The President's fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget was officially released on 6 February 2006. As foreshadowed in the State of the Union address, a central tenet of the budget is the administration's "American Competitiveness Initiative". In brief, the ACI is an administration-wide focus on stimulating innovation through increased investment in the physical sciences, engineering, and technology, improved STEM education and workforce training, and tax-incentivized private sector support for R&D.
According to administration documents, the ACI will provide the sustained scientific advancement and innovation that are key to maintaining the United States' competitive edge. The ACI establishes a framework for advancing a "pattern of related investments and policies". Specifically:
If Congress adopts the proposals included in the ACI and provides the funding sought by the President, over the next ten years roughly $50 billion would be spent on ACI-priority research and $86 billion would be spent on federal research and experimentation tax incentives.
The President's budget would increase funding for the National Science Foundation by 7.9 percent, putting fiscal year (FY) 07 funding at $6.02 billion - an increase of $439 million over the FY 06 appropriation. The funding increase would also initiate the administration's pledge under the American Competitiveness Initiative to double the NSF budget over the next ten years.
Overall, Research and Related Activities (RR&A) would receive a 7.7 percent increase to $4.665 billion. The Education and Human Resources Directorate would increase to $816 million (up 2.5 percent), the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction Account would grow to $240 million (up 26.0 percent), and the agency's Salaries and Expenses account would grow by 14.2 percent, bringing the FY 07 level to $281.8 million.
Within the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account, the funding increase would allow NSF to initiate two new projects - the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) and the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI). These facilities would help fulfill the administration's 2004 U.S. Ocean Policy Action Plan.
New funding ($11.94 million) to continue planning and development of the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) is provided through the Biology Directorate (BIO). Within BIO, roughly $6 million for NEON activities would come from the Emerging Frontiers account and $6 million would come from the Biological Infrastructure account. These funds would be used to begin research and development on new sensor technology and to begin securing the discretionary funds needed for the ultimate maintenance and operation expenses for NEON construction.
If funded as proposed in the budget, BIO would receive a 5.4 percent ($31.16 M) increase over current funding, putting the directorate at $607.85 million in FY 07. Of note, with the exception of Integrative Activities which is slated for a 4.2 percent cut, the 5.4 percent increase for BIO is the smallest increase for RR&A accounts. Overall, RR&A accounts average a 7.7 percent increase.
With respect to the smaller increase for Integrative Organismal Biology, the increase referenced above reflects a transfer of funds ($4.18 M) to the Emerging Frontiers program. The proposed transfer results from the transfer of a science center to the Emerging Frontiers program.
As articulated in BIO budget documents, the highest priority for all Division of Biological Infrastructure (DBI) programs in FY 2007 will be cyberinfrastructure. Additionally, DBI has indicated that through the Biological Research Collections (BRC) program it "will place a priority on networking collection databases."
Amidst the fanfare surrounding the President's American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI), the Education and Human Resources (EHR) account received a modest boost to $816 million in the fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request. NSF director Bement noted that "these are resources that NSF needs to keep U.S. science and engineering healthy and vibrant for America's future." The $816 million budget is $19 million (2.4 percent) higher than the FY 2006 final appropriation, but $28 million (3.4 percent) lower than the FY 05 final Congressional appropriation. Within the EHR account, funding for the Experimental Program to Simulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) would receive $100 million (1.3 percent) more than the current spending level. Overall, the Graduate Education account would receive a $7 million increase to $160.57 million. At the same time, Undergraduate Education would drop 7 percent to $196 million, with a 27 percent decrease in the Math and Science Partnerships (MSP) program. The President also cut funding for the MSP program in FY 2005 and 2006.
Although the administration has proposed healthy increases for many federal science agencies, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) is not among them. As has become tradition, the President's fiscal year (FY) 2007 budget request would cut $20.6 million from the USGS, moving the agency down to $944.8 million - well below the $1.2 billion mark advocated by the USGS Coalition in a budget statement released earlier this month.
If enacted as proposed, the Biological Resources Discipline would receive $172.6 million in FY 07. This level represents a $5.95 million cut from the FY 2006 congressional appropriation. The budget request includes "a $1.0 million increase to support the activities of the NatureServe system and to contribute to the broader strategy of improving delivery and access to information needed to support Interior bureaus in the management of natural resources." The request would also continue to provide funding ($3.2 million) for USGS bird monitoring work to track and understand the potential spread of avian influenza. However, the budget proposes a $2.0 million cut to the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) program and $7.3 million in "discontinued lower priory studies and unrequested earmarks in biological research."
The Biological Research Discipline's Cooperative Research Unit program would receive a slight increase ($274,000) to help defray increases in "fixed costs." However, according to Department of the Interior budget documents, these costs are anticipated to increase $391,000, leaving the Cooperative Research Units program to identify and reprogram at least $117,000 from other activities within the program's requested $14.938 million budget. Fixed costs are expenses (e.g., salary and benefits, rent) that increase on an annual basis.
The budget would cut $22.9 million from Geology's minerals program. According to Interior Department budget materials, the Mineral Resources program would "discontinue or reduce global mineral resource assessments of mineral commodities; research on industrial minerals; resource on inorganic toxins; materials flow analyses; the Mineral Resources External Research program; and data collection and analysis for 200 mineral commodities in 180 countries outside the United States. The program will focus on activities that are inherently governmental."
On any given day, members of Congress attempt to use "sound science" to make informed policy decisions. But for untrained members of Congress and their staff, translating science into policy is often difficult. On 23 January, Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and Global Environment hosted a congressional briefing designed to provide policymakers with a better understanding of the nature of science. The briefing entitled "How Science Works and How Can Science Most Effectively Inform Policy?" provided individuals on Capitol Hill with an overview of scientific terminology and methodology.
Over 100 congressional staff members joined Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) as they listened to briefings from Dr. Donald Kennedy, Editor-in-Chief of Science, and Dr. Harvey Fineberg, President of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Both speakers focused on how science can be used in decision-making without going into any specific detail about contentious issues such as climate change and stem cell research.
The Bush administration has once again come under fire for allegedly politicizing research on climate change. Dr. James E. Hansen, director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the administration tried to censor his work and prevent him from arguing for steep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The allegations stem from a 6 December 2005 lecture Dr. Hansen gave at the American Geophysical Union's annual meeting in which he claimed that the United States needs to be a leader in reducing emissions or the world will be "a different planet." The speech closely followed the release of his findings that 2005 was probably the hottest year on record. Following his statements, Dr. Hansen claims NASA public affairs officials were ordered to review all his interviews, lectures, and papers.
In light of these allegations, on 30 January 2006, Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), chairman of the House Science Committee, sent a letter to NASA Administrator Dr. Michael Griffin saying the agency is "clearly doing something wrong." He continued, "Good science cannot long persist in an atmosphere of intimidations. Political figures ought to be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the best available science; scientists should not be reviewing their statements to make sure they are consistent with the current political orthodoxy." Hearings on this matter could be scheduled in the House Science Committee in the coming months.
Intelligent design has also become a factor in this growing controversy. According to the New York Times, a NASA public affairs political appointee, George Deutsch, was a major influence in the movement to censor Dr. Hansen. But, Deutsch was also the author of an earlier email message that describes the Big Bang as "not proven fact; it is opinion." He continued, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator...This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA." Deutsch has since resigned from NASA following revelations that he lied on his resume and claimed he received a journalism degree from Texas A&M University. The University has confirmed that Deutsch did not graduate.
The American Society of Mammalogists (ASM) and American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) are pleased to announce the availability of a graduate student public policy internship. For more information and application instructions, please see the full announcement in the Classifieds section of the AIBS website at
A Wisconsin state legislator is taking steps to prevent creationism and intelligent design from being taught in her state's public schools. State Representative Terese Berceau (D) is planning on introducing legislation that would ban the "teaching of supernaturalistic pseudoscience in the science classroom." The Madison Capitol Times described the bill as "a first-of-its-kind proposal" in the nation, comparable only to a January 2005 Montana resolution that supported sound science in school standards while rejecting "religious interpretations of events" in the curricula. Wisconsin scientists and educators are supportive of Berceau's plan.
In other evolution news, a plan to remove "Critical Analysis of Evolution" from Ohio's model science curriculum was defeated by the Ohio State Board of Education in January. The anti-evolution "Critical Analysis" lesson calls for students to be able to "describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory." The Board was previously forced to remove references to creationist publications, but the plan has not been fully scraped. Anti-creationists are hoping that the Board reverses its decision and removes the plan during their February meeting.
The latest versions of the National Ecological Observatory Network project's design documents -- the NEON Integrated Science and Education Plan and the NEON Networking and Informatics Baseline Design -- are now available at http://www.neoninc.org/. If you have ideas or suggestions related to the NEON reports, feel free to send those to the NEON Project Office via the online comment form.
The February 2006 Washington Watch column in BioScience considers European Union's efforts to increase support for research and development. An excerpt from the article follows:
"In late 2005, much of the talk around Washington, DC, focused on competitiveness and innovation in science and technology. The National Academy of Sciences released "The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future," warning policymakers of an impending crisis: the erosion of US scientific and technical talent. Shortly thereafter, business leaders and lawmakers gathered in Washington, DC, for a national innovation conference to discuss the steps necessary to maintain US eminence in science and technology. Meanwhile, similar conversations were taking place on the other side of the Atlantic.
In 2005, the European Union (EU) began to prepare for its seventh research framework program (FP7). EU framework programs, through which EU research and innovation activities are funded, have been in place since 1984. The programs have typically spanned five years (with the last year of one program overlapping the first year of the following one), but FP7 will cover a seven-year period (2007-2013). The program was proposed by the European Commission in April 2005; it must now be approved by the European Parliament and Council."
To read the entire article, please go to http://www.aibs.org/washington-watch/washington_watch_2006_02.html.