This weekend, Congress finished its work on the appropriations for FY 2005. The massive omnibus appropriations bill, HR 4818, weighs in at $388 billion and contains the nine bills Congress left unfinished before the elections. When the administration released their budget in February, they argued for controlling spending on discretionary programs other than defense and homeland security. Their budget blueprint contained meager increases for science programs, which after inflation, amounted to essentially the same funding as last year. While the House and Senate appropriators tried to boost some programs during the regular appropriations process, the administration's desire to freeze domestic spending appears to have won out and the news is even worse than what would have occurred if the President's budget had been adopted. Instead of meager increases or stagnant budgets, many of the nation's premier research programs have been cut.
Key among the cuts is a $107 million decrease in funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF). This is an approximate 2% cut to the foundation, which funds more than half of the nation's non-medical research. Each of the major research directorates (e.g., Biological Sciences - BIO) will be cut by 2 percent. NSF's education and human resources programs took an even larger hit of 10 percent. Congressional appropriators also instructed the agency to consider employees of the Smithsonian Institution as eligible for receiving research grants, an issue that caused some debate in the academic community earlier this year.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) escaped relatively unscathed. While nowhere near the double-digit increases of the recent past, the NIH budget of $28.6 billion is just 2 percent above last year's funding level. Most NIH institutes will receive increases between 1.6 and 2.5 percent.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was funded at $16.1 billion in FY 2005, 4.5 percent more than last year. The boost to NASA is intended to cover getting the Space Shuttle back in flight next year, resuming construction of the Space Station, and its moon-and-Mars programs. Even with the increase, it is likely that NASA will make cuts in its R&D investments in biological research, earth sciences, and aeronautics R&D.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is funded at $935 million for its total budget in FY 2005, a 0.3 percent cut.
$300 million, mostly from clean water infrastructure grants was cut from the Environmental Protection Agency budget. At press time, information about the impacts of the omnibus appropriations on EPA research is not available.
AIBS will provide further analysis of the budget for FY 2005 once the report accompanying the omnibus appropriations bill becomes available.
At a 3 November 2004 meeting with government and non-government stakeholders, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) outlined and sought comment on a national proposal being considered for the fiscal year 2007 budget. Final details of the proposal, "Reducing the Risks of Natural Hazards: A Program for the Future," have not been released. As outlined by senior USGS leadership, the initiative could be an opportunity for USGS to leverage and integrate the strengths of its various programs in biology, geology, geospatial information, and water programs to help the nation better address natural hazards. Some external stakeholders participating in the meeting suggested that USGS not necessarily limit the initiative to "natural" hazards. Many participants also noted that the biological sciences could play an important part in any hazards program. For instance, understanding how ecosystem processes and services can mitigate risks from flooding, landslides, or other phenomena. Additionally, it was suggested that a successful program should include elements of external grant programs and also an increased interaction with the social science and economics research communities. The USGS continues to accept comments and suggestions on this emerging initiative. Interested scientists can submit comments via email@example.com.
At a 17 November 2004 briefing, the National Academies of Science released its latest report providing the President and federal officials with guidance for improving the appointment process for federal science and technology positions. Unlike previous reports which focused on improving the screening and appointment process for cabinet and senior agency personnel, "Science and Technology in the National Interest: Ensuring the Best Presidential and Federal Advisory Committee Science and Technology Appointments," also includes recommendations that can help ensure the integrity of federal S&T advisory committees. The focus on the later is important as scientists, engineers and health professionals serve on roughly 1,000 federal S&T advisory committees, examining issues such as safety standards for drinking water and biodefense priorities. Some of these scientists are chosen for their policy expertise, but most are selected for their scientific and technical knowledge. The panel's attention to S&T advisory committees was new, and at least in part a result of criticisms that advisory committee membership has increasingly been driven by political rather than scientific credentials. Not surprisingly, the panel recommends that experts who are nominated mainly to provide scientific advice in particular fields should be chosen for their credentials and integrity, not for irrelevant criteria.
Additionally, the report considers the matters of conflict-of-interest and bias. The panel reportedly heard testimony from a number of sources that suggests that conflict-of-interest reporting procedures have become so burdensome that some top scientists decline to serve on committees. Thus, the panel recommends that conflict-of-interest reporting procedures be reviewed to ensure they are not needlessly burdensome, particularly for individuals that would serve on committees charged with reviewing research proposals or providing direction to federal research programs.
In 2002, Cobb County School District adopted new biology high school textbooks which thoroughly covered evolution. Fearful of public reaction to the new emphasis on evolution, the school board adopted an antievolution disclaimer that would be inserted into all biology textbooks. The disclaimer reads: "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully, and critically considered." Six parents have sued the Cobb County School District over the disclaimer contending that the warning restricts the teaching of evolution and promotes the teaching of creationism. On November 8, 2004, opening arguments were heard in the Atlanta U.S. District Court for Selman et al. v. Cobb County School District et al. The Court's ruling is forthcoming.
Secretary of Education Paige submitted his resignation to the President on 5 November 2004. The Secretary will serve through at least 20 January 2005. After receiving Paige's resignation President Bush nominated Margaret Spellings to the Cabinet level post. Spellings has served as Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy and has been responsible for the development and implementation of education, health, housing, justice, labor, transportation, and other elements of President Bush's domestic agenda. Some education policy analysts credit her with the No Child Left Behind education law passed early in President Bush's first term. Prior to her service in the White House, Spellings was a senior education advisor to then Texas Governor Bush. Spellings must be confirmed by the United States Senate before her position as Secretary of Education is official.
The United States Department of Education has released the 2004 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) report. The document summarized the views of 163,000 first-year and senior students at 472 four-year colleges and universities on five critical benchmarks: 1) level of academic challenge; 2) active and collaborative learning; 3) student-faculty interaction; 4) enriching educational experiences; and, 5) supportive campus environment. For more information about the report, visit www.iub.edu/~nsse/.