New & Noteworthy

Archive for December, 2011

27 Dec 2011

Congress Finally Funds Federal Agencies for FY 2012

After months of negotiations, Congress finally approved a $915 billion deal to fund a major portion of the federal government through fiscal year (FY) 2012.  The so-called ‘megabus’—a collection of nine appropriations bills—will fund the Departments of Defense, Energy, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Interior, Labor, and State, as well as numerous independent agencies.  The legislation (HR 2055) won bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama last week.

Notably, the megabus includes a second consecutive year of budget cuts for many programs.  According to documents from Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee: “When all FY 2012 Appropriations legislation is complete, Congress will have cut discretionary spending for two straight years in a row - the first time this has occurred in modern history.  In fact, the enactment of the final Appropriations legislation will mark a savings of nearly $31 billion in total discretionary spending compared to last year’s level and a savings of $95 billion compared to FY 2010.”

Despite overall budget reductions, several agencies will receive increased funding.  For instance, military spending will increase by $5.1 billion over last year’s level.  Most programs, however, will not receive the amount of funding requested by the Obama Administration earlier this year.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will receive an increase of $299 million, for a total spending level of $30.7 billion.  Congress also made clear that it wants NIH to continue to spend 90 percent of its budget on external grants.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services will receive $232.4 million, a reduction of $5 million.  Museum programs within the agency will receive $29.5 million.

Spending for the Smithsonian Institution will be increased by $51.9 million to $811.5 million.  All of that increase is designated for facilities, including the start of construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Funding for the Department of Energy Office of Science will increase by $46 million to $4.9 billion.  Despite a push by the House to cut funding for Biological and Environment Research, the program will operate with the same funding level it had last year.

Most science and environmental programs will be funded at smaller levels than in FY 2011.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be cut by $233 million, including a six percent reduction to clean air and climate research programs.  Congress included funds for EPA to conduct a long-term evaluation of the agency’s laboratory network to “ensure the current organization matches the Agency’s strategic needs.”  This directive follows a recommendation made by the Government Accountability Office.

Within the Department of the Interior, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) will lose $13.9 million.  The Ecosystems division will be essentially flat funded, although programmatic funding within the division will change.  Monitoring, fisheries, and Cooperative Research Units will be trimmed slightly so that programs on invasive species, and terrestrial, freshwater, and marine environments can be increased by 21 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.  Climate Science Centers will receive $4.6 million in new funding, but climate research and development will be cut by $6.4 million.

The budget for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will remain at $1.5 billion.  Although the National Wildlife Refuges will be trimmed 1.1 percent, cooperative landscape conservation and adaptive science will increase slightly.  The Cooperative Endangered Species Fund will be cut by $12.1 million relative to last year.  Funding for the National Park Service will also remain essentially flat at $2.6 billion.

Forest and Rangeland Research at the United States Forest Service will be reduced by 3.5 percent.

The House of Representatives also passed a bill that would have further reduced FY 2012 discretionary spending by 1.8 percent in order to offset the costs of a disaster relief package.  The Senate, however, balked at the offsets and rejected the measure.

27 Dec 2011

Graduate Students: Apply for 2012 Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award

The Emerging Public Policy Leadership Award (EPPLA) recognizes graduate students in the biological sciences with an interest and aptitude for working at the intersection of science and public policy.

EPPLA winners will receive a free trip to Washington, DC to participate in the 2012 BESC Congressional Visits Day on 28-29 March 2012.

Applications must be receive by 20 January 2012.

Information about the application process is available at:

20 Dec 2011

Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative Requests Grant Proposals

On 15 December 2011, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) Research Board issued a new request for proposals, RFP-II, which will provide up to $7.5 million per year for research grants to individual investigators or small groups of researchers.  The funding is part of BP’s commitment to provide $500 million over ten years to support independent scientific research into the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident on the Gulf of Mexico and to develop innovative new technologies and tools to respond to and mitigate future oil spills.

It is anticipated that grants awarded through the RFP-II competition will range between $100,000 and $1,000,000 per year.  Grants may be awarded for a one to three year period. Individuals and small groups interested in submitting a grant application should consult RFP-II ( for specific guidelines and requirements.  A Letter of Intent must be submitted by 9:00 p.m. EST on 17 January 2012.

16 Dec 2011

French Museum Launches Digital Library

The Musee Associatif D’Histoire Naturelle in France has digitized over 23,000 documents, which are now available online in the museum’s Digital Library.  Included in the online repository are numerous old and rare books and plates on zoology, botany, and entomology.  Learn more at

07 Dec 2011

New Dinosaur Species Discovered in Museum Collection

Fragments of a fossilized skull collected nearly a century ago have been identified as a new species of dinosaur.  The fossils sat in obscurity in The Natural History Museum of London after they were collected by a father and son pair in southern Alberta, Canada in 1916.  Recently, researchers rediscovered the fossils and realized that they belonged to a new species, which was named Spinops sternbergorum in honor of the fossil collectors.

“I was amazed to learn the story behind these specimens, and how they went unstudied for so long,” said Andrew Farke, the curator of paleontology at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology in Claremont, California, and lead author on the study that described Spinops.

“This study highlights the importance of museum collections for understanding the history of our planet,” Farke continued. “My colleagues and I were pleasantly surprised to find these fossils on the museum shelf, and even more astonished when we determined that they were a previously unknown species of dinosaur.”