American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program UPDATE

December 1996

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.

New year's greetings from AGI and the Government Affairs Program! This past year has been a time of growth for the program -- an increase of over 50% in support from the member societies making it possible to hire a second full-time staffer. The year's highlights included the intersociety workshop on the USGS/NBS merger, the Washington workshop on geoscience data preservation, testimony before Congress on issues including geoscience appropriations and reauthorization of the National Geologic Mapping Act, the "Geology and Government" issue of Geotimes, and a greatly expanded Web site.

Goals for the coming year include early passage of the geologic mapping act, which passed the House last year and came within minutes of passage in the Senate, and a continued focus on funding for geoscience-related agencies and programs in an effort to cushion the blows that will inevitably come during the ongoing drive toward a balanced federal budget. We also plan to work with the land management agencies to address ways to improve the input of geoscience information into their decision-making. Natural hazards and environmental legislation will be introduced early in the new Congress, and AGI will seek to bring together community input into the drafting of such legislation. The program will also be developing its first-ever strategic plan, building on last year's AGI strategic plan.

New Faces at Federal Agencies: Pena at Energy, Dombeck at Forest Service
On December 20th, President Clinton finished filling the vacancies in his Cabinet left by resignations. The major surprise was the selection of outgoing Transportation Secretary (and former Denver mayor) Federico Pena as Secretary of Energy, replacing Hazel O'Leary. Up until the morning of the announcement, it was widely reported that Betsy Moler, chairwoman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would be the nominee. Although Pena has no specific background in energy-related issues, one observer noted: "As transportation secretary, he is very familiar with the whole nexus between transportation, energy and the environment."

As expected, Bruce Babbitt is officially staying on as Secretary of the Interior. Michael Dombeck, Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management, has been named as head of the U.S. Forest Service, replacing Jack Ward Thomas. No word yet on Dombeck's successor at BLM.

The November update reported on new congressional committee chairs. Subcommittee chairmanships will be finalized in early January, and GAP's web site will provide a list of key congressional figures and their staff later in the month.

UN Delays Discussion of Database Treaty
In November, AGI joined other scientific societies in expressing concern over a draft intellectual property rights treaty that could fundamentally change the accessibility of scientific databases. The treaty was to be finalized at a Geneva conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (an arm of the United Nations) in early December. As a result of the concerns raised by scientists as well as many developing countries, the database treaty was not brought up for discussion at the conference, and no date was set for future discussions. Although designed to fight international piracy of copyrighted material, the treaty would protect virtually all compilations of data from copy or reuse with no "fair-use" exemption for scientists or educators, a change that could adversely affect scientists who rely on large international datasets. An Action Alert on this issue is available on this site.

NSF Proposes Changes to Merit Review Process, Holds Town Meeting
The National Science Board has released its recommendations for changing the merit review process used by the National Science Foundation to review the thousands of grant proposals received each year. The changes primarily center on a simplified set of questions that reviewers should address when rating proposals. NSF is accepting comments on the changes until January 15. Additional information is available from an Action Alert and directly from NSF. Final changes will be announced this spring.

The merit review changes were one of many issues discussed at a "town meeting" held by NSF's Geosciences Directorate at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco. Notes from the session, hosted by NSF Assistant Director Bob Corell, are available on this site. Minutes from an earlier town meeting at GSA's Annual Meeting in Denver are available directly from NSF.

GAP December Activities: Utah Colloquium, AGU Fall Meeting
This past month, GAP Director Dave Applegate headed west for a week. He gave a departmental colloquium at the University of Utah entitled "Federal Science Policy: Washington Takes Your Money But Needs Your Advice." He also attended the American Geophysical Union's Fall Meeting in San Francisco, where AGU's Council approved a motion to re-affiliate with AGI. AGI and GAP are looking forward to joining forces with AGU and its Public Affairs Program on issues facing our community in the coming year.

Tentative Schedule of Upcoming GAP Activities

	Feb. 2-3		AAPG Day		Tulsa OK
	Feb. 23-24	Advisory Cmte. meeting	Alexandria VA

Committee Meeting Schedule
The next GAP Advisory Committee meeting will be at AGI headquarters on February 23-24. Additional informationand reply forms will be mailed next week. The date for the advisory committee's meeting at the AAPG Annual Meeting in Dallas has also been set: Wednesday, April 9th.

(Contributed by David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs)

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Uploaded January 3, 1997

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