CONGRESS PASSES NSF DOUBLING BILL, BUT RELEASE OF FUNDS DELAYED
Nov 14 - Shortly past midnight, the House and Senate passed a bill authorizing a 5-year doubling plan for NSF. The House originally passed the bill on June 5, but Senate approval was delayed several weeks ago when Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) placed a "hold" on the bill on behalf of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). OMB objected to the bill on two counts: 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. As a concession to the White House, Congress amended the title of the bill so as to remove reference to the word "doubling". The White House objected to the use of the word "doubling" because such figures are arbitrary and do not support the Administration's goal of performance-based budgeting. The Administration's objection to the 5-year timeframe was also due to its inconsistency with the President's Management Agenda. As a compromise, the final version of H.R. 4664 makes the authorizations for the fourth and fifth years contingent on NSF meeting specified management goals.
In addition to authorizing a 5-year doubling path, the 90+ page bill also includes several major math and science education provisions. Many of those provisions were taken from House-passed Science Committee bills including H.R. 1858 (on K-12 math and science education); H.R. 100 (on master teachers); H.R. 3130 (The Tech Talent Act, on undergraduate education); and H.R. 2051 (on biotechnology research). The bill also includes oversight and fiscal integrity provisions from the original House bill, as well as Senate provisions that will strengthen the oversight capabilities of the National Science Board.
While the bill only authorizes increased funding for NSF (it is up to the congressional appropriators to actually approve 15% increases each year), the bill is being hailed as a huge victory for science. House Science Research Subcommittee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) referred to the bill as a "truly historic piece of legislation for science policy in the United States that will have a profound and lasting effect on the future prosperity of our nation." Rep. Ralph M. Hall (TX), Ranking Democratic Member of the Science Committee said, "House passage of a five-year doubling for NSF is a win-win situation - a win for federal support of science and a win for the Republicans and Democrats in the House who were able to come together and find a common solution. I compliment Chairman Boehlert who worked with us to come to an agreement on a bill that all of us can enthusiastically support."
In a show of appreciation, scientific societies (including AIBS) and other research organizations held a reception this week for congressional staff members who were instrumental in the bill's passage. AIBS encourages all scientists to take a moment to thank their congressional delegation for their support of the bill (the bill was passed by unanimous consent in both houses). For a draft letter, contact Adrienne Froelich - email@example.com.
As the bill is only an authorization bill, the scientific community will need to continue to voice their support for the doubling effort each year so that congressional appropriators include the authorized funds in the annual funding bills. While congressional appropriators in both houses have already approved an ~15% increase for research funding at NSF for FY2003, the delivery of increased funding is uncertain as the government is operating under a continuing resolution until January at FY2002 levels. If Congress approves a full year continuing resolution for FY2003, the earliest the scientific community will see increased funds at the research directorates will be in 2004. AIBS will be expressing its concerns about the effects of a year-long continuing resolution to the congressional leadership before the 108th Congress assembles in January.
HOUSE SCIENCE AND RESOURCE SUBCOMMITTEES HOLD HEARING ON THE AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES RESEARCH ACT
Nov 14 - Subcommittees of the House Science and House Resources committees held a hearing on two recently introduced bills to improve management of aquatic invasive species. While one of the bills focuses on management measures, the other bill, H.R. 5395, "The National Aquatic Invasive Species Research Act," focuses on the investments in research necessary to better manage aquatic invasives. Provisions of the research bill were largely derived from a June 20 House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology and Standards hearing on research priorities for aquatic invasive species. With logistical support from the AIBS Public Policy Office, AIBS member David Lodge (University of Notre Dame) testified at that hearing and outlined the necessary components for a research portfolio on aquatic invasives (see the June 21 issue of the AIBS Public Policy Reports).
Following the June 20 hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) noted his concern about the relatively small amount of funding devoted to research on invasive species given the extremely high cost of invasive species control, not to mention the costs of damage. Keeping his promise "to be very active in supporting the research needed to address the enormous threat that is posed by invasive species," Chairman Ehlers introduced H.R. 5395 on September 18. During the bill's introduction, Ehlers discussed the need for stronger research programs: "research underlies every management decision aimed at detecting, preventing, controlling and eradicating invasive species; educating citizens and stakeholders; and restoring ecosystems. Research is also crucial to ensure that resources are optimally deployed to increase the effectiveness of government programs."
The bill would establish a comprehensive research program through the United States Geological Survey, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to conduct surveys and experimentation on invasive species, and to analyze and disseminate the results. The bill also authorizes a research, development and deployment program to promote environmentally sound technologies to better detect, prevent the introduction of, and eradicate invasive species. Another section of the bill focuses on setting up research to directly support the Coast Guard's efforts to set standards for the treatment of ships with respect to preventing them from introducing invasive species.
The bill incorporates comments and suggestions from AIBS regarding the need for more funding for taxonomy and systematics. Rep. Ehler's acknowledged this need, noting "invasive species research depends on strong academic programs in systematics and taxonomy and so the National Science Foundation will be given funding to support academic research in those areas." House Science committee staff have indicated to AIBS that the committee plans to push for passage of the bill in the 108th Congress. AIBS will continue to follow and report on the bill's progress.
CONGRESS REAUTHORIZES NOAA SEA GRANT
Nov 15 - The House of Representatives unanimously approved the final version of legislation to reauthorize the Sea Grant College Program (H.R. 3389), sending it on to the White House for the President's signature. The bill rejects the Administration's proposal to move the Sea Grant program from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to the National Science Foundation, but imposes reforms developed by the House Science Committee to address the Administration's concerns. The Science Committee and the Resources Committee share jurisdiction over the Sea Grant College Program in the House and H.R. 3389 was originally introduced by Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD). The House passed the Sea Grant legislation in June by a vote of 407-2, the Senate passed a similar version of the legislation on October 10, and the two chambers recently resolved minor differences between the two bills.
The bill provides a gradual increase over five years in overall funding levels for the program, from approximately $80 million in fiscal year (FY) 2003 to approximately $100 million in FY 2008. The final version of H.R. 3389 also includes provisions developed by the House Science Committee to improve the quality of research and overall management of the Sea Grant program. These provisions are meant to address the Administration's concerns 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. The legislation directs the Secretary of Commerce to evaluate the performance of the state sea grant programs using a merit-review process, and stipulates that the increased funding called for in the bill should be allocated based on this new evaluation process or through national competitions for individual projects. According to the Science Committee, this will ensure that the programs that are best managed and carry out the highest quality research, education, extension, and training activities receive additional funds.
"We hope and expect that this new approach to Sea Grant - so common elsewhere in the scientific community - will spur the program to new heights," said Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). "The bill includes a review of how the new evaluation system is working, so we're not just going to assume that our idea will pan out, we'll put it to the test." Further information on the bill is available in the October 25 issue AIBS Public Policy Report.
ASSOCIATION OF ECOSYSTEM RESEARCH CENTERS HOLDS SYMPOSIUM TO EXAMINE FUNDING FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
Nov 14 - The Association of Ecosystem Research Centers, an AIBS member society, held its annual symposium at the Smithsonian Institution on November 14. The symposium explored the funding outlook for environmental science research and featured presentations from several key officials from the Bush Administration. AIBS Director of Public Policy Adrienne Froelich was the first speaker, with a presentation on the status of funding for environmental science research and some of the challenges in tracking funding trends. AERC also heard from the White House Office of Management and Budget on how the federal budget for science is set and how the economy influences the budget. Officials from NSF, NASA, the Department of Energy and EPA presented information on environmental research programs within their agency and discussed the outlook for future funding levels of those programs. The presentations stimulated much discussion about topics ranging from where scientists fit into efforts to improve the funding outlook to how to improve the collaboration between academic and federal scientists--for example, several attendees did not know that many facilities operated by the Department of Energy, including their Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (http://www.emsl.pnl.gov ) are open to academic researchers.
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