In This Issue
This week, House leadership announced its plan to continue spending for most government agencies throughout the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 and avert a government shutdown.
The House’s 2015 omnibus appropriations bill would fund most government agencies through Sept. 30, 2015. The sole exception would be the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which would only be funded through March. The deal has often been nicknamed a “cromnibus” package, given that it’s mostly an omnibus, save for DHS, which is funded at existing levels, much like a continuing resolution. An omnibus is preferential to a continuing resolution in that it gives appropriators more leeway to direct spending levels at a programmatic level.
GOP lawmakers singled out the DHS because it has jurisdiction over implementation of the president’s controversial immigration executive order to provide a pathway to legal status for an estimated five million undocumented immigrants. The shortened extension would allow next year’s Republican-controlled House and Senate to pass an FY 2015 funding bill with spending constraints on the agency related to the executive order.
Senate Democrat leaders, while indicating their preference for an omnibus that funds all federal agencies, expressed willingness to support the House’s proposal on the condition that it doesn’t include riders unacceptable to their party. Opposition is expected from far-right conservative members who prefer another short-term continuing resolution that would give appropriators in the next Congress influence over current FY 2015 spending. Leading appropriators in both the House and Senate in both parties have indicated they would prefer passage of an omnibus so they can start 2015 with a clean slate.
Thus far, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has stated he will not cater to conservative demands to make major changes to the bill and expects it to pass with bipartisan support. The bill’s legislative language has yet to be released. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has indicated she will wait for the release of the bill text before commenting on whether she will urge her caucus to support the measure. The bill is expected to be introduced on Dec. 8.
On Dec. 3, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing to review a series of audits of spending by the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).
National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of the Inspector General and the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) conducted the audits. The first 2011 audit found that the documentation proposing a $433.7 million NEON construction project was inadequate to audit as “none of its proposed cost elements for labor, overhead, equipment, etc., reconcile to its supporting data.” Subsequent audit reports were conducted.
Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) acknowledged “in response to these audits, NSF has made a number of adjustments to how the agency evaluates costs of major projects” while maintaining that “$150 million in unsupported and questionable costs in the NEON proposal demonstrates that major problems at NSF continue.”
The findings of the auditors led to the release of a subsequent NSF Inspector General (IG) audit on Nov. 20, 2014 scrutinizing NEON’s accounting system. The auditors found several instances of noncompliance. This was followed by a Nov. 24 IG memo outlining recommendations to improve its management practices.
Democratic committee members noted there was no representative from NSF itself to provide a balanced perspective. Committee Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) said that the fact that the most recent IG findings were released just two weeks ago precluded NSF from being able to prepare testimony for the committee. She added that since DCAA was established to review Department of Defense audits, DCAA lacked staff with the sufficient expertise to appropriately audit NSF grants and cooperative agreements.
An NSF spokesperson has stated that the agency has already addressed some issues raised in the audits and is actively working to resolve others.
Click here for additional information on the hearing.
At the November National Science Board (NSB) meeting, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova outlined the agency’s new approaches to enhancing transparency and accountability, including a revision to the agency’s guidelines for program officers and providing regular updates on the agency’s transparency and accountability web page.
The guidelines for program officers in the Proposal and Award Manual now state that a nontechnical project description must explain the project’s significance and importance and “serve as a public justification for NSF funding by articulating how the project serves the national interest, as stated by NSF’s mission: to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity and welfare; or to secure the national defense.” The titles and abstracts of NSF’s awards are made public on the agency’s website.
Click here for additional information.
In a memo released last month, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tempered its media policy, stating that its science advisers may speak to the media as long as they clarify they are not representing the views of the committees they sit on or the agency itself.
“Should a [Federal Advisory Committee (FAC)] member receive a press or other inquiry related more generally to their scientific area of expertise or related to their participation in a FAC (other than related to deliberations), they are free to respond to the inquiry in their capacity as a private citizen,” the memo states.
The recent memo comes after a notice released in April stating that scientists serving on Federal Advisory Committees must “refrain from responding in an individual capacity” to media inquiries.”
The notice was criticized in an August letter by seven research and journalistic organizations, which included the American Geophysical Union, the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Society for Conservation Biology, the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Society of Professional Journalists.
On Nov. 20, the Ecological Society of America sent a letter to US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe requesting that the agency address the threat posed to salamanders by the fungal disease Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bs).
“Bs, a recently described emerging fungal pathogen of Asian origin, most likely carried via the pet trade, is now killing native salamanders in Holland and Belgium,” the letter notes. “All steps must be taken to keep Bs out of the United States where it does not exist yet. Our native salamanders are known to be vulnerable to decimation by this new disease if it arrives. The US is the global center of salamander diversity. They must be protected for their own sake and because of the significant role they play in the forest ecosystems of our country.”
Click here to view the full letter.
On Dec. 4, the Ecological Society of America helped organize and cosponsor a congressional briefing entitled “Climate Engineering: Future Guiding Principles and Ethics.” The briefing was also sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America.
The briefing featured former House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon, who held a hearing on climate engineering – also known as geoengineering – in 2010. Featured speakers also included Paul Bertsch, Deputy Director of Australia’s Land and Water Flagship of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute.
Speakers outlined how the various impacts of global climate change on ecosystems and elaborated on the various options available to mitigate these impacts through climate engineering as well as the challenge of developing a framework of guiding principles and ethics amid current political circumstances.
ESA invites applications for its 2015 Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA). This award, offered annually to up to three winners, provides graduate students hands-on science policy experience in Washington, DC including interacting with congressional decision-makers, federal agency officials, and others engaged in science and public policy.
ESA covers travel and lodging expenses associated with this event for GSPA recipients. The two-day event will occur in late April.
The application deadline is Wednesday, January 14. For more information, click this link.
H.R. 5771, the Tax Increase Prevention Act – Introduced by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI), the bill extends a number of tax cuts and credits that expired in 2013 and 2014, including the research development tax credit. The bill extends these measures only through the end of this year to make 2014 tax filling easier. The White House had threatened to veto a more comprehensive long-term bill, arguing it extended breaks for businesses while failing to include certain extensions that affect low-income and middle-class workers. The bill passed the House by a vote of Dec. 3 by a vote of 378-46. The Senate is expected to clear the bill next week.
H.R. 3979, the Carl Levin and Howard P. ‘Buck’McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 – Sponsored by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), the bill reauthorizes Department of Defense programs through Fiscal Year 2015. The bill also includes a number of public lands bills that have passed the House Natural Resources Committee and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with strong bipartisan support. The bill passed the House Dec. 4 by a vote of 300-119. There were 194 Republican and 106 Democratic votes for the bill, with 32 Republicans and 87 Democrats voting against.
Click here for additional information on the natural resources provisions.
1000, the Chesapeake Bay Accountability and Recovery Act – Introduced by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the bill would require the US Office of Management and Budget to prepare a crosscut budget to improve tracking of costs and performance of Chesapeake Bay restoration activities. The bill passed Dec. 2 by unanimous consent. Companion legislation (H.R. 739) has been introduced in the House by Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA).
Cleared for White House
H.R. 5069, the Federal Duck Stamp Act – Introduced by Rep. John Fleming (R-LA), the bill would increase the price of permits to hunt waterfowl from $15 to $25. The price increase is the first since 1991. The increased revenue would be directed toward the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Migratory Bird Conservation Fund. The bill passed the Senate Dec. 2 by unanimous consent after passing the House in November. The president is expected to sign the measure into law.
Sources: US Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation, House Natural Resources Committee, House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Energy and Environment Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire, the Hill, National Journal, Roll Call