Monthly Review: September 2000


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

Despite New Money, Still No End to Appropriations Debate
AGI Alert Sent on Appropriations
President Releases SPR Oil, Bush Calls for Opening ANWR
Mixed Report Card for Evolution in State Standards
McCain Calls for International Climate Science Body
New and Improved Research Doubling Bill Passes the Senate
New Report Faults Presidential Appointment Process
Glenn Commission on Math & Science Education Report Released
Academy Releases Report on Environmental Science Grand Challenges
Farewell to Summer Interns
Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
New Material on Web Site

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Despite New Money, Still No End to Appropriations Debate
After an active early summer appropriations season during which 2 of the 13 spending bills passed, progress on Capitol Hill slowed considerably during September and none of the remaining 11 bills were finished in time for the new fiscal year. Intraparty gridlock set in among Republicans over how many concessions to give the president in the face of multiple veto threats.  The logjams started to clear in the last week of the month -- just days before the start of the new fiscal year (FY). Like the creatures in Noah's ark, appropriations bills initially were addressed two by two -- a pairing that leadership hoped would smooth their passage. But the idea did not float for many members of Congress, who claimed that coupling bills resulted in tight time-limits on floor debates, preventing proper review of the results of House-Senate conferences. After abandoning the Noachian approach, Congress passed the first of what will likely be several Continuing Resolutions (H. J. Res. 109) to fund federal programs at FY2000 levels into the new fiscal year. The first lasts until October 6th, the target -- and probably somewhat optimistic -- adjournment date for Congress.

In an effort to reach a compromise with the president and get out of town, Congress has been finding additional funds for most of the bills. Just before leaving for the weekend recess, the Interior and Related Agencies Conference Committee filed its report for H.R. 4578.  In a preliminary review of the conference report, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) fared well, receiving $862 million, less than the $895 million requested but better than the $817 million proposed in the House and the $848 million in the Senate.  By the numbers: the National Mapping Division would receive $129 million, the Geologic Division would receive $221 million, the Water Resources Division would receive $197 million, and the Biological Resources Division would receive $158 million.  The conference report states that funding for geologic mapping will received $0.5 million above the $0.5 million increase proposed by the House.

The Energy & Water Appropriations bill (H.R. 4733) had been caught up in negotiations with the White House over the revision of the Army Corps of Engineer's 1960 Missouri River Master Water Control Manual, a provision added to the bill by Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-MO).  But once the conferees added $1.8 billion to the bill's overall allocation, the bill began to move through the final House-Senate conference process.  The majority of the increase went to water projects that often win votes during an election year.  Overall, the Energy & Water bill was allotted $24.1 billion, a $0.9 billion increase over the President's budget request. Funding for geoscience-relevant programs in DOE includes: $27.0 million for geothermal research, $30.0 million for hydrogen research, $3.2 billion for the Office of Science (a big boost compared to the $2.8 billion in the House and the proposed $2.9 billion in the Senate), including $1.0 billion for Basic Energy Sciences within which $40.8 million would go for the engineering and geoscience subdivision -- a slight increase over the budget request. Nuclear waste disposal programs would receive $391.1 million for all nuclear waste disposal programs, and the conference report stresses Congress's expectation that DOE release its site recommendation report on Yucca Mountain by July 2001.

Neither the VA/HUD bill -- which funds NSF, NASA, and EPA -- nor the Commerce bill -- which funds NOAA -- have been scheduled for Senate floor debate yet, a prerequisite before a final House-Senate conference can be held on those bills. More information on geoscience-related appropriation bills at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/appropsfy2001.html.

AGI Alert Sent on Appropriations
On September 11th, AGI sent out an Action Alert calling on the science community to make a final push to boost funding for research and development (R&D) in the fiscal year (FY) 2001 appropriations. The resulting constituent letters from geoscientists were bundled together with letters from other scientists, copies of op-ed pieces, articles, and ads on R&D for delivery to the House and Senate leadership as well as officials at the White House later that week.  The media blitz was a coordinated effort by science, engineering, and technology groups to increase visibility of the wide-spread support for R&D.  The purpose of the effort was to make sure that support for R&D was included when additional funds become available in the last-minute shuffle of the appropriations process.  A copy of the Action Alert is at: http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/blitz_alert0900.html.

President Releases SPR Oil, Bush Calls For Opening ANWR
Out on the campaign trail, Vice President Al Gore called on President Clinton to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease the supply crunch in home heating oil this winter. The president obliged, releasing 30 million barrels of oil. Republicans cried foul, arguing that the move was political and furthermore that the release would not help the crunch because refineries were at capacity. Meanwhile, Texas Governor George W. Bush unveiled a 23-point Comprehensive Energy Policy that calls for providing low-income energy assistance and alternative energy research support out of the royalties from opening 8 percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to petroleum production. The Bush plan closely follows S. 2557, energy legislation introduced by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). For more on energy policy, see http://www.agiweb.org/legis.html#energy.

Mixed Report Card for Evolution in State Standards
On September 26th, the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation released a report examining the treatment of evolution in state education standards, which serve as the guidelines for teaching in each state (except Iowa). On the positive side, 30 states and the District of Columbia are doing an adequate to excellent job. But 19 states received D's and F's based on criteria established by the report's author, Lawrence S. Lerner, professor emeritus at California State University, Long Beach. Criteria included the treatment of biological evolution, human evolution, geological evolution (including the age of the Earth), cosmological evolution, whether links are made between the historical sciences, and whether the word "evolution" is explicitly mentioned. The revised Kansas standards, which attracted widespread attention last year, earned a negative score for an F- grade. States receiving an A include California, Connecticut, Indiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Delaware, Hawaii, and Pennsylvania. In general, the states that fared best were those whose standards align closely with the National Science Education Standards and the AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy. The report was released in conjunction with an all-day forum at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) titled "The Teaching of Evolution in U.S. Schools: Where Politics, Religion and Science Converge." In addition to Lerner, speakers included high-school science teachers, administrators, scientists, and representatives of the Catholic and Southern Baptist churches. An electronic copy of the report is available at http://www.edexcellence.net/.

McCain Calls for International Climate Science Body
Following up on a promise made during his run for president, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has held a series of climate change hearings as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. The latest of these, held on September 21st, looked primarily at what actions and approaches companies and groups can take voluntarily to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Witnesses included Jeff Morgheim from BP, Ann Mesnikoff from the Sierra Club, Fredrick Palmer from the Western Fuels Association, Inc, and Joseph Romm from the Center for Energy ad Climate Solutions.  In his opening statement, McCain stated that he plans to introduce a bill in the near future that will propose "an International commission of scientists to study climate change and to provide unbiased, sound scientific analysis to anyone in search of the facts on global warming" - a plan that sounds similar to the existing International Panel on Climate Change.  More information on the hearing at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/climate_hearings.html.

New and Improved Research Doubling Bill Passes the Senate
Senators, led by Bill Frist (R-TN), continue their efforts to enact legislation to double the federal investment in research. A new version of this legislation, the Federal Research Investment Act (S. 2046), combines doubling language with language from and the Information Technology Research and Development Act (H.R. 2086). The latter bill is a priority for House Science Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who is the principal obstacle for doubling legislation. By linking the two, Frist and others hope to provide a carrot for Sensenbrenner, who has claimed that the doubling bill would undermine the power of the authorizing powers of the Science Committee. S. 2046 would authorize a gradual increase as a percentage of federal discretionary spending to total in a 10% increase for civilian research and development (R&D) by 2011.  The bill neither puts a cap on the funding of any specific agency, nor mandates a specific rate that these increases should be made at -- only guidelines are provided in the bill. With the 106th Congress about to adjourn, there is little chance that S. 2046 will be enacted into law in this Congress but it will likely be brought back up early in the 107th Congress.

New Report Faults Presidential Appointment Process
Regardless of who wins the presidential election in November, there will be a whole new cast of characters atop the federal bureaucracy as Clinton political appointees are replaced by Bush or Gore appointees. A special panel of the National Academies of Science and Engineering has concluded that the appointment process for key science and technology leadership posts has become increasingly unwieldy and is discouraging the "best and brightest" from government service. In a new report, they recommend that steps be taken to speed up the process and to remove obstacles, including financial, that discourage scientists and engineers, particularly those from the private sector. The report identifies 50 most urgent science and technology presidential appointments, including not only ones overseeing large research programs but also those that provide important technical information and analysis for decisionmakers. Included in the list were the directors of the USGS and NSF and the administrators of NOAA and NASA. The report also calls for transition team's to name the president's science advisor early on in the process so that individual can help push through the other science-related appointments. The report is available at http://www.nationalacademies.org/presidentialappointments. For a longer summary, see the AGU Science Legislative Alert 00-22 at http://www.agu.org/cgi-bin/asla/asla-list?read=2000-22.msg.

Quite a number of appointed positions have a major impact on geoscientists both within and outside the agencies. And many of positions could be filled by qualified geoscientists. To that end, AGI will be distributing a list of geoscience-related presidential appointments to its member societies in October, encouraging them to nominate qualified geoscientists for positions important to their membership.

Glenn Commission on Math & Science Education Report Released
On September 27th, the Glenn Commission, officially the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching in the 21st Century, released its long-awaited report.  The commission is made up of chief executives, politicians, and educators who have met several times over the past year to hear testimony from experts on best practices currently used in science and mathematics education.  According to the final report, now is the time for a focused look at education reform in part because it has gained wide-spread public support and also because of the changing environment of education.  The report goes on to detail ways that the nation can help elementary and secondary math and science education by: 1) Establishing an ongoing system to improve the quality of mathematics and science teaching in grades K-12; 2) Significantly increasing  the number of mathematics and science teachers and improving the quality of their preparation; and 3) Improving the working environment and making the teaching profession more attractive for K-12 mathematics and science teachers. Their recommendations for number three are a) focused induction programs for novice teachers that create mentoring programs and support networks; b) partnerships with public and private groups to support a range of activities; and c)incentives to keep science and math educators in the profession and opportunities for them to develop competitive salaries for all educators.  More at http://www.agiweb.org/gap/legis106/ike106.html.

Academy Releases Report on Environmental Science Grand Challenges
In 1998, NSF asked the National Research Council to undertake a study to identify high-priority areas of environmental research. The resulting report, Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences, was released on September 25th. A panel that included geoscientists, ecologists, economists, epidemiologists, and other environmental scientists identified eight priority areas, many of them with a substantial geoscience component: biogeochemical cycles, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, climate variability, hydrologic forecasting, infectious diseases and the environment, institutions and resource use, land-use dynamics, and reinventing the use of materials. The panel recommended that four of the eight be given immediate priority in NSF funding: biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, hydrologic forecasting, infectious disease and the environment, and land-use dynamics. Initially, the report is only available electronically and can be found on the National Academy Press website at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309072549/html/.

Farewell to Summer Interns
AGI was fortunate this summer to have another great group of three AGI/AIPG Geoscience and Public Policy Interns who each spent twelve weeks researching issues, tracking legislation, and maintaining AGI legislative updates on the web. Nathan Morris has returned to Indiana University where he is pursuing a master's degree in environmental science. Audrey Slesinger, who completed a master's degree in geochemistry from the University of Bristol this spring, has been hired as a staffer in the office of Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), where she works with former GSA Congressional Fellow Kai Anderson, recently named Reid's deputy legislative director. Michael Wagg left in August to begin graduate school at the University of Michigan, having obtained a bachelor's degree from Albion College this spring, double majoring in geology and history. Articles by all three will appear in the November issue of The Professional Geologist. We thank them for all their good work and wish them the very best! AGI gratefully acknowledges major support for the internships provided by the AIPG Foundation. Applications are currently being accepted for the AGI/AAPG Spring Semester internship. The deadline is October 15th. See http://www.agiweb.org/gapac/intern.html for further information.

Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities
Oct. 10-14   AIPG National Meeting    Milwaukee WI 
Nov. 11-16   GSA Annual Meeting    Reno NV 
Nov. 13   GAP Advisory Cmte. Mtg.   Reno NV
Dec.14-19    AGU Fall Meeting   San Francisco CA

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:



Monthly review prepared by Margaret Baker and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs Program, and AGI/AIPG Geoscience Policy Intern Audrey Slesinger.

Sources: American Geophysical Union, Coalition for National Science Funding, Energy and Environment News, Federal Register, Geological Society of America, Library of Congress, Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Posted October 3, 2000
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