American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE


July 1997


This monthly update goes out to members of the AGI Government Affairs Program (GAP) Advisory Committee as well as 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.

This month, Congress has been working fast and furious on appropriations and other legislation, and a number of special updates have been sent out to cover those actions. Those special updates, along with a list of other new reports and updates listed below, are available on AGI's web site. Consequently, this update covers only the most recent congressional actions as well as a providing a review of AGI Government Affairs Program activities for the month.

Important Note About Congressional Recess
Most legislators will be in their states/districts during the month of August, which presents a great opportunity for you to visit them at their local office or invite them to your campus or workplace to discuss science budgets, research, education, or other issues of importance to you. We would be happy to provide contact information and background materials you can use before and during the visit.

Congress Passes Tax Cut Legislation And Goes Home
A week ago, it seemed highly unlikely that Congress and the White House could agree on balanced budget legislation to cut taxes and make changes in mandatory spending such as entitlements and sales of government property. But agree they did, and this week the House and Senate both overwhelmingly passed the legislation, declared victory, and headed home for recess. A Presidential signature is imminent.

In good news for graduate students, Section 117(d) of the tax code, the tax exemption on tuition wavers, was left intact. Section 127 of the code was reauthorized for undergraduates for 3 years, allowing for employer-provided educational assistance to be given to an employee without tax accruing on the first $5,250 of the benefit. These benefits to students, however, came at the expense of TIAA-CREF after the Senate agreed to repeal the retirement program's long-standing tax exemption in exchange for the House dropping its phase-out of the tuition waiver exemption.

Appropriations Bills Ready for September Conference
Just this past week, the House and Senate completed passage of two key appropriations bills for the geosciences -- Agriculture and Energy & Water. The House and Senate will hold conferences to work out differences in these bills along with the VA, HUD & Independent Agencies bill (funding NSF, NASA, and EPA) when Congress re-convenes in September. Of the remaining geoscience-related appropriations bills, the Senate must pass the Interior spending bill before it can go to conference, and the House has yet to act on the Commerce spending bill.

Geologic Mapping Passes; NSF Authorization and Other Bills Move Ahead
As reported in the last special update, the National Geologic Mapping Reauthorization Act of 1997 passed the Senate, clearing the way for a Presidential signature in the near future. The bill authorizes spending for geologic mapping projects conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey, State geological surveys, and universities. The NSF authorization bill (S. 1046) passed the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee on July 23; similar legislation (H.R. 1273) passed the House in April. Legislation (H.R. 1270) to site an interim nuclear waste disposal facility adjacent to Yucca Mountain, Nevada passed the House Commerce Committee; a similar bill (S. 104) passed the Senate in April. Legislation (H.R. 2281) was introduced by Rep. Harold Coble (R-NC) to implement intellectual property treaties signed last December in Geneva; significantly, the bill does not include provisions relating to databases that were opposed by many in the scientific community. Over in the executive branch, controversial regulations for ozone and fine particulate matter were officially promulgated by EPA amidst calls in Congress for legislation to repeal them.

Far from Washington, Dragonetti Attends Ethics Conference
GAP Senior Advisor John Dragonetti and AGI Executive Director Marcus Milling both represented AGI at a five-day conference on "Ethics in the Geosciences" held in Welches, Oregon. The conference was jointly sponsored by GSA, AAPG, and AIPG with support from USGS and NSF. Conferees discussed a variety of ethical issues and dilemmas facing geoscientists in academia, industry, and government.

All Summer Interns Now On Board
This month Catherine Runden became the third intern to join the program this summer. Her internship is jointly funded by GAP and by the AIPG Foundation. Catherine just graduated from the University of Iowa, where she majored in geology and worked part-time at the Iowa Geological Survey. She has covered congressional hearings on the natural gas industry, the Ward Valley nuclear disposal site, the Government Performance and Results Act, and the American Heritage Rivers program. She is also conducting background research on NEHRP reauthorization and science programs in the Environmental Protection Agency.

Strategic Planning Progress
Work continues on the Government Affairs Program Strategic Plan. Staff have held a number of meetings with government affairs programs from other scientific societies. We are incorporating these sessions and comments on our initial draft to develop a revised draft in early August, which will be reviewed and revised with input from the member societies.

New Material on Web Site
Thanks to the efforts of our summer interns, a slew of new or updated reports are available on our web site. Special e-mail updates were sent out on a near-weekly basis reporting on the new developments with tax cut legislation, appropriations, and passage of the geologic mapping bill. All of this material is on the web site and can also be obtained by contacting the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org or (703) 379-2480.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities

August 8	Orphan Paleontological Collection Meeting		Alexandria VA


(Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs)

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

Uploaded August 1, 1997

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