Policy News: May 28, 2021

In this issue:

President Biden Releases Full Budget Request
The budget includes $10.17 billion for NSF and $948 million for the Biological Sciences Directorate.

Endless Frontier Act Stalled and Renamed to the Innovation and Competition Act
Bill would create a technology directorate at the National Science Foundation and increases authorized funding levels.

House passes STEM diversity bills.

Executive Branch
EPA finalizes the repeal of the “transparency in science” rule.



Scientific Community
National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to hold a national summit “Addressing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Anti-Racism in 21st Century STEMM Organizations.”

Federal Register opportunities

President Biden Releases Full Budget Request

President Joe Biden released his full President’s Budget Request May 28. This follows Biden’s “skinny budget” which called for a 16% increase in domestic spending and big investments in climate mitigation, adaptation and research. This budget included top-line budget numbers for some agencies but offered scant details about funding for individual programs.

The President’s Budget Request represents a starting point for the fiscal year (FY) 2022 budget process and the administration’s priorities. The Trump administration proposed steep cuts across the government in its president’s budget request, especially to scientific and environmental programs. Even when Republicans controlled both the House and Senate in 2017 and 2018, Congress largely rejected these steep cuts. Biden’s Presidential Budget Request could get a more friendly reception on Capitol Hill, with Democrats controlling both the House and the Senate. Still, Congressional appropriators ultimately control the federal government’s purse strings.

National Science Foundation

The budget request includes $10.17 billion for NSF, representing a 20% increase for NSF over FY 2022 levels. This includes $948 million for the Biological Sciences Directorate. In recent years, NSF has received modest increases, falling short of amounts requested by the scientific community.

Department of Agriculture

President Biden calls for $1.9 billion for the National Institute of Agriculture, including $700 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which represents a $265 million increase over FY 2021 levels.

The Agricultural Research Service receives $1.9 billion for salaries and expenses, a $409 million increase.

The Forest Service Forest and Rangeland Research account receives $339 million, a $49 million dollar increase over FY2022.

Department of the Interior

Biden calls for $17.4 billion for the Interior Department as whole, a $2.4 billion increase over FY 2021 levels.

Biden allocates $1.456 billion to the Bureau of Land Management, a $119 million increase. The National Park Service receive $2.976 billion, a $300 million increase and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service receives $1.678 billion, a $102 million increase.

Biden requests $1.642 billion for the U.S. Geological Survey, a $326 million increase. This includes a $86 million increase for the Ecosystems Mission Area over FY2021 levels, bringing the programs budget to $350 million in FY 2022.

U.S. Department of Energy

The Department of Energy Office of Science is funded at $7.4 billion, a $400 million increase over FY 2021 levels. This includes $828 million for Biological and Environmental Research, a $75 million increase. The Office of Science reached record funding levels during the Trump administration before receiving nearly flat funding in FY 2021.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Overall, President Biden requested $6.9 billion for NOAA, a $1.4 billion increase over FY 2021.

Environmental Protection Agency

Biden requests $11.2 billion for the EPA, a 21.3% increase. This includes $936 million for a new Accelerating Environmental and Economic Justice initiative.


Overall, Biden requests $24.8 billion for NASA, around a 6% increase. Following Biden’s calls for investment in climate and earth-facing science at NASA, the Earth Science Directorate receives $2.3 billion, a $250 million increase.

Endless Frontier Act Stalled and Renamed to the Innovation and Competition Act

The full Senate dedicated most of the week of May 24 to consideration of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Todd Young’s United States Innovation and Competition Act  (S. 1260), previously known as the Endless Frontier Act. This bill which would create a new technology directorate at the National Science Foundation and increase NSF’s overall authorized funding level to around $28 billion by fiscal year (FY) 2026.

Before floor debate, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved amendments to the original bill that brought total funding for the technology directorate from $100 billion by FY 2026 to $28 billion and redirected $17 billion from the NSF technology directorate to the Department of Energy Office of Science. The Committee also added several standalone STEM bills, including the RISE Act (S. 289), the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act and the Rural STEM Act. The RISE Act authorizes additional funding to science agencies to cover research disruptions and delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The updated authorization bill only increases approved funding levels for NSF and other research programs. Congress would still have to provide funding for NSF through the annual appropriations process or special legislation.

Senators debated dozens of floor amendments to the bill:

  • The full Senate approved an amendment from Sen. Christopher Coons (D-DE) creating a Foundation for Energy Security and Innovation. This foundation would channel private investment into the Department of Energy’s research programs. This amendment mirrors Coons’ Partnerships for Energy Security and Innovation Act (S. 1359).
  • The Senate also approved an amendment from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) doubling the authorized budget for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Nominations: The full Senate confirmed Eric Lander to be the Director of the White House of Science and Technology Policy. Lander is a geneticist and the director of the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. During his confirmation hearing, Senators questioned Lander about his meetings with notorious deceased criminal Jeffery Epstein and his slights to women researchers. Despite these questions, the Senate confirmed Lander by a voice vote.

Diversity in STEM: The full House passed a series of bills intended to increase diversity in STEM and strengthen the U.S. STEM pipeline:

  • The Supporting Early Career Researchers Act (H.R 144) authorizes $250 million to the National Science Foundation to award two-year postdoctoral fellowships to help keep researchers whose employment opportunities have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the STEM pipeline.
  • The Rural STEM Education Research Act (H.R. 210) directs NSF to fund STEM education research focused on rural areas and recommends that NSF dedicate $12 million annually to increase rural students’ participation in STEM. A version of this bill passed the U.S. House in September 2020. However, the U.S. Senate did not consider this bill.
  • The MSI STEM Achievement Act (H.R. 2027) directs NSF to research the barriers to increasing participation in STEM education at Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and to increase these institutions’ awareness, capacity and participation to compete for federal research funds.
  • The Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 2695) creates an inter-agency working group to coordinate federal science agency efforts to reduce the prevalence of sexual harassment involving grant personnel and creates a competitive grant program at NSF for research about harassment and the development and assessment of policies, procedures, trainings and interventions intended to address and reduce harassment. Science Committee Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has introduced similar legislation in previous sessions of Congress. This bill passed the full House in 2019 but did not advance in the Senate.

Infrastructure: The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a $350 billion surface transportation authorization bill amid larger negotiations about President Biden’s infrastructure package. The bill includes $18 billion for climate change mitigation and adaptation and $500 million to mitigate climate impacts on vulnerable communities, including communities of color and tribes. It also authorizes a new $50 million a year grant program for state government projects to eliminate or control existing invasive plants or prevent the introduction of new invasive plants along and in areas adjacent to transportation corridor rights-of-way.

Science Committee: Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) introduced the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act, which reauthorizes the Department of Energy Office of Science’s programs through 2026.

Legislative updates:

  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee approved the Preventing a Patronage System Act (H.R 302), which aims to prevent any future efforts to move federal career positions outside of the competitive service. This bill responds to an executive order from President Trump to create a “schedule F” category for federal employees, who would be easier to fire. The scientific community opposed this executive order, over concerns that this category could be used fire scientists whose results contradict the preferences of political employees. President Biden revoked this executive order during his first week in office.
  • House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal introduced the Extinction Prevention Act (H.R. 3396). This bill authorizes $5 million annual conservation funds for freshwater mussels, southwest desert fishes, North American butterflies and threatened and endangered plants in Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.
  • The full House passed the Coastal and Ocean Acidification Stressors and Threats (COAST) Research Act (H.R. 1447), which reauthorizes ocean and coastal research monitoring program and creates an Ocean Acidification Advisory Board. The full House similar legislation in 2019.

Executive Branch

White House: President Joe Biden reinstalled Michael Kuperberg as the U.S. Global Change Research Program executive director, the office that produces the National Climate Assessment. The Trump administration reassigned Kuperberg to the Energy Department in November 2020, shortly after Trump lost re-election. Kuperberg had led the U.S. Global Change Research Program since 2015.

USFWS: The agency has listed the less prairie chicken as an endangered species in eastern New Mexico and the southwest Texas Panhandle and a threatened species in the northeast Texas Panhandle, southeast Colorado, south-central Kansas and western Oklahoma. This proposed rule comes after voluntary conservation agreements between USFWS, state, the oil and gas industry and other federal agencies failed to restore lesser prairie chicken populations. Environmental groups sued USFWS for not protecting the less prairie chicken in 2019 and a court decision required the agency to complete a 12-month species status review for the lesser prairie chicken. The proposed rule lists the bird under a 4(d) rule which allows for the accidental killing of individual birds in agricultural activities and prescribed burns, if parties agree to take certain conservation actions.

EPA: The agency finalized a rule repealing the Trump administration’s “transparency in science” rule, which aimed to limit the EPA’s use of science where the underlying data is not publicly available. This rule implements a February 2021 federal group decision that threw out the rule. The Trump administration finalize this rule in January 2021. The scientific community, including ESA, opposed the rule well as its as legislative predecessors the HONEST Act and the Secret Science Act. Scientific and public health groups said that it will limit the wide swaths of research and data that the EPA could use to make informed policy decisions and fulfill their mission to protect public health and the environment.

The court found that the EPA did not have the authority to finalize the rule. The rule never took effect after courts moved the rule’s effective date to Feb. 5.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced that the agency will rewrite a Trump administration regulation that limited state’s ability to block pipeline and fossil fuel export facilities under the Clean Water Act.

Before this regulation, coastal states, such as Washington state and New York, used their authority under section 401 to block fossil fuel export facilities and pipelines in their states, citing air quality and climate concerns. The regulation prevents states from considering concerns other than water quality during the certification process and aims to accelerate the process, giving states one year to complete their analysis after they have received a “certification request.” ESA and other scientific societies opposed this regulation.

An EPA Inspector General Report finds that senior managers in the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention altered scientific documents to support keeping the weed killer dicamba on the market in 2018. The agency also not conduct required internal peer reviews of these documents.

The EPA received 351 applications for 45 spots on the Science Advisory Board (SAB). Regan dismissed all SAB members in March 2021, citing concerns about scientific integrity. Trump EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler stacked the Scientific Advisory Board with industry-friendly scientists. However, the SAB repeatedly opposed major Trump administration rules, including the ‘Transparency in Science’ rule and the Trump administration’s revisions to the Waters of the U.S. rule. The SAB nominee are open for public comment through June 9. The EPA will announce the new SAB members this fall.

NASA: Administrator Bill Nelson announced that the agency will launch a series of earth-focused missions to observe and better understand the regional and local impacts of climate change. This data will be shared with local decision-makers to help with disaster mitigation, fighting forest fires and agriculture.



Scientific Community

NAS: The Division of Behavioral and Social Science and Education will convene a two-day national summit Addressing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 21st Century STEMM Organizations June 29-30. The summit will highlight how racism operates at different levels in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEMM) settings. The summit will discuss policies, strategies, and practices for confronting systemic racism, identify ways to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEMM settings and recognize the effect of systemic racism on the careers of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic groups historically underrepresented in the STEMM workforce.

 The agency is establishing a Committee on the Future of Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). This external committee will lead a process to evaluate the effectiveness of EPSCoR’s current investment strategies and whether are there novel strategies or changes to the current strategies that would enable NSF EPSCoR to achieve its mission more effectively. Individuals interested in nominating potential members of this committee are invited to submit the nominee’s contact information via email to nsfepscor@nullnsf.gov, along with a brief statement of nomination. Interested individuals are welcome to self-nominate by the same process. Submissions must be received by NSF EPSCoR no later than June 7, 2021 to receive full consideration.

The EPSCoR program aims to improve research infrastructure in states and jurisdictions that receive a comparatively small amount of NSF funding, enabling them to compete more successfully for federal R&D funding.

NSF’s Biological Science Directorate is offering supplemental funding for principal investigators with active NSF awards to support the research training of post-baccalaureate students. This opportunity is intended to provide additional opportunities for undergraduate students who were unable to participate in research experiences due to pandemic restrictions. Supplemental funding requests should be submitted by July 2, 2021.

Awards: The Goldman Environmental Prize will hold a virtual awards ceremony on June 15. Jane Fonda will host the awards ceremony, Sigourney Weaver will narrate and the ceremony will feature performances by Lenny Kravitz, Senegalese musician Baaba Maal and South Africa’s Ndlovu Youth Choir. The Goldman Environmental Prize honors the achievements and leadership of grassroots environmental activists from around the world, inspiring all of us to take action to protect our planet. Prize recipients focus on protecting endangered ecosystems and species, combating destructive development projects, promoting sustainability, influencing environmental policies, and striving for environmental justice.

Ecological Forecasting: The Ecological Forecasting Initiative hosted panelists from USA National Phenology Network, the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes and NOAA who shared best practices and the lessons each of them had learned from co-producing scientific materials with decision-makers and stakeholders. There were many helpful suggestions and great resources provided during the panel so they wanted to share them with the broader ecological community who may also be interested in thinking about how to work with stakeholders to create useable materials. The Ecological Forecasting Initiative has compiled the video recording and the resources the panelists shared here.

On May 17, the Ecological Forecasting Initiative hosted a panel that focused on best practices for visualizing forecasts and forecast uncertainty.  The panelists shared recent experiments they conducted to assess the efficacy of ecological forecast visualizations as well as a new undergraduate teaching module being developed and tested that teaches students about visualizing uncertainty in forecasts. In addition, they have compiled the video recording and the resources the panelists shared here.

Federal Register Opportunities

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Opportunities for Public Comment and Nominations:


Visit this page on ESA’s website for updates on opportunities from the Federal Register, including upcoming meetings and regulations open for public comment. 

ESA’s policy activities work to infuse ecological knowledge into national policy decisions through activities such as policy statements, Capitol Hill briefings, Congressional Visits Days, and coalition involvement. Policy News Updates are bi-monthly summaries of major environmental and science policy news. They are produced by the Public Affairs Office of the Ecological Society of America.

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