House and Senate poised to pass NSF Doubling Bill, but opposition from Administration stalls passage - The House and Senate have made progress in rectifying differences between their versions of a doubling bill for the National Science Foundation, but efforts to pass the bill have stalled. The AIBS policy office has learned that the Senate "hotlined" an amended version of the House bill last week, but that a "hold" had been placed on the bill by Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ). ("Hotlining" is a procedure which allows the Senate to pass bills which are not expected to be controversial. Once a bill is hotlined, any Senator with an objection to the bill can place a "hold" on the bill, which prevents it from being passed by "unanimous consent".) Apparently, Sen. Kyl has placed a hold on the bill on behalf of the Administration, specifically the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Sources say that OMB has two problems with the bill: the reference to "doubling" in the bill's title (the "NSF Doubling Act") and the five-year time-frame. While the Senate bill authorized ~15% increases for each year over five years, the version of the bill passed by the House on June 5 would have authorized similar annual increases but only for three years.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology included report language acknowledging importance of fundamental biology in the report accompanying S. 2817. The committee wrote "Plant Genome Research is an example of NSF's continued support for fundamental biology. While funding for biomedical research has dramatically increased over the past five years, that funding has not supported important work in fundamental biology, such as plant biology research." AIBS had requested that the Senate include some sort of language acknowledging the difference between NIH-funded research and NSF-funded biological research to offset language in that version of the bill referring to balancing investments in "life sciences" and all other disciplines. The language in the current House-Senate compromise version states that a balance should be achieved among all disciplines, rather than between life sciences and all other disciplines. While this is a subtle difference, it is an important step in ending the pitting of disciplines against one another that has taken place in recent months due to references to the need to balance investments between "the life and physical sciences".
Senate staff tell AIBS that despite the current hold-up, they intend to try to pass the bill when Congress returns in November (see below).
Appropriations for most federal agencies, including NSF, on hold until after elections - Plagued by partisan debates, Congress declared a "time out" last week on trying to complete their work on 11 of the 13 appropriations bills, including the one that funds NSF. Both houses are in recess until November 12. While the House and Senate will continue to meet in pro forma sessions through the November 5th election, no legislative business is anticipated until the week of November 12.
Among the pieces of legislation being held up are the NSF Doubling Act and the VA-HUD and Independent Agencies Appropriations bill, which provides funding for NSF. Even if Congress is unable to pass the NSF Doubling Act this year (see above), both the House and Senate have provided NSF with an ~15% increase in their Research and Related Activities. Passage of the NSF Doubling Act would authorize enough funds for future fiscal years for the doubling process to complete. Even though the House and Senate appropriators have agreed that NSF deserves more money, the two bills differ in how that money is spent. The Senate version provides only 3.4% increase for the Biological Sciences Directorate (BIO), while the House version would provide 15%. Those who support a 15% increase for BIO should contact their Senators to express their support for the House version of the VA-HUD and Independent Agencies appropriations bill.
Neither bill provides funding for the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), a project sponsored by BIO, but falling under the Major Research Facilities Equipment and Construction (MRE) account line.
House appropriators question whether NSF is ready for twice as much money, request study by the National Academy of Public Administration - House appropriators have recommended that NSF be provided with a 13% overall increase, starting it on a doubling track, but they want to make sure that NSF is ready for the money. In the report accompanying the VA-HUD Appropriations bill that funds NSF (HR 5605 - Report 107-740), the committee requested $1 million to NSF for a contract with the National Academy of Public Administration for a review of NSF's organizational, programmatic and personnel structures. The National Academy of Public Administration is an independent, nonpartisan organization chartered by Congress to assist federal, state, and local governments in improving their effectiveness, efficiency, and accountability. The committee wrote that such a review is necessary to "provide assurance to the public that the agency is positioned to maximize the opportunities which increased funding can create."
The committee listed several areas of particular concern; one of their biggest was the overall organizational and program structure of NSF, saying that the current system, while "created with the best of intentions, may have become overly bureaucratic". Specifically, the committee noted that the agency's budget request has heavily favored the agency's own priority areas at the expense of research in core disciplines. The committee noted that some investigators are modifying their research agenda, perhaps unnecessarily, to fit into NSF's priorities. The committee noted that the underlying principle around which NSF was founded is "that both the choice of research priorities and the choice of individual projects should flow principally from practicing scientists in the field as expressed through organized systems of advice and through external peer review". With this in mind, the committee suggested that NAPA review the balance between "field driven and NSF driven science priority setting" to determine "whether the balance of power in setting research priorities is the appropriate one or whether NSF has become directive in managing its research portfolios."
Other areas that the committee requested NAPA to review include the relationship between NSF and the National Science Board, as well as NSF's personnel policies. Specifically, the committee noted that a significant number (nearly 10%) of the agency staff are university-based researchers detailed to NSF on the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (referred to as IPA's) or contractors. The committee agrees there are advantages to this system, namely that personnel are current in their scientific knowledge, but was especially concerned that many of the most senior staff, now including some heads of science directorates, are temporary employees who "could have split loyalties" between their current role at NSF and past and future employment.
The Senate did not include funds for the NAPA review in their version of the bill, S. 2797, but did provide $3.5 million in funding for the National Science Board that would be used for operating expenses and independent staff. The House did not provide funding for the National Science Board, deferring that issue as one that should be reviewed by NAPA. The House and Senate must conference their versions of the bill before either of these provisions contains the force of law. Both houses are in recess until November 12. AIBS will provide updates on these issues as they become available.
NOAA, EPA and USFWS publish final data quality guidelines - The October 1 deadline for federal agencies to issue their final data quality guidelines has passed and most agencies have posted their guidelines on their website. The guidelines were developed in accordance with a rider passed on a FY2001 appropriations bill. The rider, commonly referred to as "Section 515" (its place on the bill), directed the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to issue government-wide guidelines that "provide policy and procedural guidance to federal agencies for ensuring and maximizing the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information (including statistical information) disseminated by federal agencies." In turn, OMB required federal agencies to issue their own guidelines. (For more background, see the June 7 issue of the AIBS Public Policy Updates.)
For the most part, these guidelines do not apply to academic research funded by an agency, so long as it is clear that any dissemination of data collected using federal funding state that the publication does not represent the views of the agency. However, those academic researchers who would like for their data to be useful to agencies making regulatory decisions should become familiar with that agency's guidelines. For example, if you are conducting research on fish population dynamics and believe that your information could/should be used by the National Marine Fisheries Service in creating fishing regulations, your data MUST meet the data quality requirements set forth by NOAA. The same is true for EPA and other regulatory agencies. Most peer-reviewed research would automatically meet agency standards, but it is best to check beforehand with the appropriate agency (information used in risk assessments must meet a higher standard). The guidelines for each agency can be located at http://www.thecre.com/quality/agency-database.html. We have also provided some links to individual agencies below.
NOAA - http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories/iq.htm
EPA - http://www.epa.gov/oei/qualityguidelines/
USFWS - http://irm.fws.gov/infoguidelines/index.htm
NSF - http://www.nsf.gov/home/pubinfo/infoqual.htm
FASEB President urges Congress to include biology in any increases for NSF - In a September 24 letter to VA-HUD Appropriations subcommittee chair James Walsh (R-NY) and Ranking Member Alan Mollahan (D-WV), Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) President Steven Teitelbaum, MD praised the subcommittee for its strong support for NSF and urged the House "not to follow the Senate in singling out the Directorate for Biological Sciences (BIO) for a disproportionately small increase." FASEB is comprised of 21 societies with more than 60,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States.
FASEB's letter to Congress marks a change in course for the organization, which has avoided advocating for any particular discipline, lest that increase come at the expense of another. In a separate letter to The Scientist, Teitelbaum noted that FASEB is "not advocating a spending increase for the BIO Directorate at the expense of other disciplines, but rather we are merely requesting that our nation continue to make a generous investment in NSF's research portfolio across all the research disciplines it supports." Teitelbaum noted that a broad investment is necessary because "no single discipline holds all of the answers to the problems that we face. At the same time, no discipline should be left out. The NSF's biological programs provide unique investments in vital fields of inquiry. They should not be held back."
The letter to Congress can be viewed at http://www.faseb.org/opar/news/docs/nr9x24x2.pdf. The letter to The Scientist can be read online at http://www.the-scientist.com/yr2002/oct/let1_021014.html.
Senate passes Sea Grant Reauthorization bill that would require rating of state programs to determine funding allocation - On October 10, the Senate passed HR 3389, the Sea Grant College Program reauthorization by unanimous consent. Even though the bill originated in the House, the Senate accepted an amendment from Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), so the bill must be re-passed by the House in its current form.
One of the provisions modified by the Senate is a section that would require the state programs to be ranked competitively against one another. Such a ranking would be used, according to the House bill, for allocation of funding in excess of that required for administration of the program. The Senate modified this provision, requiring the state programs to be rated, not ranked competitively, and that those ratings should be used in determining allocation of funds. According to the Senate-passed bill, no more than 25% of the programs could fall in the top two rating categories (out of a minimum of five categories).
The bill also contains a section that would require the Administrator of NOAA to work with the Sea Grant Association and other interested parties to revise and reform the formula for how the federal money is allocated to state programs. According to the House committee report, this new formula should ensure that those Sea Grant institutions attempting to become designated as a Sea Grant College program are given proper resources to fulfill the requirements.
These two bill provisions are intended to address concerns by the Administration and others that funding for state programs has not been fairly allocated in the past and that not enough of the funds are allocated on a competitive basis. These concerns led the Administration to propose the transfer of the Sea Grant program from NOAA to NSF, but all relevant congressional committees soundly rejected that proposal.
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