On 15 September, the Senate passed the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations legislation for Fiscal Year 2006 with a vote of 91 to 4. Under the Senate bill, the National Science Foundation would receive $5.53 billion, a small increase over the FY 05 appropriation of $5.47 billion but below the House's recommendation of $5.64 billion. The Senate legislation would also provide the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with $4.47 billion, roughly $1.0 billion more than the House recommended and nearly $900 million more than the President's budget request.
The Senate Appropriation Committee plan for NSF includes language recognizing the importance of NSF activities to our national economic growth and competitiveness. For instance, "The Committee notes that productivity growth, powered by new knowledge and technological innovation, makes the economic benefits of a comprehensive, fundamental research and education enterprise abundantly clear. New products, processes, entire new industries, and the employment opportunities that result depend upon rapid advances in research and their equally rapid movement into the marketplace. In today's global economy, continued progress in science and engineering and the transfer of the knowledge developed is vital if the United States is to maintain its competitiveness. NSF is at the leading edge of the research and discoveries that will create the jobs and technologies of the future." Moreover, the Committee continued to offer its support for the NSF's Education and Human Resources programs, despite trimming the funding level to $747 million ($60 M below the House recommendation, $10 M above the President's request, and $94 M below the FY 05 appropriation). More specifically, the Committee "strongly encourages NSF to continue support for undergraduate science and engineering education. At a time when enrollment in STEM fields of study continues to decline, it is important that NSF use its position to support students working towards degrees in these areas." The Senate plan would provide funds at the level of the budget request for minority serving institutions. However, the Appropriations Committee also noted "In past years, these programs had been routinely cut; however, NSF has chosen to keep funding these programs near prior year funding levels. The Committee is supportive of this decision and anticipates that further attempts to cut these programs will not occur."
Additionally, the Senate would provide $100 million for the EPSCoR program, from which $65 million would be used for the Research Infrastructure Improvement program. Finally, with respect to the embattled Math and Science Partnership program, "the Committee rejects the administration's continued request to have the Math and Science Partnership [MSP] program only exist at the Department of Education. Current activities initiated by MSP are only beginning to provide measureable results and have yet to be ready for implementation on a nationwide basis. The MSP program is an important asset in providing improved math and science education by partnering local school districts with faculty of colleges and universities. For this purpose an increase of $4,000,000 above the budget request is provided to the MSP program to be used to fund activities that are not being addressed by the companion program at the Department of Education."
The Senate was similarly critical of the administration's budget request for NOAA. "The Committee recommendation disapproves the budget request, which proposes to terminate or significantly reduce nearly $600,000,000 from programs ranging from climate change to marine mammal management to infrastructure support. The Committee notes the Department's continued pursuit of reductions to NOAA's enacted funding levels, and failure to protest when reductions are recommended for budget savings or political leverage. NOAA comprises approximately 65 percent of the Department of Commerce's [DOC] budget. In a recent Statement of Administration Policy, the DOC devoted one sentence to the proposed $150,000,000 reduction to the budget request for NOAA in fiscal year 2006, whereas the Department devoted four paragraphs to reductions to its other bureaus, which comprise 35 percent of its budget. The Committee finds that NOAA is not well served by the DOC. The Committee notes that the budgets of other science agencies funded under this Act, including the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (both independent agencies), thrive. The Committee fails to understand why science dedicated to understanding this planet and its oceans and atmosphere is less important than science dedicated to understanding other planets, for example. The DOC's strengths lie in the fields of business and trade. The DOC is demonstrably ill equipped to comprehend the intricacies of NOAA's scientific mission. The Committee continues to question whether NOAA would be better able to serve the American people as an independent agency."
Due to the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation, a conference committee will be established. Science policy experts in Washington, DC are working to ensure that science agencies receive the best possible appropriation. Scientists can support this effort by contacting their Representatives and Senators. With respect to the National Science Foundation, advocates are asking that the House not reduce its level of funding for NSF. Letters and phone calls to Senators should request that the Senate accept at least the House's recommended funding for the NSF.
As the federal government continues to try and respond to the short and long-term impacts of hurricane Katrina, and now Rita, some in Congress are beginning to raise questions about where the funds to cover rebuilding will come from. While a growing number have argued that eliminating pork-barrel spending would help offset some costs, most recognize that such a proposal is unlikely and would not produce adequate savings even if it were possible. On 21 September 2005, the Republican Study Committee - "a group of over 85 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives" - put forth their 20-plus page plan for paying for Katrina. According to the RSC, the plan would save $70 million in FY 06, $193 million over the next five years and $526 million over the next ten years. The plan would cut or eliminate a host of programs often attacked by the conservative wing of the Republican Party, such as eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. However, a number of science, environment, and education programs are also targeted in the RSC plan. A small sampling of programs targeted include the elimination of the NSF Math and Science Partnership program, reduced funding for USDA's Cooperative State Research and Education program, elimination of EPA's Science to Achieve Results program, and elimination of the Agricultural Research Service.
The long anticipated court case of Kitzmiller v. Dover is set to go to trial on Monday, 26 September 2005. The case has drawn widespread national attention because it represents the first legal challenge to intelligent design/creationism.
For more information on the case:
Scientists from the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) program, which marks its 25th anniversary this year, briefed Capitol Hill staffers, federal officials, and members of the press. The briefing, Translating Science for Society, was held on 13 September in the Rayburn House Office Building. LTER, which is a member organization of AIBS, is a long-term fundamental ecological research program supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. Its research has yielded data and insights that help scientists and decision makers better understand and respond to pressing issues, such as climate change, sustainable agricultural ecosystems, and the improvement of urban planning and revitalization. The 26 LTER sites have participating researchers from 46 different states and territories.
Representatives from three sites were on hand to describe some of this valuable research: Dr. Barbara Bond, director of the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in Oregon; Dr. G. Philip Robertson, director of the LTER Agricultural Ecology Program at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station in Michigan; and Dr. Steward T.A. Pickett, director of LTER's Baltimore, MD, Urban Ecosystem Study. University of New Mexico biology professor Jim Gosz, chairman of the LTER Coordinating Committee, moderated the forum.
On 14 September scores of scientists met with members of Congress and their staff on the first Congressional Visits Day sponsored by the Coalition for National Science Funding, of which AIBS is a member. Scientists worked in multidisciplinary groups and put forth a unified message: Support the National Science Foundation. Scientists representing the American Ornithologists' Union, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Cornell Center for the Environment participated as part of the AIBS delegation.
The confirmation hearing for President Bush's nominee for Director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), H. Dale Hall, began September 22nd in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Hall, a 27-year career employee with FWS, is currently the Southwest Regional Director in Albuquerque, NM and has previously served as Deputy Regional Director in Atlanta, GA and as Assistant Regional Director for Ecological Services in Portland, OR. His education includes a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry from Cumberland College in Kentucky and a master's in fisheries science form Louisiana State University.
During Thursday's confirmation hearing, Hall was questioned about his views on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In response, Hall suggested that he would work with private landowners and state agencies because the "onslaught of lawsuits...rather than the direction of all available resources to management and improvement of habitat, has been a significant obstacle to achievement of the stated purpose" of ESA. Hall has been criticized in the past by environmental groups concerned with his decision to limit agency biologists' ability to use genetic information in managing endangered species.
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a second hearing on the nominee before voting in the coming weeks.
The White House formally nominated Shana L. Dale to be Deputy Administrator of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on September 13th. Dale is currently the Deputy Director for Homeland and National Security at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and has previously served as Staff Director for the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science. Additionally, she served as Republican Counsel for both the Space and Science Subcommittees of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. NASA's top administrator Michael Griffin said he was "delighted with the President's choice of Shana Dale as the administration's nominee for deputy administrator of NASA. Ms. Dale knows every aspect of space policy from her experience on Capitol Hill and in the White House, and if confirmed, would be a valuable addition to NASA's team as we carry out the President's Vision for Space Exploration."
Washington, DC-The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance), each a major umbrella group for biological science organizations, have signed a strategic partnering agreement that will advance the public policy interests of biologists, natural science collections, and the research and education communities that utilize these facilities. The partnership provides a valuable bridge between the scientific research and education communities represented by AIBS and the NSC Alliance, as well as the opportunity for scientists in the fields of taxonomy, systematics, ecology, and evolutionary biology to work with AIBS and the NSC Alliance on public policy and advocacy goals in support of their science.
The partnership will give the NSC Alliance's 100-plus institutional members equivalent status in AIBS's membership rolls of scientific societies and other organizations, currently numbering approximately 90--thereby allowing NSC Alliance members to enjoy the institutional membership benefits of both organizations. Also under the agreement, AIBS director of public policy, Dr. Robert Gropp, will serve on a cross-appointment as director of public policy for the NSC Alliance. This arrangement provides the NSC Alliance with an experienced science policy professional to represent the organizations' interests in Washington, DC, as well as the other resources offered by the AIBS Public Policy Office.
"Natural science collections form a foundation for much of comparative biology and provide a critical base for verification of many studies. Many of the fundamental issues faced by AIBS are also of interest to our members. Together we have a much greater chance of solving them," said NSC Alliance president Dr. Terry Yates.
In recent years, AIBS has been actively involved in collections-related policy issues. For instance, the Public Policy Office's Washington Watch column in the AIBS journal, BioScience, has helped raise awareness of the issues many university-based collections have faced in recent years. Moreover, AIBS is at the forefront of work being done in the area of biological research infrastructure planning.
The NSC Alliance has been active in advocating for the need to support the nation's biological collections as a vital national resource and to make the information contained in these collections available to the broader AIBS community to help solve societal problems.
"This is an excellent opportunity for the biological science and natural science collections-based research communities to leverage resources," said AIBS executive director Dr. Richard O'Grady. At a time when research budgets for fundamental biological research are at risk of becoming stagnant, or even back-sliding, it is important for scientists to speak with a common and coordinated voice.
For more information, please contact Robert Gropp at 202-628-1500 x 250.
The September 2005 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers recent federal actions that have mingled politics with the scientific peer review process. An excerpt from the article follows. The article is available at www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2005_09.html
"Scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and even politicians have warned for years that federal policymakers are politicizing science to achieve political goals. Surveys show that many scientists in some federal agencies feel that scientific findings have been discounted in management decisions in response to political pressure. Until recently, these allegations were leveled primarily against the political leadership of environmental, natural resource management, and public health agencies. Recent events, however, suggest that the politicization of science in the United States has spread beyond regulatory agencies.
In June 2005, as the Senate deliberated climate change legislation, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) prepared to send letters to the National Science Foundation, the International Panel on Climate Change, and three prominent climatologists..."