A  GSPA winner’s close encounter with an Alaska senator and a fish called ‘Walter’ while advocating for NSF
Jun14

A GSPA winner’s close encounter with an Alaska senator and a fish called ‘Walter’ while advocating for NSF

A guest commentary by Timothy Treuer (Princeton University), 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award recipient Walking through the door into Senator Lisa Murkowski’s fourth floor office in the Hart Senate Building feels like stepping from the halls of the nation’s capital into a home in Alaska. The walls and shelves are covered in photos of arctic landscapes, Alaska Native artwork, and other mementos of my home state. Indeed, walking around the reception area felt a lot like pacing the living room of my parents’ house back in suburban Anchorage. There were five of us there on the afternoon of April 28th. We constituted the California and Alaska contingent of the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day. The event is organized annually to give biologists and ecologists from around the country a chance to interact with Congress on the ever-pressing issue of National Science Foundation (NSF) funding. ESA sponsored my participation through a Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA), along with Brian Kastl of University of California, Santa Barbara and four other awardees representing different states. Though we had been expecting to meet with Senator Murkowski’s legislative aide, as we were ushered into a conference room we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the senator herself would be dropping in for the second half of the meeting. Because of a last minute conflict with a vote in the Capitol Building, this meant that Sen. Murkowski would be our only in person meeting with a member of Congress that day. The goal of BESC’s Congressional Visits Day is twofold. First, we were there to put a human face on NSF funding–too often federally funded research gets caricatured and lambasted by politicians whose mental image of a scientist is likely something along the lines of a Revenge of the Nerds protagonist in a lab coat. Having a collection of business-attired biologists with a polished pitch on how their federally funded research achieves real world impacts leaves a lasting impression. Second, and more concretely, we were there to ask for $8 billion in funding for NSF for fiscal year 2017. If that seems like a lot to you, consider the following three facts: (1) $8 billion is $2.44 billion less than the cost of a single Ford-class aircraft carrier, (2) proposal funding rates at NSF have fallen over the last decade by a third, and (3) the NSF would need an additional $4 billion to fund all proposals deemed meritorious (average review of ‘very good’ or higher). The meeting with Sen. Murkowski’s staff started off in what by that point felt like a familiar routine. We went around our table introducing ourselves,...

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‘Putting a face’ on science funding, Lear reflects on congressional visits experience
Jun06

‘Putting a face’ on science funding, Lear reflects on congressional visits experience

A guest commentary by Kristen Lear (University of Georgia), 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award recipient As a 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) recipient, I traveled to D.C. in late April for three days to receive hands-on exposure to the interface between science and policy. This was a departure from my “day-job” as a graduate student at the University of Georgia studying the conservation of an endangered pollinating bat species in Mexico. The other five GSPA recipients and I spent the first evening of this jam-packed two-day experience representing ESA at the Coalition for National Science Funding reception on Capitol Hill, where scientists representing their professional society or university showcase their research that is supported by federal funding. Usually “higher-up” members of ESA get to do this, but because the CNSF reception happened to fall on the dates of the GSPA trip, we had the unique opportunity to participate. We staffed a table for ESA and talked with visitors, many of whom were Congressional members or staff, about our research and ESA’s work. As a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship for my PhD research, I can personally attest to the importance of federal funding of scientific research. Dr. France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), stopped at the ESA exhibit. On our first full day, we got a crash-course in how federal science policy works, with guest speakers from the National Science Foundation, the Ecological Society of America, and others involved in the science policy arena. Next, we split into our geographically-paired teams to practice for the next day’s Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visit day meetings, where we would be thrown into the ring (aka Senate and House offices) to discuss the importance of continued federal funding for NSF. After some discussion among Team GA-MS (four graduate students from Georgia and Mississippi and a Team Leader), about how to approach our Hill meetings, we were as prepared as we could be for the real thing. The following morning we gathered on the Hill, dressed in our fancy business attire, and proceeded to meet with a total of seven House and Senate and offices. Many of our meetings were with the staff of the Members, but our group was lucky enough to get to meet with some of the Members themselves: Representative Jody Hice from Georgia and Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi. During our meetings we asked for $8 billion for NSF in the FY2017 budget. This may seem like a crazy amount of money, but when you consider that federally-funded basic science research has led to the creation of...

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ESA Policy News May 4: Senate committee moves NSF, DOE funding bills, ESA grad students visit Capitol Hill
May04

ESA Policy News May 4: Senate committee moves NSF, DOE funding bills, ESA grad students visit Capitol Hill

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: SENATE COMMERCE, JUSTICE AND SCIENCE BILL CLEARS SUBCOMMITTEE On April 19, the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee approved its Fiscal Year 2017 spending bill. The bill includes $56.3 billion, $563 above the FY 2016 enacted level and $1.6 billion above the Obama administration’s FY 2017 budget request. The National Science Foundation (NSF) would receive $7.5 billion in FY 2017, a $46.3 million increase over FY 2017. The added funding is directed solely towards NSF major research and facilities construction, specifically the design and construction of three Regional Class Research Vessels. NSF research and related activities remains flat at the FY 2016 enacted level. Below are funding levels for other science agencies in the bill, compared to the FY 2016 enacted level: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: $5.7 billion, a $33.5 million increase. National Aeronautics and Space Administration: $19.3 billion, a $21 million increase. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy: $5.6 billion, level. Click here for additional information on the Senate CJS bill.   APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE, SENATE REPORT ENERGY AND WATER SPENDING BILLS On April 20, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees moved their respective energy and water spending bills for Fiscal Year 2017, which begins Oct 1, 2016. The House bill would provide $37.4 billion in funding, a $259 million increase over the FY 2016 enacted level. Below are funding levels for specific federal entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016: US Army Corps of Engineers: $6.1 billion, a $100 million increase. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science: $5.4 billion, a $50 million increase. Advanced Research Agency-Energy (ARPA-E): $306 million, a $15 million increase. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs: $1.8 billion, a $248 million cut. DOE Environmental Management: $6.2 billion, a $66 million cut. DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development: $645 million, a $13 million increase. Bureau of Reclamation: $1.1 billion, a $131 million cut. In contrast, the Senate Energy and Water appropriations bill passed committee with bipartisan support. Its Energy and Water bill would provide $37.5 billion in FY 2017, slightly larger than the House measure. Below are funding levels for specific federal entities of interest to the ecological community compared to FY 2016 enacted levels: The US Army Corps of Engineers: $6 billion, an $11 million increase. The DOE Office of Science: $5.4 billion, a $50 million increase. DOE Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy programs: $2 billion, level. DOE Environmental Management: $6.4 billion, a $133 million increase. DOE Fossil Energy Research and Development: $632...

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ESA Policy News November 25: Scientific Societies defend NOAA, Apply for 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award
Nov25

ESA Policy News November 25: Scientific Societies defend NOAA, Apply for 2016 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  HOUSE: ESA JOINS OTHER SOCIETIES IN DEFENDING SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH ESA and six other leading science societies sent a letter to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) concerning his ongoing inquiries into the climate-change research of Thomas Karl and colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At issue is the nearly unprecedented nature of the congressional inquiry into the study. Karl and NOAA colleagues used updated and corrected global surface temperature data to dispute the existence of a recent pause in global warming.  Since its publication, Chairman Smith and NOAA have been embroiled in a very public dispute related to a subpoena he sent to NOAA demanding the release of internal communications between NOAA scientists about the climate study. Smith is among those House members who are skeptical of the scientific evidence on climate change. The chairman believes it is possible that NOAA scientists manipulated data to advance the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. In the Nov. 24 letter to Chairman Smith, the science societies expressed concern that politically-motivated inquiries could hinder the ability of government researchers to fulfill their agencies’ scientific missions and constrain federal agencies’ capacity to attract quality scientific talent. “Scientists should not be subjected to fraud investigations or harassment simply for providing scientific results that some may see as politically controversial,” stated the letter. “Science cannot thrive when policymakers—regardless of party affiliation— use policy disagreements as a pretext to attack scientific conclusions without public evidence.” Click here to view the scientific societies letter. Click here to view Administrator Sullivan’s letter to Chairman Smith. Click here to view Ranking Member Johnson’s letter to Chairman Smith. Click here to view Chairman Smith’s response to the Johnson letter. APPROPRIATIONS: ESA REQUESTS ECOLOGICAL RESEARCH FUNDING INCREASE FOR FY 2016 On Nov. 20, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) sent a letter to House and Senate appropriators requesting a 5.2 percent discretionary spending increase for federal agencies that fund scientific research. The letter notes the role the National Science Foundation, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the US Geological Survey and other agencies play in supporting ecological research. It also calls upon appropriations leaders not to include riders that would hinder the ability of federal agencies to make policy decisions informed by scientific research. “The Society hopes that Congress can reach a bipartisan appropriations agreement that is free of provisions that would circumvent environmental assessments, impede climate change research or make determinations for endangered species listings that bypass the collaborative process involving researchers, state and local resource...

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ESA Policy News May 20: America COMPETES reauthorization set for House floor vote, ESA GSPA winners visit Capitol Hill, NSF report analyzes STEM workforce
May20

ESA Policy News May 20: America COMPETES reauthorization set for House floor vote, ESA GSPA winners visit Capitol Hill, NSF report analyzes STEM workforce

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SCIENCE: AMERICA COMPETES REAUTHORIZATION BILL HITS HOUSE FLOOR This week, the US House of Representatives will vote on H.R. 1806, the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2015. The bill reauthorizes funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, the Department of Energy Office of Science and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for Fiscal Years 2016 and 2017. The Ecological Society of America was among many scientific and education societies who issued action alerts to membership calling for scientists to express concern with the bill. The original America COMPETES Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-69) was a strongly bipartisan measure passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress and signed by a Republican president. It contained significant increases for federal science agencies. The 2007 bill and its 2010 reauthorization (P.L. 111-358) received strong support from the scientific community. In contrast, the 2015 bill is expected to pass the House largely along partisan lines and includes only mild increases for the federal agencies authorized in the bill. These increases also come at the cost of targeted cuts to the DOE Biological and Environmental Research Office and the NSF directorates for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences and the geosciences. The White House also issued a Statement of Administration Policy declaring that the president would veto the bill. Read the statement here. Click here to read NSF’s Impact Statement about the bill’s consequences to the research community. Click here to read ESA’s letter. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE COMMITTEE RELEASES FY 2016 CJS FUNDING BILL On May 13, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee unveiled its Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 funding bill. The bill includes funding for the Department of Justice, Department of Commerce and several key federal science agencies for the coming fiscal year that starts October 1, 2015. In total, the bill includes $51.4 billion in discretionary spending in FY 2016, a $1.3 billion increase over the FY 2015 enacted level. The bill includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation; a $50 million increase over the FY 2015 enacted funding level, but $300 million less than the president’s request for FY 2016. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.2 billion, $274 million below the FY 2015 enacted level.  The National Aeronautic and Space Administration would receive $18.5 billion in FY 2015, a $519 million increase over FY 2015. Science programs at the agency would decrease by $7 million compared to the FY 2015 enacted level. Additional information on the...

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ESA Announces 2015 Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients
Mar25

ESA Announces 2015 Graduate Student Policy Award Recipients

Graduate students from University of Illinois at Chicago, Princeton University, Oregon State University and University of Texas at Austin will speak with federal lawmakers about sustaining support for science  WASHINGTON, DC – The Ecological Society of America (ESA), the world’s largest professional society of ecological scientists, is pleased to announce this year’s Graduate Student Policy Award winners. The award affords ESA graduate students the opportunity to participate in two days of science policy activities, including meetings with congressional offices. This year’s winners are Sydney Blankers (University of Illinois at Chicago) Cleo Chou (Princeton University), Natalie Hambalek (Oregon State University) and Emlyn Resetarits (University of Texas at Austin). All four students demonstrate a commitment to engaging in public policy and the ESA Award allows them to build on their prior experiences. Blankers, Chou, Hambalek and Resetarits, will participate in a congressional visits event in Washington, DC, this May, sponsored by the Biological Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) and co-chaired by ESA. The event brings together young scientists from across the country to meet with lawmakers. The scientists will highlight the benefits of biological research and education in their respective states and the nation. Participants attend sessions about how current political and fiscal issues may impact federal agencies. ESA graduate student policy awardees also meet with federal ecologists to learn about their work and that of their respective agencies. 2015 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award winners Sydney Blankers is pursuing a Masters in urban planning and policy with a concentration in environmental planning. She studies regulatory and economic techniques for influencing development and resource use in a manner that is more in tune with urban community ecosystems. She will present her thesis on urban and natural interconnectedness at the American Planning Association National Conference in Seattle in April 2015. Through her work with the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce in Chicago, she has interviewed sustainable businesses and showcased their work through a marketing campaign. Cleo Chou is expected to obtain her Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology this year. Her dissertation is on carbon and nutrient cycling in tropical rainforests. She is a fellow in the Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars group, an interdisciplinary group of PhD students from energy and climate-related fields. She also serves as project coordinator and co-author of a publication on nuclear fusion technology as an energy source in the Andlinger Center Energy Technology Distillate series, geared towards policymakers as well as academics. As an undergrad at Columbia University, she planned and organized events designed to bring timely and social-relevant science to the student body and local community. Natalie Hambalek’s policy engagement began while as an undergrad at...

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ESA Policy News December 5: House floats FY 2015 spending deal, NEON scrutinized, Apply for 2015 GSPA
Dec05

ESA Policy News December 5: House floats FY 2015 spending deal, NEON scrutinized, Apply for 2015 GSPA

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE FLOATS FY 2015 SPENDING BILL 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. The bill is expected to be introduced on Dec. 8. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE EXAMINES NEON ACCOUNTING 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 audits 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.” Democratic committee members noted there was no representative from NSF itself to provide a balanced perspective.  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 to view the 2011 audit report. Click here to view the 2012 audit report. Click here to view the 2014 audit report. Click here for additional information on the hearing. NSF: CORDOVA ANNOUNCES REVISED TRANSPARENCY, ACCOUNTABILITY GUIDELINES At the November National Science Board (NSB) meeting, National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France A. Córdova outlined...

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NSF IGERT: Transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries to advance career opportunities in science
Jun23

NSF IGERT: Transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries to advance career opportunities in science

This year’s 2014 ESA Graduate Student Policy Award (GSPA) winners, (left to right) Brittany West Marsden (University of Maryland), Sarah Anderson (Washington State University), Amber Childress (Colorado State University), Johanna Varner (University of Utah), and Andrew Bingham (Colorado State University) participated in policy training at ESA’s Washington, DC office on April 9. (Credit/ESA file photo) In April, 60 biologists and graduate-level scientists stormed Capitol Hill as part of the annual Biological and Ecological Sciences Congressional visits, co-organized by the Ecological Society of America. One of the central goals of the annual visits is to urge Members of Congress to support funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the only federal agency whose mission includes support for all fields of science and engineering, except medical sciences. The regionally divided teams met with staff in House and Senate offices, relaying the importance of their research with personal narratives and advocating for $7.5 billion for the NSF for upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, which begins October 1, 2014. Later this spring, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees unveiled their respective Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bills for FY 2015. Both bills include increases for the NSF, a small triumph given current fiscal restraints. However, the Senate bill would increase funding for NSF by $83 million to $7.255 billion, level with the president’s FY 2015 budget request, but not meeting inflation needs. Meanwhile, the House bill includes $7.4 billion for NSF, a $237 million increase over FY 2014. Ultimately, House and Senate appropriators this fall will compromise on determining the final NSF budget for FY 2015. The ability of key science programs to provide vital resources to researchers in their career development will rest on the outcome of these bicameral negotiations. One important NSF program is the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT). The program works to compliment a graduate student’s developing disciplinary expertise with a more diverse set of professional skills that transcends their traditional learning experience. The program expands students’ skill set with training in bioethics, research ethics, business innovation, and improves their capacity to communicate science to an array of public audiences. Since 1998, the IGERT program has funded nearly 5,000 graduate students at over 100 educational institutions in 41 states across the US. During the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2014 Graduate Student Policy Award recipient Sarah Anderson details her experience with the IGERT and how it advanced her career: “It allowed me to do my research very intensively in my field of study, but it also let me get training [in my case] in public policy and think about my research in a...

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