News from the Hill

2018 in review

Benjamin Corb
Dec. 1, 2018

December is a great time to take stock of the year that is ending. Here is a summary of some of the policy-related news that broke in 2018.

Whereas the early 2010s were marked by fiscal austerity and flat budgets across the federal science sector, 2018 continued a four-year trend of increases to the National Institutes of Health’s budget. The NIH saw a $2 billion increase this year, and, for the first time since the 1990s, the NIH’s budget was approved on time, without the delays in new funding that had been the norm for two decades. The same cannot be said for most other science funding agencies (including the National Science Foundation), which remain under a continuing resolution through early December.

Sexual harassment

The National Academies of Sciences published in June a report highlighting the systemic and often underreported harassment of women in the scientific enterprise. One woman out of every two in science has been a target of sexual harassment or misconduct. The NAS investigated harassment in the scientific workforce and published a series of recommendations to combat sexual harassment and create a safe work environment at science funding agencies, universities and scientific organizations.

In response to the NAS report, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies have taken action, with the NSF blazing the trail for federal responsiveness. Institutions receiving NSF grants now must notify the NSF of reported harassment. The NSF will review the information and work with the institutions to determine appropriate action and, if it is deemed necessary, may remove grant funding.

Organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are convening scientific society officials to develop policies to combat harassment in the laboratory as well as during scientific meetings and conferences. Here at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, we published an in-depth article about sexual harassment in ASBMB Today, and the Public Affairs Advisory Committee created an anti-harassment working group to advocate for policy changes that will make the scientific enterprise inclusive and safe for all scientists.

The next generation

The NAS published a report in April identifying policies to support the next generation of biomedical and behavioral science researchers. Included in the 18 recommendations are suggestions that Congress create a Biomedical Research Enterprise Council, increase the NIH budget with set-asides to support the report’s recommendations and expand professional-development opportunities for young scientists. After the report was published, the NIH developed a Next Generation Researchers Initiative working group, which has met to discuss steps the agency can take to support new and at-risk investigators. The ASBMB solicited input from its members and has provided recommendations to the working group. The PAAC will continue to monitor and comment on this important work in the next year.

Finally, a science adviser

In August, after a historically long delay, the White House named Kelvin Droegemeier to head the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Droegemeier, a research meteorologist, had been the vice president for research at Oklahoma University. The scientific community lauded his nomination, and the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved it. The nomination still needs to be approved by the full Senate.

Closer to home

In 2018, the ASBMB launched the Advocacy Training Program for scientists seeking formalized preparation to become science advocates. Ten ASBMB members from across the country participated in the inaugural class, and the second cohort will start training in January. Finally, the public affairs staff introduced “Pipettes and Politics,” a science policy podcast.

Benjamin Corb

Benjamin Corb is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

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