ESA Policy News May 30: FIRST Act fight over “frivolous” NSF funding

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. 


On May 22nd, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee began a mark-up of H.R. 4186, the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014. After postponing completion of the committee mark-up for a week in order to secure votes among the majority Republican Party committee members, the committee approved the bill by a party-line vote the evening of May 28th.

The FIRST Act would reauthorize programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. The bill authorizes a 1.5 percent increase for NSF for FY 2015, lower than the amount included in the House Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations bill, but $24 million higher than the president’s FY 2015 budget request for the agency.

The FIRST Act has received criticism from the scientific community for several provisions that would alter the existing merit review process, establish new guidelines intended to minimize falsification of research results and specify funding allocations for each of NSF’s individual directorates. Committee Republicans argued that the provisions are necessary to ensure scientific integrity and minimize spending on research projects that could be perceived as frivolous.

View the committee mark-up by following this link. View the scientific societies letter by following this link.


Over the past two weeks, the House and Senate Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittees reported out their spending bills for FY 2015.

The House bill would fund federal agriculture programs at $20.9 billion in discretionary spending for FY 2015—comparable to FY 2014. The Senate bill would fund these programs at $20.575 billion, $325 million less than the House bill. Included are summaries of funding for specific US Department of Agriculture entities of interest to the ecological community:

Agricultural Research Service

House: $1.12 billion, a $2.2 million decrease over FY 2014.

Senate: $1.14 billion, a $17.2 million increase over FY 2014.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service

House: $867.5 million, a $45.78 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $872.4 million, a $50.69 million increase over FY 2014.

National Institute of Food and Agriculture

House: $774.5 million, a $1.9 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $787.5 million, a $15 million increase over FY 2014.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

House: $843 million, a $30.1 million increase over FY 2014.

Senate: $849.3 million, a $36.4 million increase over FY 2014.


On May 30th, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing examining the recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) report that concluded that failure to take action now on climate change will have disastrous long-term consequences for all life on this planet, including humanity.

Committee Republicans were skeptical of the report as were the majority of the witnesses invited, which included economist professor Richard Tol, University of Sussex; Daniel Botkin, Professor Emeritus with the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology; and Roger Pielke Sr., Senior Research Scientist with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at Colorado State University. The sole witness defending the findings of IPPC was Michael Oppenheimer, Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University.

A key topic of debate during the hearing was whether there was a “97 percent” consensus among the scientific community that humans are contributing significantly to climate change. Tol, himself once a member of the panel, asserted that the panel leadership has an “alarmist bias” that gives preference to like-minded authors. Under questioning from committee Democrats, Tol did concede he had previously written that “It is well-known that most papers and most authors in the climate literature support the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change. It does not matter whether the exact number is 90 percent or 99.9 percent.”

In his written testimony, Oppenheimer noted “several studies have compared projections of IPCC reports to actual outcomes, providing a basis to assess bias. Overall, if there is a significant bias, it reflects the professional caution of scientists.  In this regard, it is important to note that assessments by the US National Academy of Sciences, the other major national academies around the world, the major scientific professional societies relevant to climate change, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, have arrived at judgments largely similar to IPCC’s.” Oppenheimer did contend that the IPCC improving its transparency could help reinforce its credibility.

For additional information and to view the hearing, click this link.


This week, the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 4660, the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which begins October 1, 2014 and ends September 30, 2015. The bill passed with a large bipartisan vote of 321–87. Only 70 Democrats and 17 Republicans opposed the bill.

The bill funds the National Science Foundation (NSF) at $7.4 billion, a 3.3 percent increase over FY 2014 and 2.1 percent above the president’s FY 2015 budget request for the agency. The increase is attributable to House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime ally of NSF, who is also retiring at the end of the calendar year.

The bill also includes funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at $5.3 billion, virtually equal to the FY 2014 enacted level. Within NOAA, the House bill cut climate research by $37.5 million, a 24 percent cut from the $156.5 million FY 2014 enacted level.

This week, the Ecological Society of America issued an action alert urging members to support the NSF funding and restore the climate research cuts. While an effort to restore funding for climate research via an amendment from Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) failed, it is anticipated that the cuts may be restored when the bill is in conference negotiations with the Senate this fall. The fate of the other amendments adopted will also be determined at that time.

View the full statement here. View the ESA action alert here.


The Federal Register published a National Science Foundation (NSF) public comment request on proposed changes to its “Proposal and Award Policies and Procedures Guide (PAPPG).” The draft NSF PAPPG  is now available for review and consideration on the NSF website.

The PAPPG is composed of documents relating to the NSF’s proposal and award process. The purpose of the revision is to clarify and improve the general functionality of this process. For the reader’s ease in its review, the proposed changes are highlighted in the lengthy document.

Written comments should be received by July 8, 2014 to be assured of consideration.

To view the document, click this link. To view the Federal Register notice with comment instruction, click this link. For additional background information, click this link.


On May 27, the US Department of Agriculture announced a new $1.2 billion five-year program aimed at promoting public-private partnerships for soil and water conservation projects.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), authorized under the recent Agricultural Act of 2014, will consolidate the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative and the Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion into a single program.

The RCPP will competitively award funds to conservation projects designed by local partners specifically for their region. Eligible partners include private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, local and tribal governments and others joining with agricultural and conservation organizations and producers to invest money, manpower and materials to their proposed initiatives. With participating partners investing along with the Department, USDA’s $1.2 billion in funding over the life of the five-year program can leverage an additional $1.2 billion from partners for a total of $2.4 billion for conservation. There is $400 million in USDA funding is available in the first year. Through RCPP, partners propose conservation projects to improve soil health, water quality and water use efficiency, wildlife habitat, and other related natural resources on private lands.

“This is an entirely new approach to conservation,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “We’re giving private companies, local communities, and other non-government partners a way to invest in what are essentially clean water start-up operations. By establishing new public-private partnerships, we can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own. These efforts keep our land resilient and water clean, and promote tremendous economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism and outdoor recreation, and other industries.”

The agency is now accepting proposals for the program, due July 14, 2014. For additional information, click this link.


Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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