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Plant Biology Policy Blog (PB2)
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This blog from ASPB's public affairs unit will provide updates on policy developments in Washington and other plant biology news impacting the ASPB community. Please send any news, comments, or suggestions to ASPB's public affairs director, Adam Fagen, at afagen@aspb.org Policy Archives available under Group Pages.

 

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Top tags: Congress  appropriations  House  USDA  NSF  Senate  NIH  DOE  President Obama  Farm Bill  OSTP  biofuels  award  education  event  fellowship  international  White House  workforce  COMPETES Act  energy  GMO  grants  NSB  Alert  funding  HHMI  National Academies  New York Times  nomination 

Association for Women in Science Policy Fellowship

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Monday, February 06, 2012

Position Summary: AWIS is seeking a self-motivated, dynamic, and enthusiastic individual who supports the mission of our organization and is ready to hit the ground running in this exciting and rigorous Public Policy Fellowship.

Responsibilities: The Public Policy Fellow at AWIS is responsible for many aspects of the National Office’s advocacy operations. The Fellow will attend all Congressional briefings and coalition meetings on Capitol Hill related to women, science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) that are relevant to the AWIS mission, and will be expected to keep a detailed record of all policy initiatives and events via three main outlets:

1. The AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter,

2. the AWIS Magazine and

3. the AWIS website.

In addition to attending regular meetings and events, the Fellow is expected to be engaged with the women’s community as well as the STEM community; building partnerships, coalitions, and making connections across all disciplines and types of organizational/institutional entities.

Requirements: Successful applicants will have at least a Bachelor’s degree in a field related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), or some other field with a focus on data analysis or scientific writing. As the Fellow will write and edit our monthly AWIS in Action! Advocacy and Public Policy Newsletter, a strong command of writing in English is essential. A successful applicant must be able to demonstrate critical thinking skills, editing, and writing ability. Must have a solid understanding of political processes. Capitol Hill experience or comparable advocacy experience strongly preferred.

Application Instructions: Send a cover letter, resume/CV, and short writing sample (no more than 5 pages) to popejoy@awis.org with the words "Public Policy Fellowship” in the subject line.

Duration: 1-2 Years

Deadline: February 15, 2012

Tags:  fellowship 

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National Science Board: NSB Report on Merit Review Criteria: Review and Revisions

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Monday, February 06, 2012

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC – January 2012

On January 9, the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) National Science Board (NSB) published a report titled NSF Merit Review Criteria: Review and Revisions. After extensive review and stakeholder consultation, the NSB concluded that Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts should be maintained as the two review criteria used to assess NSF proposals. The report provides clarification on the meaning of the two criteria and how they should be applied in the merit review process.

As previously reported by Lewis-Burke Associates, an NSB Task Force on Merit Review was established in February 2010 to examine the effectiveness of the two Merit Review Criteria. The Task Force sought extensive stakeholder engagement including: interviews with senior NSF staff; a public consultation resulting in over four thousand responses from reviewers and Principal Investigators; data from two hundred Committee of Visitor Reports; and data from over 100,000 research proposals submitted to NSF between 2006-09.

NSB concluded that while the two criteria remain appropriate, there is a need to provide greater clarity on each of the criteria and explain how they relate to the NSF core principles. The updated review criteria definitions are:

  • Intellectual Merit: The Intellectual Merit criterion encompasses the potential to advance knowledge; and
  • Broader Impacts: The Broader Impacts criterion encompasses the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.

NSB also established a set of overarching principles for merit review:

  • Support highest quality projects.
  • Aggregate of NSF projects to contribute to societal goal.
  • Appropriate evaluation and assessment of projects.

In addition to the new principles and definitions for the two criteria, NSB has provided revised guidance on elements that should be considered in the review process for both criteria. This guidance will replace the individual guidance currently provided for each of the two criteria.

The report notes that the Broader Impacts criterion is required as an element of merit review under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. The COMPETES Reauthorization states that the overall goals of the broader impact criterion should be increased or improved to address issues including: economic competitiveness; global science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce competitiveness; participation of women and underrepresented minorities; partnerships with industry; preK-12 STEM education; undergraduate STEM education; public scientific literacy; and national security. However, NSB recommended that NSF not include this list or other examples of broader impacts in the criteria to avoid being too prescriptive or restricting the creativity of NSF researchers.

NSF will be implementing the enhanced merit review criteria in subsequent months.

The full report is available at http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/publications/2011/meritreviewcriteria.pdf.

The current criteria can be found at http://nsf.gov/pubs/policydocs/pappguide/nsf11001/gpg_3.jsp#IIIA.


Tags:  funding  grants  NSB  NSF 

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ASPB Alert: Deadline to sign on to GRANT Act "Dear Colleague" Letter Extended

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

As you may be aware, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently approved the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act, H.R. 3433. The bill, which the full House has not considered, is intended to provide more transparency in the federal grant-making process by requiring all federal agencies to publicize the selection procedures for each grant program. It also mandates the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) create a single, comprehensive website for all federal grant opportunities, among other provisions.

Many in the research community have concerns with the bill’s transparency requirements in the peer-review process, which include the posting of full copies of funded proposals online (albeit with an exception for information that is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)). Although many efforts have been made to effect positive changes in the bill, the amount of disclosure required is still potentially damaging to the peer-review process. As such, Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and David Price (D-NC) have drafted a "Dear Colleague" letter, which can be viewed here, to the House leadership urging them to fix these remaining issues; Reps. Holt and Price also are seeking additional signatories to the letter from among their colleagues.

ASPB is closely monitoring this bill and working to remove damaging provisions in the legislation. If you have concerns with the GRANT Act, you can share them with your Representative and/or encourage them to sign on to the Holt-Price Dear Colleague letter. Contact information for your Representative is available at http://house.gov/representatives/. You can either call their Washington, D.C., office or send an e-mail via your Representative’s website. If you do not know who your Representative is, you can enter your zip code into the above website to find out. The deadline for additional signatories to the Dear Colleague letter has been extended to Friday, January 27.

If you’d like help reaching out to your Representative, please contact ASPB’s Public Affairs Manager, Kathy Munkvold, at kmunkvold@aspb.org.

Tags:  Alert  grants  House  peer review 

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USDA closing 259 U.S. offices to cut costs

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Thursday, January 12, 2012

In an effort to save $150 million, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced Monday the closure of 259 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offices. Most of the savings have come from reducing travel and supplies, whereas the office closings will result in about $60 million in savings. The closures will impact offices at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C., 46 states, and one U.S. territory and include 12 Agricultural Research Service (ARS) programs in ten locations. In public statement, Vilsack said, "the Blueprint for Stronger Service effectively means that in an era of reduced budgets, we’re not going to see reduced service.” Vilsack added that if the USDA did not undertake the consolidation of offices with zero to two employees in many cases, the remaining option would be furloughs or a reduction in workforce, ultimately leading to a reduction in service.

Despite Visack’s commitment to stronger service, some raise concerns about effects on food safety as the USDA plans to close five of the fifteen Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) district offices throughout the United States. Undersecretary for Food Safety, Elisabeth Hagen says that although the offices are being consolidated, there would be no reduction in inspectors or inspection work. "Not only do we have a statutory obligation to be in every facility, we have an unwavering commitment to food safety,” Hagen said in a statement. "We will still be on the job, in every facility, every day.” It will be clear in time whether the USDA can maintain its current standard of service following the closures.


Additional information regarding the USDA office closures:

Tags:  USDA 

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ASPB ALERT: Concerns Regarding the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act (H.R. 3433)

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Monday, January 09, 2012

As you may be aware, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently approved the Grant Reform and New Transparency (GRANT) Act, H.R. 3433. The bill, which the full House has not considered, is intended to provide more transparency in the federal grant-making process by requiring all federal agencies to publicize the selection procedures for each grant program. It also mandates the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) create a single, comprehensive website for all federal grant opportunities, among other provisions.

Many in the research community have concerns with the bill’s transparency requirements in the peer-review process, which include the posting of full copies of funded proposals online (albeit with an exception for information that is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)). Although many efforts have been made to effect positive changes in the bill, the amount of disclosure required is still potentially damaging to the peer-review process. As such, Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and David Price (D-NC) have drafted a "Dear Colleague” letter to the House leadership urging them to fix these remaining issues; Reps. Holt and Price also are seeking additional signatories to the letter from among their colleagues.

ASPB is closely monitoring this bill and working to remove damaging provisions in the legislation. If you have concerns with the GRANT Act, you can share them with your Representative and/or encourage them to sign on to the Holt-Price Dear Colleague letter. Contact information for your Representative is available at http://house.gov/representatives/. You can either call their Washington, D.C., office or send an e-mail via your Representative’s website. If you do not know who your Representative is, you can enter your zip code into the above website to find out. The deadline for additional signatories to the Dear Colleague letter is Friday, January 13.

If you’d like help reaching out to your Representative, please contact ASPB’s Public Affairs Manager, Kathy Munkvold, at kmunkvold@aspb.org.

Tags:  Alert  Congress  grants  House 

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Policy Update: FY 2012 Appropriations Update: Congress Completes FY 2012 Appropriations Process

Posted By Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC, Monday, December 19, 2011

Lewis-Burke Associates LLC – December 2011

The U.S. Congress voted to accept a package of fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations measures to avoid a shutdown of a significant portion of the Federal Government as the current Continuing Resolution was set to expire Friday night. This action followed months of wrangling over the federal debt and deficit and reducing federal spending. The final bills represent real compromise and sustain important investments in federal research and education programs, such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, Department of Defense (DOD) basic research, and Pell grants, at current levels or with modest increases. The House of Representatives passed the package early on Friday while the Senate passed the bills on Saturday.

The final conference agreement details funding amounts and agency directives for federal agencies, including:

  • Defense Appropriations Bill – Department of Defense (DOD)
  • Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill – Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Appropriations Bill – Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services including the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The $915 billion Consolidated Appropriations bill includes $30.698 billion for NIH for an increase of $299 million (0.7 percent) above FY 2011. The final bill creates the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which is the top priority for NIH Director Francis Collins, and includes $10 million for the new Cures Acceleration Network (CAN). The bill decreases the NIH salary cap from Executive Level I ($199,700) to Executive Level II ($179,700)—a better outcome than the House draft bill, which recommended Executive Level III, but the first time Congress has decreased the NIH salary cap.

The DOE Office of Science would receive $4.889 billion, an increase of $46.34 million (about one percent) above FY 2011. The final bill provides $20 million each to establish two new Energy Innovation Hubs – one on Batteries and Energy Storage and one on Critical Materials. The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) programs of the Department are slated for level funding at $1.825 billion. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), will receive $275 million, half of the $550 million requested by the President.

DOD basic and applied research programs remain a priority within the bill as the overall increase for the Department was held to $5 billion above the FY 2011 level, a compromise between the House’s $17 billion increase and the Senate’s proposed freeze. For DOD research overall, a total of $72.4 billion is approved. While this represents a $2.5 billion decrease below the current level, the reduction is less than experienced by other aspects of the defense budget.

The final bill includes the necessary funding to continue the maximum Pell grant award at $5,550, while making changes to the program to reduce cost. However, the program is still expected to face increased funding pressures because of the overall growth of the program.

Additionally, the Senate rejected, in a 43 to 56 vote, a resolution that would have triggered a 1.83 percent across-the-board reduction against all discretionary spending except for defense, military construction, and veterans programs. The reduction was designed to pay for an additional $8.1 billion in disaster relief appropriations, which will now be provided as emergency spending following Senate approval of that legislation.

The Congress also passed, and the President has signed, a bill to extend the Continuing Resolution through December 23rd to allow the President to review and sign the Consolidated Appropriations bill into law this week. These actions will finally complete the FY 2012 appropriations process.

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  DOD  DOE  NIH 

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Call for Applications for 2012-2013 California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Monday, December 19, 2011

The California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) has announced that applications are now being accepted for the 2012-2013 California Science and Technology Policy Fellowships based in Sacramento.

The S&T Policy Fellowship, a unique one-year professional development opportunity, provides the selected fellows with hands-on experience working with the California Legislature to incorporate science and technology into public policy. The fellowships build on the highly successful model of the Science and Technology Policy Fellowships offered by the American Advancement for Science (AAAS) each year. Eligible applicants are PhD-level (or equivalent) scientists and engineers who have a sincere interest in California current events, the state legislative process, and a strong desire to learn how policy decisions are made.

Application information can be found here: http://fellows.ccst.us/apply.php. All applications must be submitted online by February 29, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. PST. Applications received after the deadline will not be reviewed. More information is available at http://fellows.ccst.us.


Tags:  fellowship  graduate 

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AAAS Seeking Nominations for the 2012 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Monday, December 19, 2011

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Foundation (RMF), and the World Food Prize Foundation (WFPF) invite nominations for the 2012 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture to be held in Spring 2012 at AAAS Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The lecture was named for the Missouri research entomologist, Charles Valentine Riley, known for implementing one of the first successful uses of biological control of an insect pest. The annual lecture, which commenced in 2010, is aimed at highlighting the important role of agricultural research as the most basic human endeavor and to enhance agriculture through increased scientific knowledge.

Prior lecturers include ASPB members Roger Beachy (2010), then USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) director, and Pamela Ronald (2011), Professor, Department of Plant Pathology at the University of California, Davis.

The 2012 nominees should be well-respected scientists working at the forefront of a pressing issue at the nexus of agriculture and society (see lecturer eligibility specifics below). They should have outstanding scientific contributions or significant policy accomplishments related to agriculture with demonstrated societal impact. The lecture carries an honorarium of $5,000.

Nominations should be typed and include: (1) the nominator’s name, title, institutional affiliation, email address, and phone number; (2) the nominee’s name, title, institutional affiliation, address, email address, and phone number; (3) a summary of the basis of the nomination (not to exceed 500 words); (4) a curriculum vitae (3 page maximum); (5) any documentation (books, articles, or other materials) that exemplify the nominee’s accomplishments with respect to agriculture and society (optional).

Please submit all nominations in PDF or Word format via email to Anne Moraske at amoraske@aaas.org by January 10, 2012. For more information, please send Ms. Moraske an email or call 202-326-6759.

Lecturer eligibility:

  • Nominees may not self-nominate;
  • Nominations must be for individuals and not institutions;
  • Members (and immediate family members) of the Selection Committee and staff of AAAS, RMF, and WFPF are ineligible

Information regarding the sponsors and program for last year’s 2011 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture can be found here: https://www.signup4.net/public/ap.aspx?EID=AAAS11E&OID=50.


Tags:  AAAS 

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The U.S. Department of Energy Solicits Nominations for the Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Monday, December 19, 2011

The Lawrence Award honors mid-career, U.S. scientists for exceptional advances in research and development congruent with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) mission to advance the economic and energy security of the United States. The award is given to scientists through the DOE’s Office of Science in the following eight categories: Atomic, Molecular, and Chemical Sciences; Biological and Environmental Sciences; Computer, Information, and Knowledge Sciences; Condensed Matter and Materials Sciences; Energy Science and Innovation; Fusion and Plasma Sciences; High Energy and Nuclear Physics; and National Security and Nonproliferation.

The Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award was established in 1959 in honor of a scientist who helped elevate American physics to world leadership. E. O. Lawrence was the inventor of the cyclotron, an accelerator of subatomic particles, and a 1939 Nobel Laureate in physics for that achievement. The Radiation Laboratory he developed at Berkeley during the 1930s ushered in the era of "big science," in which experiments were no longer done by an individual researcher and a few assistants on the table-top of an academic lab but by large, multidisciplinary teams of scientists and engineers in entire buildings full of sophisticated equipment and huge scientific machines. During World War II, Lawrence and his accelerators contributed to the Manhattan Project, and he later played a leading role in establishing the U.S. system of national laboratories, two of which (Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore) now bear his name.

Each Lawrence Award category winner receives a citation signed by the Secretary of Energy, a gold medal bearing the likeness of Ernest Orlando Lawrence, and a $20,000 honorarium; if there are co-winners in a category, the honorarium is shared equally. Nominations and selection guidelines can be found here: http://science.energy.gov/lawrence/nomination-and-selection-guidelines/. Briefly, nominations are made by submitting a letter of justification, a statement explaining the nominee’s connection to DOE support, a separate bibliography comprising no more than five significant publications related to the achievement, a curriculum vitae, at least three and no more than six letters of support, and a suggested citation. Submission of all nomination materials, including letters of support, in PDF format, is made online at http://www.orau.gov/lawrence/.

For a list of previous Lawrence Award laureates see http://science.energy.gov/lawrence/award-laureates/.

All nomination materials and support letters for the 2012 E. O. Lawrence Award must be received by March 15, 2012, 11:00 PM, ET. No materials will be accepted after the submission deadline has passed.

Tags:  award  DOE 

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Increase to indirect cost limits for NIFA funded grants in the FY 2012 minibus appropriations bill

Posted By Kathy R. Munkvold, Thursday, December 08, 2011

Indirect costs, also known as facilities and administration costs, included in many USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded grants have previously been limited to at most 22%. The FY 2012 minibus appropriations bill provides language (see below) that allows for up to 30% for indirect costs, at least for grants funded in FY 2012. Indirect cost rates for most research institutions hover around 50%. This change in policy at the USDA represents a major step towards rates honored at other science funding agencies.


Text from the appropriations bill:

SEC. 720. None of the funds in this Act shall be available to pay indirect costs charged against any agricultural research, education, or extension grant awards issued by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture that exceed 30 percent of total Federal funds provided under each award: Provided, That notwithstanding section 1462 of the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act of 1977 (7 U.S.C. 3310), funds provided by this Act for grants awarded competitively by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture shall be available to pay full allowable indirect costs for each grant awarded under section 9 of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 638).


This post includes content provided by ASPB's external government relations consultant, Lewis-Burke Associates LLC.

Tags:  appropriations  USDA 

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Implications of Supercommittee Collapse for Science Funding and Higher Education

Posted By Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC, Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Media attention has focused on the failure of the 12-member congressional Supercommittee to reach agreement on a package to reduce the federal deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next nine years. However, universities and science organizations are not the victims of the deficit impasse. Generally, federal funding for scientific research is not the target of deficit reduction for several reasons: (1) the amount of domestic discretionary funding for science is not large enough to have significant impact on deficit reduction; (2) science has bipartisan support among politicians since it is part of the innovation economy upon which the country’s financial recovery is partially dependent; and (3) dismantling the scientific infrastructure of the country is counter-productive in the global technology-driven forces of the 21st century. There are aspects of the current federal deficit paralysis that indirectly affect higher education – particularly relating to student aid, academic health centers, and tax policy – but reducing direct federal support of scientific research at academic institutions is not front-and-center.

Now, many are trying to determine what happens next as Congress still has much work to do before adjourning next month. With funding fully enacted for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) the competitive funding arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), with modest increases (NSF and NOAA), flat funding (AFRI) or a slight reduction (NASA), completion of the fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations process, especially for NIH funding, is an important challenge. In addition to funding the remaining appropriations bills, which are currently operating under a Continuing Resolution (CR) through December 16th, there are other issues looming before Congress, such as extension of unemployment benefits, doctor payments, and tax extenders. This report describes the impact of the collapse of the Supercommittee at the federal level; however, actions might be taken by state and local governments to respond to possible implications associated with the collapse of the Supercommittee process. 


Near-Term Outlook for Science Funding

Among its many to-dos, Congress must still complete nine remaining FY 2012 appropriations bills, including bills that fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Education (ED). It is expected that this will be done through one large "omnibus” package before the end of the calendar year. As previously reported, other science agencies for which appropriations bills have been passed—namely NSF, NASA, NOAA, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA)—fared relatively well in FY 2012, receiving budgets that are about flat or slightly increased above the FY 2011 enacted level. A similar outcome is expected for basic research in agencies like NIH and DOE in the final appropriations agreement.

One caveat is that it is not uncommon for a modest across-the-board reduction to be included in an omnibus appropriations bill should it be warranted to keep discretionary appropriations within the overall cap of $1.043 trillion enacted in the Budget Control Act (debt limit agreement). Should the appropriations process stall, there has been some discussion of extending the current CR into early next year, which would result in a freeze for all programs at the current (FY 2011) level until Congress completes an omnibus bill or enacts a CR for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Planning is also underway by agencies for the President’s FY 2013 budget request which is expected to be more conservative than in past years and may even be delayed due to the uncertainty of future budget cuts. The FY 2013 process remains very uncertain at the moment with flat funding for federal research agencies considered "a win” in the coming years.


Budget Scenarios for FY 2014 and Beyond

In August, the Budget Control Act enacted a process that would institute automatic across-the-board budget cuts over nine years, known as sequestration, in the event that the Supercommittee could not reach a deal. However, given that the cuts are not scheduled to go into effect until January 2013 (after the election) and are subject to subsequent revision by Congress, it is possible they will be delayed or never triggered at all. In the event no changes are made to the automatic budget cuts, the White House Office of Management and Budget would be required to reduce the discretionary appropriated budget by $109 billion per year for nine years, allocated equally between defense spending and nondefense spending.

Reductions in discretionary spending from 2014 to 2021 would be achieved by reducing the aggregate overall caps on such spending for each year. While the President could propose specific cuts to agencies such as NIH and NSF, specific appropriations would still be subject to the annual congressional appropriations process and program funding could be increased or further decreased within the overall capped amount for all discretionary spending. As a general rule of thumb, if these cuts were allocated proportionately, it would mean 6 to 8 percent reductions to the domestic spending agencies.

Concerns are already being expressed by the Administration and by both Democratic and Republican Members of Congress over the magnitude of potential spending cuts to defense. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the DOD budget could be cut by as much as 10 percent in FY 2013 under the mandated sequester with additional reductions in discretionary defense spending over the nine-year period to estimated savings of about 8.5 percent in FY 2021. Such reductions, totaling an estimated $492 billion, could impact big defense programs already at issue in Congress, as well as drive changes in the structure and mobility of the nation’s military services already under consideration. Additional reductions in mandatory defense spending are also likely under current law. While some want to undo the sequester for defense, the President has threatened to veto any bill that focuses only on exempting defense spending.

In short, the budget outlook for the next several years is uncertain at best. The main question on the table is whether and how to skirt the automatic cuts that would be levied against FY 2013 appropriations as required under the Budget Control Act. However, flat funding for science agencies remains a possibility over the next few years and should be viewed as a "win” in the current budget climate.

Congressional Quarterly (CQ) has produced a graphic that further explains the sequestration process, should that process go forward without changes by Congress: http://www.cq.com/graphics/monitor/2011/11/23/mon20111123-23deficit-cht.pdf

Tags:  appropriations  Congress  DOE  NIH  NSF  USDA 

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NSF sees increase in funding for FY 2012 and AFRI, USDA’s competitive grants program, remains flat as Congress prepares to pass first minibus

Posted By Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The House and Senate have come to a conference agreement on the first fiscal year (FY) 2012 "minibus” bill (H.R. 2112), which combines three appropriations bills into one package – the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration bill; the Commerce, Justice, Science bill; and the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development bill. These bills provide funding for federal research agencies, including the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), among others. While science agencies did well overall, with most gaining modest increases over FY 2011 levels, Administration priorities such as the Sustainable Communities Initiative and high-speed rail were zeroed out, signaling trouble for other White House initiatives in upcoming appropriations bills. The minibus would also include a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the rest of the federal government through December 16, 2011.

The House is expected to pass the conference report on Thursday, November 17, with the Senate following suit on Friday, November 18. The President is expected to sign the bill into law on Friday before the current short-term CR expires. While the Senate had hoped to continue work on additional minibus bills, that effort has stalled and appropriators are now looking at packaging the remaining appropriations bills into one large omnibus bill.

Below is additional information on funding amounts and agency directives provided for NSF, USDA, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), included in the minibus agreement.


National Science Foundation (NSF)

NSF fares well in the conference agreement receiving a total budget of $7.033 billion, which is $173 million or 2.5 percent over FY 2011 and higher than both the House and Senate marks. Within this amount, Research and Related Activities (R&RA) would receive $5.719 billion, $155 million or 2.8 percent over FY 2011 and also higher than both the House and Senate marks. The report is supportive of NSF’s R&RA termination and reduction proposals, including the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, Research Initiation to Broaden Participation in Biology, and the Synchrotron Radiation Center, but does not accept the requested reduction to the radio astronomy program. The report approves of NSF prioritization of advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity, and calls for NSF to fully fund cybersecurity at the budget request level of $156.55 million. As in the House report, neuroscience is highlighted as a key area and the report encourages NSF to "establish a cognitive sciences and neurosciences crosscutting theme.”

The Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account would receive $167.055 million, which is $50 million or 43 percent above the FY 2011 level and higher than both the House and Senate marks. As in the House bill, no funding levels are listed for specific projects, and the report instead directs NSF to prioritize projects nearing completion. The report includes language allowing transfer of funds from R&RA to MREFC, but this authority has been modified to allow $50 million to be transferred rather than the $100 million allowed by the Senate report. As in the House report, NSF is instructed to review its current portfolio of MREFC projects and their out-year funding profiles to make certain they are in line with appropriated funding for FY 2011 and FY 2012. Should adjustments be needed, the Committee directs NSF to report revised profiles to the Committee and to include the new funding profiles in the FY 2013 budget request. Also as in the House report, the Committee directs NSF to strengthen oversight of contingency funding and incentivize grantees to bring projects in under budget. The Committee directs NSF to report on its efforts to limit the use of contingency funding and ensure return of excess funds for large facility projects within 90 days of enactment.

The Education and Human Resources (EHR) account would be funded at $829 million, $32 million or 3.7 percent below the FY 2011 level and equal to the Senate-proposed level. As in the House report, the Conference Committee does not support the proposed reductions to the Robert Noyce Scholarship program and the Math and Science Partnership program, but does approve of all other proposed reductions and terminations in the EHR budget request. Like the Senate, the Committee would also provide an additional $20 million above the request level to expand the Federal Cyber Service: Scholarships for Service program. As in the House report, the Committee directs NSF to distribute the National Research Council’s report, Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and provide an evaluation plan within 12 months of enactment regarding the steps NSF and other Federal agencies should take to implement the plan. On the topic of broadening participation programs, after some discussion over the last several years regarding the creation of a separate Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) program, the Committee directs NSF to provide a report on how the needs of HSIs will be addressed in FY 2012 and any future plans to establish an HSI program in FY 2013. The Committee also supports the FY 2011 levels for the existing broadening participation programs.


U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

The conference agreement includes nearly $2.3 billion for research throughout USDA, a reduction of $51.1 million (2 percent) below the FY 2011 enacted level. The conferees recommend $1.095 billion for the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to support USDA’s intramural research programs, disagreeing with the President’s request to terminate extramural research through ARS. The conferees do concur with the Administration’s proposal to close 12 research laboratories at 10 locations and they request a report on the disposition of the facilities by January 20, 2012.

For the extramural research programs of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the final bill includes $705.6 million for research and education activities, an increase of $104.8 million (17 percent) above the House recommendation and $4.2 million below the Senate-passed level. The conferees express their strong support for USDA’s agricultural research, extension, and education activities through NIFA, but they note concerns about the focus of the research programs, especially projects through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). The conferees strongly encourage USDA to fund only the highest priority agricultural research authorized by Congress. The conferees approve $9 million for the Graduate Fellowship Grants, Institution Challenge Grants, and Multicultural Scholars Program.

Within NIFA, a total of $264.5 million is approved for competitive extramural agricultural research through AFRI, which is the same as the FY 2011 enacted level. For the formula or capacity-building programs, the final bill includes $236.3 million for the Hatch Act, the same as the FY 2011 level, and $32.9 million for McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry.

The conferees do not fund the Hispanic-Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities Endowment Fund proposed at $10 million by the President.


Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP)

The conference agreement would provide OSTP with $4.5 million for FY 2012, which is $2.1 million or 32 percent below the FY 2011 level, $1.5 million above the House level, and $1.5 million below the Senate mark. The conferees support OSTP’s efforts to improve coordination of federal STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education programs and to develop a government-wide STEM education strategic plan. The bill also directs OSTP to include in this strategic plan goals to improve distribution of STEM education research and best practices. The bill further encourages OSTP to establish an interagency working group through the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) to coordinate investments in neuroscience research. The report language specifically highlights the need to develop future clinical treatments for traumatic brain injuries and an improved understanding of cognition and learning, Alzheimer’s disease, and childhood development disorders. Also, in light of the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in May stating OSTP illegally engaged in bilateral activities with China, the bill restricts OSTP from engaging in any activities that would risk transferring sensitive technology and data and harm U.S. economic and national security interests. The bill does allow OSTP to carry out other activities with China, such as public health planning and disaster response.


The complete report is located here: 

http://www.rules.house.gov/Media/file/PDF_112_1/Committee%20Jurisdiction%20Reports/CR2112%201114s.pdf

The language for the report is located here:

http://www.rules.house.gov/Media/file/PDF_112_1/Committee%20Jurisdiction%20Reports/JointStates.pdf

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Applications open for 2012 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

Posted By Adam Fagen, Monday, November 14, 2011
The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) is now accepting applications for its 2012 AIBS Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA). The award recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in science policy.

EPPLA recipients receive first-hand experience at the interface of science and public policy, including the following:
  • A trip to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Biological and Ecological Sciences Coalition (BESC) Congressional Visits Day, an annual event that brings scientists to the nation's capital to advocate for federal investments in the biological sciences, with a primary focus on the National Science Foundation. The 2012 event will last for two days and may be held between March and May. The official dates will be announced in 2012.
  • Policy and communications training, and information on federal science budgets and the legislative process.
  • Meetings with Congressional policymakers to discuss the importance of federal investments in the biological sciences.
  • A 1-year AIBS membership, including a subscription to the journal BioScience and a copy of "Communicating Science: A Primer for Working with the Media."
  • A certificate and membership in the EPPLA alumni network.
The 2012 award is open to U.S. citizens enrolled in a graduate degree program in the biological sciences, science education, or closely allied field. Applicants should have a demonstrated interest in and commitment to science policy and/or science education policy. Prior EPPLA winners and AIBS science policy interns/fellows are not eligible.

Applications are due by January 20, 2012, and include a cover letter, statement, resume, and letter of reference.  Additional details are available on the AIBS website.

Good luck to those applying!


Tags:  AIBS  award 

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Koonin steps down as DOE Under Secretary for Science

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, November 11, 2011
Steven Koonin has announced that he is stepping down from his position as Under Secretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

ScienceInsider reports that he had been looking around for some time, because his position did not allow him enough power, especially over the budget for the DOE Office of Science. That office is lead by William Brinkman.  Michael Lubell with the American Physical Society was quoted as saying, "Here was a guy [Koonin] who had no budget authority, and that's a tough position."

Among other achievements during his 2.5 years at DOE, Koonin helped draft the agency's strategic plan and led its first Quadrennial Technology Review. He has also been connected to ASPB, including by speaking in the ASPB's President's Symposium on bioenergy at Plant Biology 2011 this past summer in Minneapolis.

Koonin has a background in theoretical physics and previously served as a professor and provost at Caltech. He also served as chief scientist for BP before coming to DOE. He will be joining the Institute for Defense Analyses' Science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., upon his departure.

DOE has not yet announced who will be filling the vacated Under Secretary position.



Tags:  DOE 

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Congress makes progress on FY 2012 appropriations

Posted By Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, Saturday, November 05, 2011
The House and Senate appear to have come together on a strategy to complete consideration of the fiscal year (FY) 2012 appropriations bills.  Rather than combine all 12 appropriations bills into one large omnibus appropriations package, as Congressional appropriators have done in the past, Congressional leaders plan to enact the appropriations bills through a more piecemeal approach; passing three or four appropriations bills at one time in "minibus" appropriations packages.  Congressional leaders from both parties have also indicated that they will adhere to the top line discretionary spending levels that were agreed to in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (the debt limit bill), which are approximately $24 billion higher than the total discretionary spending level approved by the House earlier in the year.

The first such minibus bill was passed by the Senate on November 1 and included the Senate's Agriculture–FDA appropriations bill, Commerce–Justice-–Science bill, and Transportation–Housing and Urban Development bill.  These bills provide funding for federal research agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others.  On the evening of November 3, House and Senate appropriators met to begin conference negotiations on the first minibusbill.  Conference members agreed to top line spending targets for each bill that comply with the Budget Control Act.  Specifically, they agreed to $19.6 billion for the Agriculture–FDA bill ($2.4 billion above the House-passed level, and $200 million below the Senate-passed level), $52.7 billion for the Commerce–Justice–Science bill ($2.5 billion more than the House proposed level, and level with the Senate-passed bill), and $55.6 billion for the Transportation–Housing and Urban Development bill ($400 million above the House-proposed level and $300 million above the Senate-passed level).

Negotiators were very courteous to one another during the conference committee meeting, stating their intentions to work together to complete the FY 2012 appropriations bills before the end of the calendar year.  House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-KY) stated that the conferees have been instructed to keep their schedules open over the upcoming Congressional recess period to complete negotiations on the minibus package before November 14.  The House and Senate are expected to pass the first minibus bill during the week of November 14, before the current continuing resolution (CR) expires on November 18.  The minibus package will likely include an additional CR to extend funding for programs under the remaining appropriations bills through mid-December to provide additional time for Congress to complete its work.

While negotiators have agreed to top line funding levels for each appropriations bill, there are still discrepancies between the House and Senate on programs within the bills that will need to be worked out.  This includes emergency aid to states for recent natural disasters and funding for transportation projects through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grants program, among others.  Funding for science and education programs within these appropriations measures has not been highlighted as an area of contention, and in fact, research agencies are faring quite well in receiving funding that is flat or slightly below current levels.

Appropriators have stated that they may attach additional, less controversial spending bills to this minibus appropriations package such as the Legislative Branch bill and the Homeland Security bill.  The Senate is expected to consider a second minibus package in the coming week which may include the Energy and Water Development bill, the Financial Services bill, and the State and Foreign Operations bill.



This post includes content provided by ASPB's external government relations consultant, Lewis-Burke Associates LLC.


Tags:  appropriations  Congress  House  Senate 

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasizes research for 2012 Farm Bill

Posted By Adam Fagen, Monday, October 24, 2011
Earlier today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) priorities for the 2012 Farm Bill.

His speech at the John Deere Des Moines Works in Iowa discussed priorities for the legislation which provides authorization for USDA. While highlighting a number of themes, one of the top priorities was providing robust support for research:

Now, the second key principle I alluded to earlier centers on sustaining agricultural productivity.  Farmers and ranchers and growers must be able to produce an affordable and appealing product each and every year.

Our farmers are the most productive in the world, and that leadership position must be maintained.  Today there's no question that American farmers can produce enough to feed our nation, but that hasn't always been the case.  Over the past 60 years, yields per acre of major crops—corn, soy, wheat, and cotton—have doubled, tripled, and in some cases even quadrupled. 

At the same time, livestock production and specialty crop production have become far more efficient.  Now, this evolution was not pre-ordained. Producers embraced new science and new technologies and production techniques we see here at this plant. We laid the foundation for this incredible productivity through a sustained investment in research; and Congress must find ways to support research that is focused on crop production and protection, on livestock production and protection.

Studies have shown that public investments in agricultural research earn a 20 dollars-to-1 return of investment in the U.S. economy.  Once that information is disseminated to farmers, ranchers, and producers, they take it and make—make it work. And these benefits extend beyond just economic returns.  Research also leads to improved soil and water and air quality, and they help us to design strategies that will enable us to deal with the impacts of the changing climate.

Public funding for agricultural research has remained basically flat-lined since the 1990s, clearly not keeping pace with other federally-supported research; and a recent USDA study sounded a warning signal to all of us that there is a direct link between increases in agricultural investment on research and agricultural productivity. If we continue to flat-line our commitment to research, our productivity will likely suffer; this at a time when our productivity will have to continue to increase to meet the global demand for food.

Thank you to Secretary Vilsack for continuing to be a strong supporter of USDA investments in research.

Photo:  USDA

Tags:  Farm Bill  USDA 

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Sen. Kohl speaks on behalf of agriculture research on Senate floor

Posted By Adam Fagen, Thursday, October 20, 2011
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI) took a strong stand for agricultural research on the floor of the U.S. Senate earlier this week. In introducing the 2012 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Sen. Kohl, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, emphasized the priorities in the bill.

Support for agriculture research was seen as one of the most important elements of the bill:

Another priority worthy of protection is agricultural research. Without continued investment, food production in this country and around the globe will not be able to keep up with challenges posed by growing populations, climate change, invasive pests, and other threats. According to the Economic Research Service, global demand for food will grow 70 to 100 percent by 2050. To meet that demand, our production capacity will have to increase. Those increases will not happen without sustained emphasis on agricultural research. Senator Blunt and I have worked hard to protect these investments, often at the expense of other USDA programs.

Sen. Blunt (R-MO) is the Republican Ranking Member on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

Thank you, Senators, for supporting and speaking up on behalf of agriculture research.




Tags:  Congress  research  Senate  USDA 

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NIH selects NIGMS director: Chris Kaiser of MIT

Posted By Adam Fagen, Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected Chris A. Kaiser, PhD, as the new director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). Kaiser, a cell biologist, is currently MacVicar Professor and head of the Department of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is expected to join NIGMS in the spring.

He will replace Judith H. Greenberg, PhD, who became acting director of NIGMS in July 2011 after the departure of Jeremy M. Berg, PhD, who had served as director since 2003.

As NIGMS director, Kaiser will oversee the institute’s $2 billion budget, which primarily funds basic research in the areas of cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, bioinformatics and computational biology. NIGMS supports more than 4,500 research grants—about 10% of those funded by NIH as a whole—as well as a substantial amount of research training and programs designed to increase the diversity of the biomedical and behavioral research workforce. NIGMS is also the biggest sponsor of plant biology research at NIH.

An NIGMS grantee since 1992, Kaiser uses genetic, biochemical and structural biology methods to understand the basic mechanisms of protein folding and intracellular transport, molecular processes essential to normal cell function. His efforts have led to the identification of numerous genes and related mutations involved in these processes. Kaiser is particularly interested in determining how secreted and other proteins form disulfide bonds, which are important for protein folding and stability. To study these questions, Kaiser uses yeast, a model organism for investigating mammalian genetics.

An initiative Kaiser said he’s particularly eager to join is the Institute’s effort to build and sustain a strong and diverse scientific workforce, as outlined in the recent NIGMS strategic plan for research training. "Fostering scientific careers and improving workforce diversity are critical to research progress, and NIGMS has really taken a lead in this arena," said Kaiser, who oversaw an effort that increased graduate student diversity within the MIT biology department from 5% to 18% over six years.

Kaiser joined the MIT faculty in 1991, became a full professor in 2002, and chaired the Biology Department since 2004. He received an AB in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1980 and a PhD in biology from MIT in 1987, then did postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.

He is co-author of a widely used textbook, Molecular Cell Biology (5th and 6th editions). He has also organized Cold Spring Harbor scientific meetings, served on NIH review committees, and been associate editor of the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell as well as a member of the editorial board for the journal Traffic.

His honors include a Markey scholarship (1990–1996), a Searle scholarship (1992–1996), the Whitehead Career Development professorship (1994–1997) and election as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow (2011). In 1999, he received MIT’s highest teaching honor for the introductory genetics course he taught from 1992 to 2011.

Tags:  NIH 

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NSF seeking nominations for Advisory Committee for International Science and Engineering

Posted By Lewis-Burke Associates LLC, Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is currently accepting nominations for membership on its Advisory Committee for International Science and Engineering (AC-ISE).  The committee provides guidance to NSF's Office of International Science and Engineering (OISE) and to other NSF or federal government activities in international science and engineering.

Under the direction of long-time ASPB member Machi Dilworth, OISE administers a number of NSF's prominent international programs, including the Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) program, and provides strategic guidance for international activities across the agency's divisions and directorates.  The Advisory Committee advises Dr. Dilworth and NSF Director Subra Suresh on international science and education issues which directly affect the agency and its programs.

The Advisory Committee has gained influence as Dr. Suresh has made expanding international activities a pillar of his agenda for the agency.  Dr. Suresh recently challenged AC-ISE members to think beyond the relatively limited portfolio housed within OISE and to consider new strategic directions and areas of emphasis for NSF international activities writ large.

While there is no formal call for nominations, OISE staff indicates that they are looking to replace up to five Advisory Committee members whose terms expired on September 30.  OISE seeks nominees from a diverse range of academic and professional backgrounds with unique insights into the changing landscape of international research and education.  University administrators responsible for international initiatives as well as NSF-funded researchers with a history of international research and collaborations should apply.

The Committee meets twice annually at NSF's headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, although the fall 2011 meeting has been canceled as OISE works to fill the vacancies.  OISE officials hope to select new members in time for the next regularly scheduled meeting in April 2012.

Submission Deadline: OISE has requested names and background information for nominees by October 21.

Required Nomination Materials and Procedure: In order to nominate an individual to AC-ISE, the following information should be sent to Robert Webber in OISE: the submitting person or organization’s name and affiliation, a cover letter describing the person’s qualifications and interest in serving, the person’s curriculum vitae, and person’s contact information.  Weber, the designated federal officer for the Committee, can be reached at: rwebber@nsf.gov.

Advisory Committee Website: Additional details of the AC-ISE's charge and current composition are available on the OISE website at: http://www.nsf.gov/od/oise/advisory.jsp.

Additional Background: An overview of the process for submitting nominations to serve on NSF advisory committees is at: http://www.nsf.gov/about/performance/dir_advisory.jsp.



This post includes content provided by ASPB's external government relations consultant, Lewis-Burke Associates LLC.

Tags:  international  nomination  NSF 

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CGS and ETS will explore pathways through graduate school and into careers

Posted By Adam Fagen, Friday, October 14, 2011
The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) have convened a commission of academic and industry leaders to consider students’ pathways through graduate school and into careers. The need to develop a highly skilled workforce was first addressed in a 2010 landmark report The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States. That report argued that the nation’s future prosperity and ability to compete in the global marketplace depends on producing graduate degree holders prepared to address the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. One major unmet need the report identified was that of understanding pathways through graduate school into the world of professional occupations.

The new commission will guide a research effort addressing issues such as graduate student knowledge of career options and how they learn about them, the role of graduate programs and faculty in informing and guiding students, and the career pathways that those with graduate degrees actually follow. The commission will also help create a national conversation about why understanding of these pathways is important.

The members of the Commission on Pathways through Graduate School and into Careers are listed below:
  • William D. Green, Chairman, Board of Directors, Accenture
  • Stan Litow, President, IBM Foundation, and Senior Vice President, IBM
  • Joseph Miller, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Office, Corning
  • Russ Owen, President, Managed Services Sector, CSC
  • Ron Townsend, Executive Vice President, Battelle Memorial Institute
  • Patrick Osmer (Chair), Vice Provost and Dean, Graduate School, The Ohio State University
  • Jeffery Gibeling, Dean, Graduate Studies, University of California, Davis
  • Maureern Grasso, Dean, Graduate School, University of Georgia
  • Freeman Hrabowski, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • Jean Morrison, Provost, Boston University
  • Suzanne Ortega, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of North Carolina
  • Teresa Sullivan, President, University of Virginia
  • Lisa Tedesco, Dean, Laney Graduate School, Emory University
  • James Wimbush, Dean, University Graduate School, Indiana University
  • Kurt Landgraf (ex officio), President and Chief Executive Officer, Educational Testing Service
  • Debra W. Stewart (ex officio), President, Council of Graduate Schools


Tags:  career  education  graduate 

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