Congress Resumes Work on FY 2024 Appropriations
Negotiations over fiscal year (FY) 2024 appropriations resumed in Congress after the House voted to elect Representative Mike Johnson (R-LA) as Speaker. Work on spending legislation had been halted for several weeks due to the prolonged vacancy for House Speaker. Lawmakers have until November 17 to either complete work on appropriations or pass another stopgap measure to give them more time to do so. Speaker Johnson indicated that he is willing to use another continuing resolution to buy more time for fiscal negotiations.
Prior to passing the first continuing resolution, the House had approved four appropriations bills, but failed to advance a fifth bill, the Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration appropriations measure, which included larger funding cuts than agreed to as part of the debt deal. The chamber has now passed three additional bills bringing the total up to seven. The House has yet to take up the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill, which funds the National Institutes of Health, and the Commerce-Justice-Science bill, which funds the National Science Foundation.
On October 26, the House passed the Energy and Water spending bill with billions of dollars in cuts to federal energy efficiency and water infrastructure programs. The measure would reduce funding for the Department of Energy's (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy by 42 percent relative to FY 2023 and provide flat funding for its Office of Science. Notably, the House adopted floor amendments to defund the Office of Scientific Workforce Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the DOE Office of Science and prohibit funding for the American Climate Corps.
Last Friday, the House also passed the spending bill for the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would gut environmental spending and programs. The measure would cut funding for the U.S. Geological Survey by 10 percent, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by 13 percent, the National Park Service by 12 percent, and the Bureau of Land Management by 21 percent. EPA's funding would be slashed by nearly 40 percent while its science and technology account would shrink by 30 percent. The bill would rescind $9.4 billion in Inflation Reduction Act funding and repeal the Biden Administration's Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. President Biden has threatened to veto the measure.
The Senate's FY 2024 spending bills have also been moving slowly but with bipartisan support. The Senate has stuck with the spending levels for discretionary programs permitted under the budget deal forged between President Biden and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy this summer. The Senate Appropriations Committee had advanced all twelve spending bills to the floor back in July, but the full chamber only took up its first set of bills in late October.
On November 1, the Senate passed with bipartisan support a three-bill package including the spending bills for Agriculture, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Transportation-Housing and Urban Development. The agriculture spending bill would fund the Agricultural Research Service at $1.9 billion, a slight increase over current funding, and provide flat funding for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. Agriculture programs would see an overall 15 percent increase in the Senate bill versus a 30 percent cut proposed by the House.
NSB Report Shows Slow Growth in Federal Funding for Academic R&D
A new report from the National Science Board (NSB), the governing body of the National Science Foundation (NSF), shows that between 2012 and 2021 academic research and development (R&D) funded by businesses grew faster than government funded academic R&D, although federal funding still makes up the largest share overall.
The report, Academic Research and Development, is part of the 2024 congressionally mandated Science and Engineering Indicators that shed light on the state of the U.S. science and engineering enterprise. It found that federal government provided nearly 55 percent of all funds for academic R&D in 2021, down from 61 percent in 2012.
Notably, the report found that spending on biological, biomedical, and health sciences was the primary driver of academic R&D, with R&D at universities with medical schools accounting for 75 percent of all federally supported academic R&D spending in FY 2021.
With respect to demographics, the report found that between 2003 and 2021, more U.S. trained women joined the science and engineering (S&E) doctoral academic workforce than men. The number of women grew by about 62,100, while the number of men grew by 25,700. Furthermore, in 2021, 10 percent of S&E doctorate holders employed in academia and 9 percent of full-time faculty identified as underrepresented minorities (Black or African American, Hispanic or Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native), up from 7 percent and 7 percent, respectively, in 2006.
NIH Announces Simplified Review Framework for Grants
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has introduced a new framework for the peer review of research grant applications beginning with submissions that have due dates on or after January 25, 2025.
"NIH has heard concerns from the extramural community about the complexity of the peer review process for research project grants (RPGs) and the increasing responsibilities of peer reviewers in policy compliance," notes a blogpost penned by Dr. Mike Lauer, Deputy Director for Extramural Research and Dr. Noni Byrnes, Director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review. The simplified framework is intended to better focus reviewers on the key questions needed to assess the scientific and technical merit of proposed research projects, specifically: "Should the proposed research project be conducted?" and "Can the proposed research project be conducted?"
Essentially, the five current review criteria--defined as Significance, Innovation, Approach, Investigator, and Environment--are being reorganized into three broader factors that will be considered by reviewers to determine the overall impact score:
- Factor 1: Importance of the Research (Significance and Innovation), score 1-9
- Factor 2: Rigor and Feasibility (Approach), score 1-9
- Factor 3: Expertise and Resources (Investigator and Environment), rated as sufficient or not
A significant concern being addressed by this change is "the potential for general scientific reputation to have an undue influence on application review." Changing the evaluation of the third factor above to a binary decision of sufficient or not aims to help mitigate this potential bias. Additionally, to reduce the burden on reviewers to assess policy compliance, NIH staff will assume administrative responsibilities related to the additional review considerations of Applications from Foreign Organizations, Select Agents, and Resource Sharing Plans.
Recognizing the need for resources and guidance to help investigators, reviewers, and NIH staff understand these changes, the agency has established a new webpage that will serve as a central repository of information on this initiative.
Biden Honors American Scientists, Innovators
President Biden recently awarded the National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology and Innovation to several individuals who have made outstanding contributions to science, technology, and innovation.
The National Medal of Science, the nation's highest scientific honor administered by the National Science Foundation, was awarded to 9 scientists, including Gebisa Ejeta, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at Purdue University, who was recognized for his development of drought- and parasite-resistant sorghum strains to improve food security.
The technology medal, which is administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, was awarded to 10 individuals, including Mary-Dell Chilton of Syngenta Biotechnology, Inc., who developed the first insect-resistant corn.
Six Emerging and Early Career Professionals Selected to Join the Leadership Team of the BIOFAIR Data Network Project
Six emerging and early career professionals have been selected to join the steering committee of the National Science Foundation-funded project, "Building an Integrated, Open, Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable (BIOFAIR) Data Network," led by AIBS and the Biodiversity Collections Network (BCoN).
The BIOFAIR Data Network project will convene stakeholders from across the spectrum of biodiversity, ecological, and environmental data providers, curators, and users, with the goal of initiating a collaborative and accessible partnership towards an integrative and expanded data network. Over the next two years, the six newly recruited members will work with the core steering committee to catalyze cross-domain discussions, identify a set of shared biodiversity data needs and goals, and develop a collaborative plan that will inform the cross-domain integration of digital data.
Joining the leadership team are:
- Nimanthi Abeyrathna, Clarkson University
- David Kunkel, Oklahoma State University
- Brooke Long-Fox, Phoenix Bioinformatics, South Dakota Mines
- Cameron A. Pittman, Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Julia Portman, Center for Biodiversity and Global Change, Yale University
- Matthew Sheik, Denver Botanic Gardens
Meet the new recruits.
Latest BioScience Talks Episode: READI-Net
The guest for the latest episode of BioScience Talks is Adam Sepulveda, Research Scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center in Bozeman, Montana. He talks about READI-Net, an environmental DNA-based program that was recently funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law as a priority for addressing aquatic invasive species. Learn more about READI-Net. Captions are available on YouTube.
Nominations Sought for the IDEA2L Leadership Award
Nominations are currently being accepted for the AIBS Inspiring Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, Acceptance, Accessibility, and Learning (IDEA2L) Leadership Award, which recognizes commendable leadership in advancing inclusion, diversity, equity, acceptance, accessibility, and learning in the biological sciences community.
Awards will be made at the discretion of the AIBS IDEA2 Committee, which may choose one award, no award, or multiple awards in any one year.
Individual award recipients are recognized at the AIBS Annual Council meeting and receive complimentary registration to an AIBS Professional Development Training Course. Recipients are also given a $500 honorarium or the option of donating the amount to an AIBS Initiative.
Anyone may submit a nomination for the IDEA2L Award with the candidate's permission. Self-nominations are accepted. Nominations must clearly document why the candidate should be considered, above all others, for this distinguished award.
Learn more about the nomination and selection process.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced President Biden's nomination of Dr. Monica Bertagnolli to lead the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on a bipartisan vote of 15-6. Committee Chair Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) joined 5 Republican members in voting against Bertagnolli's nomination noting that she is an "intelligent and caring person, but has not convinced me that she is prepared to take on the greed and power of the drug companies and healthcare industry." The nomination now moves to the Senate floor for a vote by the full chamber.
- House Appropriations Committee Chair Kay Granger (R-TX) has announced that she will retire and not seek reelection after serving out her current term, which ends in January 2025. Granger took over the helm of the powerful spending panel in early 2023 after Republicans won the House majority. Prior to that she served as Ranking Member for 4 years. Under her leadership, the Appropriations Committee has sought deep funding cuts for several federal programs and agencies.
Join the National Academies' Health and Medicine Division's Forum on Microbial Threats and the Division of Earth and Life Studies' Board on Life Sciences on November 6 and 15, 2023 at 12:00-1:30 PM ET, for a two-part webinar bringing together technology developers, researchers, and policymakers working at the intersection of foundation model-based artificial intelligence (AI) and biological research to explore the impact of these technologies on innovation, potential biosecurity risks, and promising solutions. Register now.
- The National Science Foundation (NSF) is hiring for the position of Deputy Division Director for the Division of Research, Innovation, Synergies and Education (RISE) in the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO). Applications will be accepted until November 27, 2023.
From the Federal Register
The following items appeared in the Federal Register from October 23 to November 3, 2023.
Environmental Protection Agency
Health and Human Services
National Aeronautics and Space Administration