With the approval of the continuing resolution last Friday, 18 November, Congress is pressing forward on the remaining spending bills. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations conference report, H.R. 2862, on 16 November, sending the bill to the President for his signature. In the final conference report, spending exceeded the FY 2006 allocation, so conferees ultimately included a 0.28 percent across-the-board spending rescission to the entire bill.
As reported in the 7 November AIBS Public Policy Report, the National Science Foundation received a higher than expected appropriation under the conference report. After the rescission, the total FY 2006 NSF budget is $5.637 billion, a 3 percent boost over the FY 2005 level but a slight drop from the FY 2004 numbers. The Research and Related Activities account received $4.375 billion, 3 percent more than FY 2005 and 2 percent more than FY 2004. Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction received $192 million, 11 percent more than FY 2005 and 5 percent more than FY 2004. The largest cuts came to the Education and Human Resources account, which received $804 million after the rescission, 4 percent less than FY 2005 and almost 15 percent less than FY 2004.
Funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was also contained in H.R. 2862 and was subject to the same 0.28 percent rescission. After the rescission, NOAA received $3.93 billion, about $550 million more than the House figure but nearly $550 million less than the Senate-approved number. NOAA's Oceanic and Atmospheric Research account received $372 million, $46 million more than the House version but almost $150 million less than the Senate version.
In other appropriation news, the House and Senate both approved H.R. 2419, the Energy and Water appropriations bill. The Department of Energy's Office of Science received $3.63 billion under the FY 2006 conference report, $69 million less than the Senate version and $33 million less than the House, but $171 million more than the budget request. Within the Office of Science, the Biological and Environmental Research account received a funding boost to $585 million, but most of the approved funds have been earmarked for medical research.
Finally, on 17 November, the House rejected the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations conference report. Twenty-two Republicans joined 201 Democrats to defeat the $142 billion spending bill. Media reports have speculated that several key lawmakers were unhappy with their share of the earmarks contained in the bill. This is the first time since 1996 that an appropriations conference report has been rejected on the House floor. The Labor-HHS-Education bill now heads back to conference.
In a late-night vote Thursday, 17 November the House narrowly passed the budget reconciliation bill 217-215. The $50 billion spending cut package does not include the fiercely contested language that would have authorized the opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas drilling. To ensure passage of the contentious legislation, the House GOP leadership also abandoned plans for offshore oil drilling and cuts to Medicaid and food stamps. This decision came after a weeklong struggle by the Majority leadership to corral enough votes from GOP moderates upset over the deep cuts to social programs. The budget reconciliation bill now heads to a tricky conference committee where Members must iron out the roughly $15 billion difference between the House package and Senate version, which passed on 3 November. Many Washington, DC insiders predict that ANWR language could resurface in the final conference report.
"Innovation" has become the latest political buzzword in Washington following the recent release of the National Academy of Sciences report, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." Since then, politicians cannot say enough about the need to support domestic innovation to help protect America's future competitiveness. Democrats have recently joined the movement with the official release of their "Innovation Agenda: A Commitment to Competitiveness to Keep America #1."
On 15 November, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) spoke at the National Press Club to go over the Democrats' innovation agenda. During her speech, Pelosi criticized the Bush Administration's failure to support science and promoted the Democratic alternative agenda. Summarizing the plan, Pelosi said, "U.S. federal funding for research and development has declined steadily over the last decade, and sound science has been compromised by political interference. We can do better. Over the next five years, Democrats will double the federal commitment to research aimed at developing the next generation of sound scientific breakthroughs, and we will promote the public-private partnerships necessary to translate these new ideas into marketable technologies." These pledges include a planned doubling for overall NSF funding, with an additional focus on "basic research in the physical sciences across all agencies."
The debate over teaching intelligent design in science classrooms has been widely covered by the media in recent days, with important developments in Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. On 8 November, the Kansas Board of Education adopted new science standards that question evolution and redefine science to include supernatural explanations. In a 6-4 vote, the board adopted standards that would allow the teaching of intelligent design in Kansas science classrooms. The board's approval of the new standards mirrors the 1999 decision by the then pro-creationist Kansas Board of Education to remove all mention of evolution from the science curriculum. That decision was later reversed in 2001 after voters denied several conservative board members reelection. The new Kansas standards will go into effect in 2007 unless pro-evolution candidates are able to defeat the current board members.
Elsewhere in the country, in a surprising rout, pro-evolution candidates swept the 8 November race for the Dover school board, winning all eight seats up for election. With Judge John E. Jones III expected to issue his decision in the Dover intelligent design case early next year, Tuesday's election results could affect the appeals process once the trial is over. All eight newly elected board members have openly opposed the teaching of ID in the school's science classrooms, and many have speculated that they will not appeal if Judge Jones rules in favor of the plaintiffs. Bryan Rehm, a new board member, is also one of the 11 plaintiffs in the Dover trial.
In separate developments, on 10 November the Alabama state school board unanimously voted to continue using a sticker disclaimer that describes evolution as a "controversial theory" in biology textbooks. The disclaimer has been included in Alabama textbooks for more than 10 years.
In a 180-degree reversal, Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) has publicly said that he does not believe intelligent design should be taught in the science classroom. According to an article in the 13 November Beaver County Times, Santorum expressed doubts about certain parts of intelligent design theory, saying "science leads you where it leads you"; however he continued to refer to the movement as a "legitimate issue." These statements contradict a previous Washington Times editorial where he said intelligent design is a "legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in the classroom." His reversal may be politically motivated-Santorum is currently trailing his Democratic opponent, Bob Casey, in the Pennsylvania Senate race.
That same week Pope Benedict XVI also weighed in on intelligent design. Before a general audience, Benedict criticized "people fooled by atheism," saying they "try to demonstrate that it's scientific to think that everything is free of direction and order." Benedict's statements seem to be in line with Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn's support of intelligent design in his July New York Times op-ed. Several Vatican officials have come out on both sides of the intelligent design debate in the past, but Benedict's statements could signal a shift toward stricter doctrine.
The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of an internship in the Washington, D.C., AIBS Public Policy Office. The internship is open to ASM student members who are currently enrolled in a graduate program and who are engaged in research that involves the study of mammals. The internship is for 3 months during fall 2006, and carries a monthly stipend of $2000. Selection criteria include demonstrated interest in public policy process, strong communications skills, and excellent academic record.
The AIBS Public Policy Office focuses on science and science education public policy (e.g., federal R&D funding policy). The office does not routinely address environmental policy matters. Additional information about ASM and AIBS can be found on their respective websites (www.mammalsociety.org, www.aibs.org).
The goal of the ASM-AIBS Public Policy Internship is to provide an opportunity for a student to gain hands-on experience in public policy at the national level that relates generally to biology and specifically to matters of interest to ASM. By working with the AIBS Public Policy Office, the intern will learn how scientific societies, non-governmental organizations (NGO's), executive branch agencies (e.g., NSF, NOAA), and the legislative branch interact in crafting public policy. While the intern will work primarily on U.S. policy matters, issues that affect international scientific collaboration (such as U.S. visa policies) as well as concerns particular to non-U.S. entities (primarily Canada and the European Union) will also be tracked and addressed as appropriate. Duties may include, but are not limited to, the following:
A two-page resume that emphasizes leadership and communication experience, including graduate, undergraduate, or non-academic activities. It should include the following items: education (including relevant law or policy courses), work experience, honors and awards, memberships, presentations, and publications
A statement describing the importance of federal support for fundamental mammalian research (500 words maximum). The statement should draw on the applicant's own experience and/or research area, and should illustrate how the applicant would try to convince his/her own congressional delegation that federal support for research, particularly on mammals, is important.
A letter of support/recommendation from advisor.
Copies of transcripts from each college or university from which applicant received a degree and/or is currently enrolled. If selected, official transcripts may be required.
Applicants are not required to be ASM members at the time of application but, if selected, must join the Society prior to starting the internship.
All application materials must be received by 1 May 2006 and should be sent to Dr. Alicia V. Linzey, Evaluation Committee Chair, Department of Biology, Indiana University of PA, Indiana, PA 15705. Questions about the award can be addressed to Dr. Linzey () or to ASM President Guy Cameron ().
The November 2005 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers the extent to which the White House science adviser has a voice in the current administration. An excerpt from the article follows.
"Much ink has been spilled about how the current Bush administration has used-or, in the opinion of some, abused-science. Critics point to a handful of well-trod examples: Bush's public embrace of the intelligent design movement's "teach the controversy" mantra (although there is no controversy among scientists about the validity and applicability of evolution). The administration's efforts to downplay research pointing to the human causes of climate change. And Bush's choice to disallow federal funding of research on new stem cell lines."
The entire article may be viewed at http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2005_11.html