A War Over Indirect Costs
U.S. research universities could end up losing millions of dollars under a proposal to cut by more than half the overhead rate on $1.5 billion a year in basic research grants from the Department of Defense (DOD). Universities currently receive anywhere from 45% to 55% of the total amount of a grant for the legitimate costs associated with supporting research, including everything from electricity to cleaning animal cages. A report accompanying the 2008 defense spending bill marked up last week says a 20% cap is needed because overhead costs have “grown to unwarranted levels.”
That's just not true, says Robert Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities in Washington, D.C. The average indirect cost recovery rate has remained at about 51% for a decade, he says, despite the rising cost of supporting research. The proposed cap, if retained in the final defense spending bill now moving through Congress, could even force schools to forgo DOD grants, he adds.
Don't Be Put Off by Offsets
The head of a new congressional panel on climate change wants the U.S. government to more closely monitor the $100 million global market for voluntary carbon offsets, credits for green projects that companies and individuals purchase from specialty brokerage firms to compensate for carbon-intensive activities. Some climate scientists say offsets, which include forest projects and energy work in the developing world, are a distraction from the real need: cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Representative Edward Markey (D-MA), chair of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, feels offsets could play a positive role. But he thinks consumers need more information. He wrote the Environmental Protection Agency last week that “a lack of generally accepted standards has raised questions about the credibility of some offset products.” He wants the agency to develop such standards, and he's also asked the Federal Trade Commission to devise guidelines for those who market such offsets.
Save the Seeds
The United States would contribute up to $60 million to a so-called doomsday seed vault under a bill passed last week by the House of Representatives. The nonprofit Global Crop Diversity Trust is building the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in a mountain on Norway's Spitsbergen Island to preserve 3 million seed samples from the world's crop species.
The authorization for the 5-year contribution is tucked into a controversial plan to change the formula for subsidizing U.S. farmers. The United States has already spent $6 million on the project since 2001, and supporters hope the president will seek the additional funding in his 2009 budget request next year.
More Questions for Enviro Chief
Congress is asking more questions about the beleaguered director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). In a letter to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, this week, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) wonders whether NIEHS chief David Schwartz improperly took money from the budgets of other intramural investigators when he exceeded his approved personal lab budget of $1.8 million by $4 million (Science, 6 July, p. 26). The letter also asks for information about Schwartz's hiring practices and whether he recused himself from reviews of extramural grant proposals submitted by his outside collaborators. Grassley wants specific documents by 8 August.
Sarkozy Wastes No Time
PARIS—New French president Nicholas “Speedy” Sarkozy has lived up to his nickname by pushing ahead with his plan to improve the quality of research and education at 85 state-owned universities. Last week, the National Assembly endorsed his proposal to streamline university governance and give institutes more leeway in recruiting staff, handling budgets, and managing real estate. Left-wing parties, students, and some university professors' unions oppose the idea, which they say will increase competition and inequality among universities.