Friday, March 16, 2007

EPA Science Advisors Have "Grave Concerns" Re: EPA Budget

Mar 13: U.S. EPA's Science Advisory Board (SAB) has submitted to Administrator Stephen Johnson, a detailed review of the Agency's FY 2008 budget and longer range. Up front, SAB notes that the mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment which requires "a deep understanding of environmental science and technology." However, SAB says, between 2004 and the proposed 2008 budget, the overall support for Research and Development at EPA has declined by 25% in inflation adjusted terms. The summarized comments expressed in a letter to Johnson are revealing of the depth of their concerns. The letter reads, in part:

"For many years the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) has performed detailed annual reviews of the Agency's Research and Development (R&D) budget request. This year, ORD requested that the Board provide advice on the strategic directions (over the next five years) of its major research programs. For its part, the Board asked ORD to address its current and planned research program in four key cross-program environmental challenge areas. These included: (1) the impacts of climate change; (2) sensitive populations (both human and ecological); (3) the environmental consequences of urban sprawl; and (4) large-scale natural and man-made environmental disasters.

"The SAB findings and recommendations are detailed in this report. Overall, the SAB believes that EPA scientists are doing an outstanding job of sustaining a high quality program of research in the face of severe budget constraints that appear to have caused EPA’s research planning to become more reactive and less strategic. With few important exceptions (e.g. nanotechnology, sustainability research), the resulting research funding decisions appear to be incremental rather than strategic, causing research programs to focus more on yesterday’s issues and less on new and emerging environmental problems.

"Further, while the Agency was able to identify its longer term strategic directions for many specific program areas, and also identified a variety of lines of research relevant to the four cross-program issues identified by the Board, cross-program strategic planning is still very limited. EPA urgently needs to develop a higher-level research planning effort that can consider and adjust the balance and focus among major program areas and increase coordination and collaboration across program areas.

With respect to the FY 2008 President’s budget, the SAB has grave concerns about the decreased trend in the funding of ecosystems research, decreased funding of STAR extramural and fellowship programs, and the elimination of the economics and decision sciences research program within ORD. The SAB is concerned that continuing intentions to decrease EPA’s support of research will erode staff morale and ultimately, if it has not already done so, harm EPA’s ability to maintain national leadership in environmental science and engineering."

Access the complete 30+ page SAB review (
click here). [*All]