendations. It is telling that the top five R&D funding agencies over the past decade - DOD, HHS, NASA, DOE, and NSF - together account for more than 90% of the total federal R&D budget. That means that the Department of the Interior (U.S. Geological Survey), the Department of Agriculture (Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension - which includes the National Research Initiative; the Forest Service), and NOAA comprise less than 10% of the total federal R&D budget.
When AIBS learned that RAND was preparing this report, we wrote to RAND and its AAAS co-authors and to subcommittee chair Wayne Clough to urge that they recognize the distinction between biomedical research and the other biological sciences in making their analyses. In fact, the report makes this distinction, recognizing the medical sciences as a separate category of life sciences, and treating biology, environmental biology and agricultural sciences as separate categories. While the report shows funding for the biological and agricultural sciences increased significantly from 1992 - 2000, it also reports research funding decreases in the Department of the Interior (13%) and Department of Agriculture (6%) between 1993 and 1997. In 1998, when federal funding for research began to increase after four years of level-funding (26% overall over 1993 levels), most of that increase reflects the doubling of the NIH budget. The RAND report cites a 2001 report by the National Academies' Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Pollicy (STEP) as saying that funding for biology (exclusive of the biomedical sciences) had increased by 21% between 1993 and 1999. However, the "taxonomy" used by STEP results in the inclusion of a great deal of NIH funding which masks very real decreases in funding for biological research in programs such as Sea Grant, the U.S. Geological Survey, various programs in the Department of Agriculture, and at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.
SENATE LEGISLATION ON DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WOULD CREATE DIRECTORATE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY - The new Department of Homeland Security would contain a Directorate of Science and Technology under an amendment offered by Senators Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Zell Miller (D-GA). Like the pending Lieberman bill, the amendment would establish an Under Secretary for Science and Technology. The amendment specifies that biological, biomedical and infectious disease research and development shall be carried out through the Department of Health and Human Services under the direction of the Secretary of Homeland Security. It also establishes a Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency (HSARPA) that will administer an acceleration fund for research, development, testing, evaluation, and deployment of critical homeland security technologies. The amendment calls for $500 million in the first year for the acceleration fund (this is more than double the $200 million called for in Senator Lieberman's version of the bill). The amendment also establishes a Homeland Security Institute as a separate federally funded research and development center.
NSF RAISES OBJECTION TO SENATE VERSION OF NSF DOUBLING ACT - Despite enthusiasm in both the House and Senate (see above), the Bush administration is opposing the plan to double NSF's budget over five years as laid out in S.2817, the Senate version of the NSF Doubling Act. As enunciated by White House Science Advisor John Marburger, the administration would prefer to increase funding for areas of research that support national priorities. The Bush administration took a stand against the move to double NSF's budget in a letter from NSF Director Rita Colwell to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space. Colwell wrote, "While the Foundation appreciates the Committee's firm commitment to support fundamental research, and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, and the confidence that the Committee has demonstrated in NSF, we oppose S. 2817 in its current form". Colwell went on to outline the reasons for their opposition to the bill, including that the amounts authorized in S.2817 do not conform to the administration's FY2003 request for NSF.
Colwell wrote that "The amounts authorized in S. 2817 do not conform to the Administration's FY 2003 Budget request for NSF. NSF supports the Administration's budget request and therefore the bill should be amended to reflect the amounts contained in the authorizing legislation the Foundation transmitted to the Congress on May 14, 2002. Moreover, Dr. John Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the President's Science Advisor, has stated that any plans for increased expenditures must be supported by a specific rationale for each increase, rather than an arbitrary formula."
The issue of greatest concern to NSF is a provision that would increase the independence of the National Science Board by giving the NSB its own staff. Said Colwell, "Without the benefit of Congressional hearings, we would be opposed to authorization language that would fundamentally change this relationship, as it has served the Foundation and the Board well for over 50 years."
Colwell also noted other concerns with the bill, including a section that would increase the current eligibility rate for EPSCoR from 0.7% to 1%. According to Colwell, this section would increase the number of participating states, which in turn "could have the effect of diluting available funds to the states most in need, thus jeopardizing the program's purpose - to help the neediest states develop their research base and improve science and engineering research and education programs at their colleges and universities." (For more information on EPSCoR, see http://www.ehr.nsf.gov/epscor/start.cfm.)
Another point of concern for Colwell was the addition of the "Tech Talent" section of the bill, which would seek to increase the number of women, minorities and students with disabilities seeking degrees in science, math, engineering or technology. Colwell stated that the Department of Justice advised the Foundation that court decisions have required specific, "exceedingly persuasive" justifications for any program that establishes a preference for enrolling women and minorities.
The Commerce committee passed the NSF doubling bill (S. 2817) two days after receipt of Colwell's letter. The full text of the letter can be viewed at: http://www.aau.edu/research/NSFLtr9.17.02.html
AIBS SEEKING BIOLOGISTS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING CONGRESSIONAL VISITS DAY, April 2 - 3, 2003 - Next spring, AIBS will join with more than 20 other scientific societies to participate in the Science, Engineering and Technology Working Group's Congressional Visits Day. The two day event is currently scheduled for April 2-3. The event offers an excellent opportunity for biologists who would like to learn about science policy and visit with their congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. This is an excellent opportunity for biologists who are interested in policy, but either haven't had the reason or courage to set up a meeting on their own. The first Hill visit can be very intimidating, so going in as a group provides an excellent opportunity to "learn the ropes". It's also a great opportunity to hear from science policy professionals from the White House, Congress and scientific societies. Traditionally, there are no fees to attend this event other than the cost of getting to Washington and staying overnight (1 night). AIBS covers the remainder of the associated costs.
The draft schedule is as follows. The program will begin at approximately 3:00pm on the first day (April 2). The program will consist of a presentation by the Administration on the R&D funding request (perhaps by the White House Science Advisor), followed by a staffer from the House and one from the Senate to discuss the status of Congressional R&D. Then Kei Koizumi from AAAS will give an overview of the federal R&D budget outlook for FY04, and there will be a how-to presentation on how to conduct Hill Meetings. This will be followed by a Congressional reception at around 6pm. The Hill visits will begin on the second day (which AIBS will schedule beforehand based on the availability of your representatives). In addition to the SETWG events, which will be attended by scientists from all disciplines, AIBS will provide additional training/briefings at some point in the program - either the first afternoon or at a group breakfast on the second day.
If you are interested in attending the event, or would like to receive updates as the event draws near, please contact AIBS Director of Public Policy, Adrienne Froelich (firstname.lastname@example.org).
-Link your website to AIBS at http://www.aibs.org/link/index.html