Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process
Jul17

Federal efforts underway to streamline research grant review process

  A recent report from the National Science Board seeks to ease the burden of private investigators and lower costs associated with the overall merit review process for federal research grants. The National Science Foundation’s National Science Board (NSB) has released a report outlining recommendations to reduce administrative workload for principal investigators of federally funded research. The report is in response to several previous federal surveys and reports from the Federal Demonstration Partnership and the National Research Council that found these results: 1)      Federally supported scientists spend an average of 42 percent of their research time on administrative tasks. 2)      “The problem of excessive regulatory burdens…puts a drag on the efficiency of all university research,” potentially costing “billions of dollars over the next decade.” Among its recommendations, the NSB report recommends focusing grant proposal oversight on merit and achievement; harmonizing and streamlining grant management requirements among federal agencies and bureaus; eliminating or modifying unnecessary or ineffective regulations; and, identifying and disseminating model programs and practices that increase the efficiency of university research review processes. On July 14, the House passed bipartisan H.R. 5056, the Research Development and Efficiency Act, that seeks to implement the report recommendations. It was introduced by Chairman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology with bipartisan agreement. The bill would create an interagency working group under the authority of the National Science and Technology Council with these mandates: (1) Harmonize, streamline, and eliminate duplicative Federal regulations and reporting requirements; and (2) minimize the regulatory burden on United States institutions of higher education performing federally funded research while maintaining accountability for Federal tax dollars. The NSB, various research entities and institutions, including the American Association of Universities, support the legislation. Additional information on the NSB report is available...

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The importance of investing in the researchers of the future
Jul09

The importance of investing in the researchers of the future

In the most recent edition of the Ecologist Goes to Washington podcast, 2014 Graduate Student Policy (GSPA) Award winner Brittany West Marsden (the University of Maryland) reflects on her meeting with various congressional office staff this past spring. She explains how this experience “demystified” the perceived complexity of engaging in the policymaking process. During the podcast, Marsden elaborates on her conversation with a congressional staffer who she cited as being strong advocate for science. The congressional staffer asked Marsden and the other students in attendance about their long-term career goals. The students voiced their reservations about pursuing careers that rely on grant funding. Increasingly, they see their professors spend more time applying for funding at the expense of doing actual scientific research. “We think about investing in the products of research, but we also can’t overlook investing in the future researchers themselves,” stated Marsden. The Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition meetings, which Marsden and other 2014 GSPA winners attended, allowed the graduate students to highlight various federal research programs that aid in their science-career development. The meeting conversations included federal programs such as the National Science Foundation Interdisciplinary Graduate Research and Education Traineeship and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowship, in which Marsden participated. In the podcast, Marsden noted how the EPA STAR Fellowship fostered her progress throughout graduate school and expanded her network of scientific contacts around the country. Unfortunately, the residual impacts of the 2013 sequestration cuts to the federal budget including spending cuts to EPA and other federal agency programs are diminishing the funding opportunities available for graduate-student career development. The practical and long-term residual effects of this reduced funding are multifold. As mentioned above, one effect is graduate students choosing careers outside of science; another effect is the possibility of students taking their talents to other countries. Insufficient or lack of sustained funding also limits the ability of career scientists to conduct the research that has led to discoveries that help improve American society. Many scientific breakthroughs occurred by chance or happenstance such as commonplace microwave ovens or Alexander Fleming’s accidental encounter with penicillium mold in 1928. Over the long term, lack of federal-science investment hinders the United States’ capacity to compete globally and create the jobs of the future that bolster economic development and opportunity. Recent reports conclude the United States is on the precipice of falling behind other countries in its share of research and development investment. In short, if the US wants to remain a leader in scientific innovation and achievement, it is critical for the nation to invest in programs and initiatives that draw young...

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ESA Policy News June 27: GOP Former EPA admins support climate action, new NSF communications ‘toolkit’
Jun27

ESA Policy News June 27: GOP Former EPA admins support climate action, new NSF communications ‘toolkit’

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.  SENATE: FORMER GOP EPA ADMINISTRATORS DEFEND REGULATORY EFFORTS TO ADDRESS CLIMATE CHANGE Four former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrators who served under Republican presidents testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in support of the Obama administration’s proposed standards for greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions from existing fossil-fueled power plants. The former EPA administrators served under Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. In their testimony, the administrators reiterated the scientific consensus that human activity is contributing to global warming and affirmed the EPA’s authority to regulate GHG emissions as provided under the Clean Air Act. They also called on Congress to join President Obama and demonstrate global leadership to address the causes of climate change. “We like to speak of American exceptionalism,” stated William Ruckelshaus, the first and fifth EPA Administrator (1970–1973, 1983–1985). “If we want to be truly exceptional then we should begin the difficult task of leading the world away from the unacceptable effects of our increasing appetites for fossil fuels before it is too late.” “I must begin by expressing my frustration that the discussion about whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the legal authority to regulate carbon emissions is still taking place in some quarters,” stated former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman (2001–2003). “The issue has been settled. EPA does have the authority. The law says so, and the [US] Supreme Court has said so twice. The matter should be put to rest.” Noting that humans are contributing to climate change, Whitman further added that “when one is contributing to a problem, one has an obligation to be part of the solution that problem. That is what EPA is trying to do.” View the full hearing by clicking this link. SUPREME COURT: PERMIT RULING LEAVES EPA REGULATORY AUTHORITY LARGELY INTACT This week the US Supreme Court validated the power of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in its ruling in the case of Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA. It was the third time the high court has upheld the use of the Clean Air Act to combat challenges posed by climate change. In the majority opinion 5-4 decision, Justice Antonin Scalia ruled that emissions of greenhouse gases alone are not enough to trigger EPA enforcement under the program for smaller businesses, but that the “trigger” threshold is intended for major polluters. He said, “It bears mentioning that EPA is getting almost everything it wanted in this case,” Scalia said in the courtroom....

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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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ESA Policy News June 13: EPA releases new power plant rules, energy research bill markup halted
Jun13

ESA Policy News June 13: EPA releases new power plant rules, energy research bill markup halted

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here.    AIR POLLUTION: EPA RELEASES FIRST EVER CARBON RULES FOR POWER PLANTS On June 2nd, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “Clean Power Plan” proposal, the first ever guidelines to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants. They emit 38 percent of carbon emissions in the US, mainly from older, inefficient coal-fired plants with an average age of 42 years. The proposed ruling will also affect natural-gas fired power plants, which emit about half the emissions as coal-fired plants. The new standards will cut carbon emissions from the utility sector by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. While there are currently federal limits for arsenic, mercury, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and particle pollution, there are no such limits on carbon emissions. “As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” stated President Obama. “The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. America will build that engine. America will build the future. A future that’s cleaner, more prosperous, and full of good jobs—a future where we can look our kids in the eye and tell them we did our part to leave them a safer, more stable world.” Each state will draft its own plan to meet carbon reduction targets due to the EPA in June 2016. Some options states may choose are demand-side energy efficiency, renewable energy standards or goals, and plant retrofits from coal to natural gas. The Clean Power Plan would assign states both “interim” and “final” targets for greenhouse gas reductions, based in part on what the states have already achieved and agency estimates on their overall greenhouse gas reduction capability. The interim reduction target goal date is 2020 while the final target must be met by 2030. For more information on the rule, click here. Information on how to comment on the proposed plan is available on the EPA website. To view the “Health Impacts of Climate Change on Americans” report, click this link. REGULATION: NPS SEEKS COMMENTS FOR APPROPRIATE USE FOR SNOW-OVER VEHICLES Today, the US Forest Service announced it will publish a Federal Register Notice next week seeking public comment on a proposal that would help standardize where and when over-snow vehicles, such as snowmobiles, are used on national forests and grasslands. Motor vehicle use on national forests and grasslands is governed by the Travel Management Rule which provides...

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ESA Policy News May 30: FIRST Act fight over “frivolous” NSF funding
May30

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.  NSF: REAUTHORIZATION BILL SPURS CONTENTION DURING COMMITTEE MARKUP 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. AGRICULTURE: HOUSE, SENATE COMMITTEES REPORT FY 2015 SPENDING BILLS 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. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE MEMBERS QUESTION CONSENSUS BEHIND IPCC FINDINGS On May 30th, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held a hearing examining the...

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EPSCoR: Expanding Job Growth and Opportunity in Science
May06

EPSCoR: Expanding Job Growth and Opportunity in Science

    The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) provides science resources to its jurisdictions, which constitute 28 states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands. A recent Capitol Hill briefing spotlighted the program’s work to expand science research and education across US states and territories that have traditionally been underfunded. Speakers noted how the program fosters career development and high-paying job opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The briefing was moderated by Paul Hill, Chancellor of the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission. NSF Deputy Director Cora Marrett also gave introductory remarks at the briefing. James Rice, Project Director for South Dakota EPSCoR, highlighted the important role businesses in his state play in providing career opportunities for STEM undergraduate students. In partnership with the South Dakota Department of Economic Development, South Dakota EPSCoR established the Dakota SEEDS program to connect STEM undergraduate students with career opportunities at 200 participating South Dakota companies. The program has provided a total of 231 interns (32 percent of participants) full time positions at the companies where they had interned. EPSCoR states and commonwealths are also important for expanding STEM research and education for racial minorities. NSF reports that the populations of EPSCoR jurisdictions consist of 24 percent of the nation’s African-Americans  in areas that are home to 50 percent of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The EPSCoR jurisdiction’s populations also compose 49 percent of the nation’s Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders; 40 percent of the nation’s American Indians and Alaskan Natives; 16 percent of the nation’s Hispanics. EPSCoR jurisdictions include 16 percent of the nation’s Hispanics Serving Institutions and 68 percent of the Tribal Colleges and Universities. The Virgin Islands EPSCoR Project Director Henry Smith noted how the EPSCoR program had partially funded research into invasive lionfish, including research into improving methods for its harvesting for the fishing industry. He also noted how EPSCoR funding has contributed to the understanding of coral reef resiliency. Rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification, ineffective management and other factors are affecting the decline of reefs, which are an important part of the local economy. Smith compared the loss of coral reefs with the tourism financial loss that would occur if Washington, DC saw its cherry blossoms dwindle. Additional information on EPSCoR is available...

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ESA Policy News May 2, 2014: House bill boosts NSF, NOAA climate research reviewed, new USDA conservation programs
May02

ESA Policy News May 2, 2014: House bill boosts NSF, NOAA climate research reviewed, new USDA conservation programs

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Policy Analyst Terence Houston. Read the full Policy News here. APPROPRIATIONS: HOUSE CJS BILL INCREASES SCIENCE INVESTMENT On April 30, the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee released its funding bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. 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, 2014. The bill includes $7.4 billion for the National Science Foundation; a $237 million increase over the FY 2014 enacted funding level and $150 million above the president’s request for FY 2015. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would receive $5.3 billion in FY 2015; level with its FY 2014 enacted funding level. The bill also fully funds NOAA’s two satellite programs—the Joint Polar Satellite System and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite. Additional information on the bill is available here. SENATE: HEARING EXAMINES IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH INVESTMENT On April 29, the Senate Appropriations Committee held a hearing entitled, “Driving Innovation through Federal Investments.” The hearing focused on the important role that federal funding plays in supporting scientific research. “It’s not an understatement to argue that federal investment in research is an investment in America’s future,” stated Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). “This realization has led me, and many of my colleagues, to consider some difficult questions.” “I agree reducing the budget deficit is important, but are we being so austere that we are limiting our future growth? And as one of the greatest countries in the world, are we so preoccupied with making budget cuts that we’re heading towards an innovation deficit as well?” Federal agency witnesses testifying before the committee included Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren. He noted that while the share of funding for US research and development supported by the federal government has dropped from as much as two-thirds in the 1960s to one-third today, the federal government remains “the largest funder of the basic research that produces the seed-corn from which all applied advances in innovation grow.” Holdren noted that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently viewed around the world as “the gold standard” in its peer review grant-making process and argued that the agency’s existing grant-making process be maintained. View the full hearing here. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA PRIORITIES On April 30, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Environment held a hearing examining the proposed Fiscal Year 2015 budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). While expressing support for the overall NOAA budget request, Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) was...

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