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Monthly Review: February 2004


This monthly review goes out to the leadership of AGI's member societies, members of the AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee, and other interested geoscientists as part of a continuing effort to improve communications between GAP and the geoscience community that it serves.

The President's Budget Request for FY05 Released
Another New Energy Bill?
GAO Details Foreign Scientist Visa Process Recommendations
NSF Director Resigns
Evolution Battles Heat Up - Again!
- Georgia
- Alabama
- Ohio
- Oklahoma
Understanding Evolution: An Evolution Website for Teachers
Key List of Federal Register Notices
New Material on Website

 

The President's Budget Request for FY05 Released

President George W. Bush released his fiscal year (FY) 2005 budget on February 2, 2004. Characterizing the FY05 science and technology budget request is a classic example of a glass being viewed as half-full or half-empty. Although some components of the S&T budget request are up, others are down, or at least disappointing. Contrast the remarks made by OSTP Director John Marburger: "I think we have a good story here," with those of House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) who said, "I am very disappointed in the proposed science budget . . . we just have to find a way to do better."

There are many different perspectives by which to view the S&T budget request. Faced with mounting deficits, the Bush Administration restrained future growth in discretionary program spending. These are the programs for which funding can vary each year, such as for S&T, as compared to, for example, mandated expenditures for Social Security. Not counting discretionary spending for defense and homeland security programs, discretionary programs account for less than one-fifth of the total federal budget. The Administration proposes to limit to just 0.5% the overall increase for this portion of the budget.

From this 0.5% perspective, the proposed 2.5% increase in FY05 spending for non-defense/homeland security R&D seems more favorable. (Adding in defense and homeland security R&D boosts the requested increase to 5%.) Non defense R&D is 5.7% of total discretionary spending in the proposed budget, which the Administration calculates is the third highest level in the last 25 years. At a briefing on February 2nd, Marburger urged increases in all categories of R&D to be viewed over the course of the Bush Administration, saying that it would rise 44% from FY 2001 through the FY 2005 request. "This has been an Administration highly favorable to R&D," he said.

Initial reaction on Capitol Hill was noticeably cooler. Boehlert said, "I am very disappointed in the proposed science budget, and I will be working with the Administration and my Congressional colleagues to improve the numbers as we move through the budget process. I understand that we are in a very tight fiscal situation and that the Administration has tried to treat research and development (R&D) as favorably as possible. But we just have to find a way to do better. The [Administration's FY 2005] budget chapter on R&D includes the quotation that 'Science is a horse. Don't worship it. Feed it.' The budget does not reflect that advice. After a few years of spending at the levels proposed in this budget, science would be an emaciated, old, grey mare, unable to produce any new ideas or young scientists."

Ranking Minority Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) commented, "The Administration's budget fails to make the responsible investments in our future that our children expect of us. If we hope to grow new industries, provide new skills to unemployed workers, and foster the economic conditions that will allow us to eliminate our Federal deficit, we have to invest in research and development programs."

Over the next few days the Government Affairs Program will be sending a breakdown of how agencies and programs important to the geosciences fared in the President's budget request.

Another New Energy Bill?

On February 12th, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Dominici (R-N.M.) introduced a slimmer, trimmer Energy Omnibus bill. S. 2095 is the latest incarnation of the energy bill that is still two votes shy of passage in the Senate. In light of the current fiscal realities - the growing deficit and the White House's desire to scale back the cost of the energy package - Senator Dominici is seeking a new legislative vehicle by which to establish a national energy policy.

This new bill strips last year's version of the controversial fuel-oxygenate (MTBE) liability protection language and about $17 billion in tax incentives. After tossing around the ideas of attaching the energy bill as an amendment to other legislation, most notably the highway bill, senators rejected the idea. Instead, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) invoked Senate Rule 14, which allows the newly introduced bill to bypass the committee process and go straight to the Senate floor. With the Senate debating the budget resolution in early March, however, chances are slim that the Senate will take up S. 2095 before the March 15th recess. Even if the Senate does consider and pass the bill before the recess, the House is unlikely to pass it unless it has the MTBE liability protection language that was taken out of the new Senate version. For a history of this legislation, please see http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis108/energy.html.

GAO Details Foreign Scientist Visa Process Recommendations

On February 25th, the House Science Committee heard from Bush Administration officials and the Government Accounting Office (GAO) on the current status of the conflict between science and national security in visa policy. The hearing is a follow-up to a March 2003 hearing that addressed the committee's concerns about the impact of security measures on scientific research. Testifying at the hearing were Asa Hutchinson, Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Jess Ford, Director of International Affairs and Trade at the Government Accounting Office (GAO); Janice Jacobs, Assistant Secretary for the Office of Consular Affairs at the Department of State (State); and Robert Garrity, Jr., Deputy Assistand Director for Record/Information Administration at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) expressed concern that "we can't have a visa system that needlessly discourages and alienates scientists from around the world who could be a boon to this country." Concerned about inefficiencies in the agencies charged with handling international visas, Chairman Boehlert also acknowledged Congress's share in the blame, referring to their inability to fully fund the agencies requests to implement technology interoperability (the FBI had requested $400 million, but received only $330 million). Research Subcommittee Chairman Nick Smith (R-MI) summed up the sentiment of many committee members: "This hearing is not a forum to pit the interests of science against the interests of security. Rather, our task is to eliminate bureaucratic inefficiencies in the existing security system that compromise our Nation's ability to attract promising scientists and engineers."

The hearing charter, witness testimony and archived webcast of the hearing can be viewed at http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full04/index.htm. Individuals at academic institutions may find the hearing charter a particularly useful summary of the background information regarding foreign student visas.

NSF Director Resigns

In early February, National Science Foundation (NSF) director Dr. Rita Colwell announced her resignation effective February 21st. She will become Chairwoman of Canon U.S. Life Sciences, Inc., a company whose goal is to identify and develop life-science solutions with potential applications in diagnostics and medical instrumentation. Colwell will also serve as Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park and on the faculty of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she will help develop a new international center for the study of infectious diseases, water and health. Colwell is a microbiologist and internationally recognized expert on cholera and other infectious diseases.

Dr. Arden Bement, director of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), has assumed the role of interim director for NSF. Bement will remain accountable to Congress and the Bush Administration for NIST during this time, and will return to be full time director of NIST once a new NSF director is appointed. In addition to a 39-year career in industry, government and academia, Bement has also served on the National Science Board, which governs NSF.

Evolution Battles Heat Up - Again!

Georgia
After announcing in late January that the word evolution would not be used in K-12 curriculum, and sections on biologic evolution and big bang theory would be cut out of classroom education, the Georgia State Board of Education reversed these decisions in February. Following a state and national outcry, both the word evolution and the missing sections will be reinstated in the curriculum.

That said, a section on biologic evolution is still missing some of the student activities and supporters of science education are concerned that it may be a tactic used to undermine the classroom presentation of evolution. The newly re-revised standards are still up for public comment and the final vote will be taken in June. To view the revised curriculum, go to http://www.glc.k12.ga.us/passwd/trc/ttools/attach/curriculum/science/UpdatedGaBioCur2-20.pdf.
To provide your feedback, go to http://edtech.doe.k12.ga.us/QCC/survey.htm.

In addition, Rep. Kathy Ashe (D-Atlanta) has sponsored a bill (HB-1406) in the Georgia House of Representatives that requires future changes to the curriculum follow national standards. The bill would also clarify the role of the legislature in curriculum changes. Ashe told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "My real objective is to make sure the legislative process isn't left out as major curriculum revisions are made and Georgia maintains a curriculum that is worthy as our place as an economic engine in the Southeast." The bill has been assigned to the House Education Committee where it has the support of committee Chairman Bob Holmes (D-Atlanta).

Alabama
Representative Jim Carns introduced HB391 in the Alabama House of Representatives on February 12th. The bill provides protection for both teachers and students who want to freely discuss creationism, as long as the discussion is raised in the context of approved curricula material and that the students show "acceptable understanding" of the course materials. Meaning, as long as evolution is in the curriculum, then alternate viewpoints (whether based on science or not) may legally be discussed. HB 391 is similar to SB 336 (see below), but expands upon the role of teaching all alternate viewpoints, and points out that the aim of the bill is not to teach religion in public schools. HB391 has been referred to the House Education Committee

On February 17th Alabama State Senator Wendell Mitchell, introduced a bill (SB 336) into the State Senate that would allow all theories on creation to be taught in Alabama public schools. According to the Montgomery Advisor, Mitchell remarked, "This bill will level the playing field because it allows a teacher to bring forward the biblical creation story of humankind." The bill has much of the same language as HB391 and is currently under consideration by the Senate Education Committee. Both bills are co-sponsored by a mix of Democrats and Republicans. The Senate bill has 9 co-sponsors and the House bill has over 30.

Ohio
On February 10th the Ohio Board of Education passed a resolution of intent to adopt a lesson plan (called "Critical Analysis of Evolution") that endorses the teaching of intelligent design in the science curriculum. The vote signifies only the Board's intent and a final vote will be taken at next month's Board meeting. One of the Board members who opposes the inclusion of intelligent design, vows to ask Ohio Governor Bob Taft to overturn the decision. The new lesson plans would be voluntary guidelines on how to teach the standards; however the lesson plans will form the basis of proficiency and graduation tests, making their content extremely important to educators.

Dr. Steve Rissing, a member of the advisory committee for the development of the Ohio science content standards and professor at Ohio State University, was asked to write a new lesson plan to replace "Critical Analysis of Evolution," which he did. At the February meeting of the Board, it was revealed that the new lesson plan would not be considered until next fall. The delay was attributed to a decision by the Chairman of the Standards Committee of the Ohio Board of Education. The new lesson plan is still in draft form, but adheres to the benchmarks and is in line with scientific thinking. More information at http://www.ohioscience.org.

Oklahoma
On February 24th the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill (HB 2194) that would require all textbooks that contain content on evolution to have a disclaimer that begins by stating: "This textbook discusses evolution, a controversial theory which some scientists present as scientific explanation for the origin of living things such as plants and humans. No one was present when life first appeared on earth. Therefore, any statement about life's origins should be considered as theory, not fact."

The bill was originally introduced on February 2nd to require textbook publishers to provide electronic files for the production of Braille versions of the textbooks according to U.S. Department of Education standards. The bill was amended on February 23rd, one day before the House voted on it, to contain the new section about the evolution disclaimer.

In addition, HB 2194 contains language from SB 894, which allows school districts to purchase textbooks not on the approved list of the State Textbook Committee. SB 894 only allows for 20% of state funds to go to alternate books, but HB 2194 does not have that limitation.

Understanding Evolution: An Evolution Website for Teachers

A new resource is available on the internet for teachers and the public at large. The site is split into two main sections, learning evolution and teaching evolution. The learning evolution side has sections on the nature of science, evolution, lines of evidence supporting evolution, evolution's relevance to everyday life, misconceptions of evolution and the history of evolutionary thought. The teaching evolution section has searchable lesson plans, arguments about why evolution is necessary to learn in the classroom with links refer to the learning area of the site, and readings and resources for more information. The new site is available at http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evohome.html.

List of Key Federal Register Notices

Below is a summary of Federal Register announcements regarding federal regulations, agency meetings, and other notices of interest to the geoscience community. Entries are listed in chronological order and show the federal agency involved, the title, and the citation. The Federal Register is available online at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/fedreg/frcont04.html. Information on submitting comments and reading announcements are also available online at http://www.regulation.gov.

EPA, Public Teleconference of the Science Advisory Board for a Report on the Environment, March 9-12. For more information contact Dr. Thomas Armitage, Designated Federal Officer (DFO), U.S. EPA Science Advisory Board by telephone/voice mail at (202) 564-4539, fax at (202) 501-0582, or via e-mail at
armitage.thomas@epa.gov, Volume 69, Number 23 (4 February 2004): pp 5339-5340.

NETL, DOE, Funding opportunity entitled: Mining Industry of the Future Grand Challenge Technology Concepts for the Mining Industry. For more information go to the Industry Interactive Procurement System (IIPS) web page http://e-center.doe.gov. Volume 69, Number 29 (12 February 2004): pp 6956-6957.

EPA, Extension of comment period for the Effluent Guidelines Program Plan for 2004/2005 until March 18, 2004. See http://www.epa.gov/edocket for more information. Volume 69, Number 29 (12 February 2004): pp 6984-6985.

NIST, The Advanced Technology Program is soliciting proposals for financial assistance. Proposals should be submitted by April 18, 2004 to National Institute of Standards and Technology, Advanced Technology Program, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 4701, Gaithersburg, MD 20899. Volume 69, Number 32 (18 February 2004): pp 7617-7620.

NSF, The National Science Board is soliciting nominations for membership. Nominations should be accompanied by biographical information and sent to: Chairman, National Science Board, National Science Foundation, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22230 no later than March 31, 2004. Volume 69, Number 32 (18 February 2004): pp. 7658.

NASA, Open meeting of the NASA Advisory Council on April 6, 2004. The meeting will be held at NASA headquarters: 300 E Street SW, Room 7022, Washington DC 20546. Volume 69, Number 35 (23 February 2004): pp 8237.

EPA, National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology will hold an open meeting on March 11, 2004. The meeting will be located at: Grant Hyatt Washington, 1000 H St NW, Washington DC. Volume 69, Number 36 (24 February 2004): pp 8407.

NASA, President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy meeting on March 3-4, 2004. The meeting will be held at the United States Air Force Museum, 1100 Spaatz Street, Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio 45433. Volume 69, Number 38 (26 February 2004): 8990-8991.

New Material on Web Site

The following updates and reports were added to the Government Affairs portion of AGI's web site http://www.agiweb.org/gap since the last monthly update:

  • Political Challenges to the Teaching of Evolution (2-20-04)
  • Climate Change Policy Overview (2-19-04)
  • Energy Policy Overview (2-13-04)
  • Mining Policy (2-13-04)
  • New Leadership at the National Science Foundation (2-13-04)
  • Monthly Review: January 2004 (2-7-04)
  • Superfund and Brownfield Legislation (2-4-04)
  • Mercury Policy (2-2-04)
  • Natural Gas Policy (2-2-04)

Monthly review prepared by Emily M. Lehr, AGI Government Affairs Program and Gayle Levy, 2004 AGI/AAPG Government Affairs Intern

Sources: American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Biological Sciences, American Institute of Physics, Associated Press, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Cleveland Plain Dealer, CNN, Coalition for National Science Funding, E&E Daily, Federal Register, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Greenwire, Montgomery Advisor, National Center for Science Education, National Science Foundation, Oklahoma House of Representatives, Oklahoma Senate.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted March 9, 2004