President’s FY 2015 science budget trails inflation, softens STEM ED consolidation proposal
Mar07

President’s FY 2015 science budget trails inflation, softens STEM ED consolidation proposal

On March 4, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) held a briefing outlining the president’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal and its investments in research and development (R&D). Overall, the president’s budget would dedicate $135.4 billion for federal R&D, a 1.2 percent increase over 2014. This includes nearly $7.3 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a one percent increase over FY 2014. Overall Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Education federal investments would increase by 3.7 percent to $2.9 billion compared to FY 2014. The multi-agency US Global Change Research Program would receive $2.5 billion, a 0.5 percent increase over FY 2014. OSTP Director John Holdren conceded that many investments fall short of meeting inflation, which will increase by 1.7 percent between FY 2014-2015, but noted that the current fiscal environment constrains more idealistic investments in research while still meeting the president’s desire to increase the United State’s commitment to funding scientific research. When inquired how the administration’s STEM program consolidation proposal in this year’s budget request differed from last year’s, Holdren contended that the proposal is more modest in that it no longer transfers funds across agencies and the consolidations occur within federal agencies. The proposal, which sought to consolidate STEM programs under the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution, was met with bipartisan skeptism among education advocates and lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The budget also proposes a separate $1 billion for a new Climate Resilience Fund, which will focus on helping states and localities with adaptation plans to help deal with floods, droughts wildfires and other extreme weather events or natural disasters that could be exacerbated by climate change. The fund would be part of the administration’s $56 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative, which seeks to increase federal investment in education, research and infrastructure. Cora Marrett, Acting Director of NSF, spotlighted the important role the agency plays in furthering basic research at institutions of higher learning.  Marrett noted that 94 percent of NSF funding goes directly toward basic research initiatives and NSF funds 24 percent of academic basic research at the federal level. Further, she noted NSF funds nearly 2,000 institutions across the United States. Catherine Wotecki, US Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Research, Education & Economics highlighted her agency’s research priority initiatives for the coming fiscal year: climate science translation, genetic improvement and translational breeding, pollinator health, and the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative, which funds research and education grants to address various agricultural issues, including farming, forestry, ranching and renewable energy. (*Incidentally, Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education & Economics Ann Bartuska is...

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ESA Policy News: November 11: President’s climate action plan, farm bill compromise and FS funding shortfalls
Nov11

ESA Policy News: November 11: President’s climate action plan, farm bill compromise and FS funding shortfalls

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. WHITE HOUSE: NEW EXECUTIVE ORDER BUILDS ON CLIMATE ACTION PLAN On Nov. 1, President Obama issued a new broad Executive Order, instructing federal agencies to help states strengthen their ability to cope with increasingly intense storms, severe droughts, wildfires and other various effects of climate change. The Executive Order establishes a Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience to advise the administration on how the federal government can respond to state and local concerns across the country on how to increase climate change preparedness. The task force will be comprised of governors, mayors, tribal leaders and other officials from across the country. The Executive Order instructs federal agencies to improve dissemination of tools to address climate change and help local communities to construct natural disaster-resilient infrastructure and natural resource and ecosystem resiliency. The order also establishes a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, involving 20 federal offices that will be charged with implementing the Executive Order. The council will be co-chaired by the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. View the full Executive Order here. A special issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment assesses the impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems this November, and includes an article on preparing for future environmental flux. To view the special issue, click here. SCIENCE: LAWMAKERS REVIEW LEGISLATION TO REAUTHORIZE AMERICA COMPETES ACT On Oct. 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee convened a hearing to consider a draft bill to partially reauthorize the America COMPETES Act, legislation to increase US federal investment in scientific research and innovation. However, there was debate among committee members over whether funding authorized in the bill was sufficient. The Enabling Innovation for Science, Technology, and Energy in America (EINSTEIN) Act, the draft bill under consideration, would set science priorities for the Department of Energy (DOE). “The discussion draft requires the Department of Energy to coordinate with other federal agencies to streamline workplace regulations. This reduces burdensome red tape and provides the National Labs flexibility to more effectively and efficiently execute the Department’s mission,” stated House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX). Committee Democrats, however, expressed concerns with how the bill funds the DOE Office of Science.  “At first glance, one might think that the Majority’s bill actually increases funding for the Office, but a closer look reveals that they are actually cutting funding – the rate of inflation for research is...

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ESA Policy News: July 26
Jul26

ESA Policy News: July 26

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES SLASHED, FIRE PREVENTION GETS BOOST On July 22, House Republicans released a draft of the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. The bill primarily funds environmental agencies such as the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Forest Service. The Interior and Environment appropriations bill is among the more controversial of the discretionary spending bills as the bill has jurisdiction over the funding of many Obama administration environmental regulatory initiatives that are unpopular with Congressional Republicans. House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Moran (D-VA) briefly appeared at the hearing to give a statement calling the legislation “an embarrassment” and immediately left the hearing in protest. “We are going to continue to see these kinds of dramatic reductions as long as we keep trying to reduce the debt by cutting discretionary spending alone, rather than also tackling mandatory spending, which is the real driver of our debt,” warned Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID). As with all non-defense discretionary appropriations bills put forward by the House for the coming fiscal year, the bill includes drastic cuts that assume budget sequestration continues through FY 2014. For many agencies, funding is reduced sharply even when accounting for the five percent across-the-board non-defense discretionary spending cuts enforced under sequestration in part because House Republicans are seeking to lessen sequestration’s impact on defense spending. Overall, the bill provides $24.3 billion in funding for FY 2014 for the aforementioned environmental agencies. This is $5.5 billion less than what was enacted in FY 2013 and still amounts to a $4 billion cut when accounting for the FY 2013 sequestration cuts. The House bill is expected to differ substantially with the Senate, which plans to continue drafting all its spending bills under the assumption that sequester will not continue into Fiscal Year 2014.  However, budget sequestration will only end when and if Congress takes legislative action to change the law that put sequestration into effect. For additional information on the bill, click here. EPA: MCCARTHY CONFIRMED AS NEW ADMINISTRATOR The Senate on July 18, voted 59-40 to confirm Gina McCarthy as administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (TN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Susan Collins (ME), Bob Corker (TN), Jeff Flake (AZ) and John McCain (AZ) voted for her confirmation. Joe Manchin (WV) was the lone Democrat to vote against McCarthy. McCarthy takes the reins from Robert Perciasepe, who has served as acting-administrator since Lisa Jackson stepped...

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ESA Policy News: May 3

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. NSF: SCIENCE COMMITTEE LEADERS WEIGH IN ON BEHAVIORAL RESEARCH INVESTMENT A letter to National Science Foundation (NSF) Acting-Director Cora Marrett from House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) received a sharp rebuttal from Ranking Member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX). In his letter, Chairman Smith expressed concern with how NSF prioritizes scientific research. “Based on my review of NSF-funded studies, I have concerns regarding some grants approved by the foundation and how closely they adhere to NSF’s ‘intellectual merit’ guideline,” he wrote.  “To better understand how NSF makes decisions to approve and fund grants, it would be helpful to obtain detailed information on specific research projects awarded NSF grants.” He then cited several social science studies, including research projects entitled “Picturing Animals in National Geographic,” “Comparative Network Analysis: Mapping Global Social Interactions,” and “Regulating Accountability and Transparency in China’s Dairy Industry” as “studies of interest” to the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Ranking Member Johnson’s response letter addressed to Chairman Smith came the following day. “Like you I recognize that NSF grants have a responsibility back to the taxpayers,” she noted. “But I also believe that: 1) the progress of science itself – across all fields, including the social and behavioral sciences – is in the interest of the taxpayer; and 2) that NSF’s Broader Impact criterion is the right way to hold the individual grantee accountable.” Her letter included a sharp criticism of the chairman’s move as entirely unprecedented in modern history. “In the history of this committee, no chairman has ever put themselves forward as an expert in the science that underlies specific grant proposals funded by NSF. In the more than two decades of committee leadership that I have worked with – Chairmen Brown, Walker, Sensenbrenner, Boehlert, Gordon, and Hall – I have never seen a chairman decide to go after specific grants simply because the chairman does not believe them to be of high value.” To view Chairman Smith’s letter, click here. To view Ranking Member Johnson’s rebuttal letter, click here. To view President Obama’s recent remarks before the National Academy of Sciences, click here. SENATE: APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE REVIEWS EPA FY 2014 BUDGET REQUEST On April 24, the Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee convened for a hearing examining the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget request for FY 2014. “I’m disappointment with the overall budget level. This is the fourth year in a row that the agency’s budget request has contracted,” noted Subcommittee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI). Chairman Reed cited clean...

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ESA Policy News: December 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: SCIENTIFIC SOCIETIES REQUEST ACTION TO DETER ‘FISCAL CLIFF,’ SPENDING CUTS On Dec. 7, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) joined a host of other scientific societies, universities and business leaders in sending a letter, spearheaded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), urging President Obama and Congressional leadership to reach a compromise deal that averts the ‘fiscal cliff’ while preserving federal investment in scientific research. ESA had sent the White House and Congress a similar letter late last month. The fiscal cliff includes a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (sequestration) set to occur in January, if the Congress does not come up with an alternative plan to lower the deficit by $1.2 trillion before then either through spending cuts or revenue increases. Defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 9.4 percent while non-defense discretionary spending programs would be cut by 8.2 percent under the automatic cuts.  The fiscal cliff also includes expiring tax cuts and unemployment benefits that, if left unaddressed, collectively threaten to plunge the economy into another recession. The letter encourages the president and congressional leaders to come up with a balanced approach to deficit reduction, noting the important role of science and technological investment. “It is important to recognize that federal research and development (R&D) investments are not driving our national deficits,” the letter notes. “These investments account for less than one-fifth of the current discretionary budget, but discretionary spending is the only place where deep cuts will be made. Placing a significant burden on these crucial areas, as sequestration would do, is nothing less than a threat to national competitiveness.  We recognize that the United States faces severe fiscal challenges, and we urge you to begin to address them through a balanced approach that includes tax and entitlement reform.” Both sides have put forward general plans that propose increased revenues and cuts to entitlement programs. However, despite several face-to-face meetings between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) in the weeks since the election, Congressional Republicans and Democrats remain deadlocked over the particulars of a compromise proposal. With the holidays fast approaching, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has repeatedly asserted that the House will not adjourn until issues related to the fiscal cliff are resolved. The White House Office of Management and Budget has already begun directing federal agencies to begin planning for the sequester. To view the joint society letter, click here. To view the ESA letter, click here. DISASTER RELIEF: SENATE PROPOSES SANDY SUPPLEMENTAL APPROPRIATIONS LEGISLATION...

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ESA Policy News: November 30

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. BUDGET: FISCAL CLIFF TALKS CONTINUE, NO SOLUTION IN SIGHT As the fiscal cliff negotiations continue, leaders in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and the Democratic-controlled Senate have sketched out their broad goals. Included in the “fiscal cliff” are a series of automatic discretionary spending cuts (budget sequestration) and the expiration of a multitude of tax cuts and unemployment benefit extensions. The discretionary spending cuts include significant spending reductions to science agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the United States Geological Survey. On the Republican side, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have declared that Republicans are open to revenue increases, yet are unwilling to raise specific income rates. Republicans have called on Senate Democrats and the White House to outline what specific discretionary spending cuts and entitlement reforms they would embrace.Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have called on Republicans to outline specific revenue increases and changes to the tax code. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has stated that simply closing loopholes will not generate the necessary revenue. On Nov. 29, the White House offered an initial plan that would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue and $400 billion in spending cuts. The first $960 billion in revenue would come from allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for the highest income earners. Another $600 billion in revenue would come from changes to the tax code. The proposal, put forward by Treasury Secretary Geithner, would also grant the president more latitude to raise the debt ceiling with a required two thirds vote from Congress to prevent it. As part of the plan, the White House also is requesting $50 billion in new stimulus spending and a $30 billion extension of unemployment benefits. The $400 billion in savings comes from changes to healthcare and entitlement programs. The plan also calls for extending the payroll tax cut or providing a similar tax cut targeted towards working families. The Administration’s proposed revenue increases alone are a non-starter for Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) with both Speaker Boehner and Senate Minority Leader McConnell soundly rejecting the proposal. A number of organizations who benefit from non-defense discretionary (NDD) spending have come together to form “NDD United,” a broad effort to inform policymakers on the multifaceted detrimental impacts NDD cuts would have on communities nationwide. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is among the scientific societies that participate in these efforts. ESA has joined in NDD United activities and recently spearheaded a letter to...

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ESA Policy News: November 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. 2012 ELECTION: RESULTS PRODUCE SAME PLAYERS, ADDED POLARIZATION The 2012 elections resulted in the continuation of a divided government with both parties more or less playing with the same hand they held before the election. President Obama remains in the White House, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate (albeit with a slightly more cushioned majority) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) retains control of the House with a substantial majority of over 230 Republican members. White House The re-election of President Obama generally means no significant policy changes for federal agencies. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues its National Oceans Policy, the Department of Interior’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative remains intact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will continue its regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and its current Clean Water Act and mountain-top removal mining policies will be sustained.  The Department of State will continue its review of the Keystone XL pipeline with its early 2013 date on whether it will approved. The great unknown is who among the federal agency heads will be staying on to implement these policies. House US House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is expected to retain his role as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). Congress’s first order of business, upon returning for its lame-duck session next week will be to address the fiscal cliff, a combination of automatic spending cuts enacted under the Budget Control Act and a series of expiring tax cuts enacted under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama. Speaker Boehner has declared that House Republicans are prepared to embrace a deficit reduction deal that includes revenue increases so long as those increases are coupled with further non-defense discretionary spending cuts and mandatory spending reductions. The Speaker has forewarned, however, that any revenue increases should be made through reforms to the tax code that closes loopholes, not through tax increases on the wealthiest Americans or small businesses. Republican control of the House means that many of the attempts to legislatively delist species from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, prohibit funding for NOAA’s proposed climate service, roll back Department of Interior and EPA regulations intended to protect the environment and cut or limit discretionary spending on certain science initiatives, will also continue over the next two years. House committee oversight hearings that are highly critical of various administration regulations and initiatives will also continue under the current majority. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) retains control of the Senate, partially due to...

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ESA Policy News: August 17

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: CONGRESS AVOIDS FALL SHUTDOWN, SEQUESTRATION CUTS STILL LOOM On July 31, congressional leaders announced an agreement on federal appropriations funding that would avoid a government shutdown when current funding runs out at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 on Sept. 30. The deal has the benefit of punting a contentious debate over federal spending levels for FY 2013 until after the November elections. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Congress would take up a continuing resolution in September, reportedly free of riders, to fund the government through the end of March. Overall, the agreement would fund the government at $1.047 trillion for the six months beginning after Sept. 30. Politically, the move would give whichever party is in control of Congress and the White House next year the ability to set funding levels for the remainder of FY 2013. Given the closeness of the presidential election, both parties feel this works in their favor. The deal also takes an issue off the table for what could be a potentially busy and contentious lame duck session. In addition to needing to address a swath of tax cuts set to expire at year’s end, Congress has still not yet reached agreement on how to handle across-the-board sequestration cuts instituted under the Budget Control Act. If Congress does not act before January, discretionary spending programs will receive an eight percent cut in funding totaling $109 billion. SENATE: COMMITTEE HEARING REVIVES CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE On August 1, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee convened for a hearing on climate change science. The hearing marked the first time the committee had dedicated a hearing specifically focused on the issue since 2009. In her opening statement, Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) referenced the National Academy of Sciences as well as reports from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautic Space Administration that state that humans are impacting climate change and that these changes are already having detrimental impacts on the environment including extreme weather conditions, droughts and melting glaciers. In her statement, Chairwoman Boxer also referenced a New York Times article by former climate-skeptic Professor Richard Muller who stated: “Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.” In the article’s opening sentence, Muller proclaims “Call me a converted skeptic.”...

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