June 8, 2015

AGU Members Share Their Science on Capitol Hill

Posted by elandau

Even April showers couldn’t keep American Geophysical Union (AGU) scientists away from the first-ever AGU-only Congressional Visits Day in Washington, D. C., on 13–14 April. Twenty scientists, from nine states whose legislators play leadership roles on science and funding committees, were invited to meet with lawmakers and describe the positive impacts of federal research funding on American jobs, infrastructure, and quality of life. The states represented were Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Virginia, Texas, and Washington.

Morning Practice Session
On the first day, participants spent the morning preparing to meet with members of Congress and their staffs. AGU public affairs specialist Erik Hankin and manager Liz Landau gave the scientists an overview of the federal budget process, as well as the structure of congressional offices. In addition, Darius Dixon, of Politico, and Chuck Podolak, AGU’s Congressional Science Fellow with the office of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), treated them to a Capitol Hill insider’s perspective.

Participants at CVD

Ursula Ruiz Vera and Jeffrey McDonald brave the rain outside the Rayburn House Office Building. Credit: Lily Strelich

Skits and group role-playing gave participants a chance to practice sharing their research succinctly and communicating the day’s “asks.” These included seeking an exemption for scientific and technical conferences from the current crackdown on federal conference travel and advocating for support of the American Innovation Act, which prioritizes funding for basic research. Most important, participants practiced communicating the need for strong, sustained federal investment in science.

Making the Case
Then the scientists fanned out across Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers and congressional staff. In a total of 56 meetings, the science ambassadors described their research and why it matters to states and local districts, to the economy, and to public health and safety. In addition to advocating for science, the meetings served to open a line of communication between scientists and policy makers.

The scientists were able to put a face on their work. Representing a range of scientific fields—from geology and hydrology to space weather and paleoclimate studies—they shared the value of scientific research and the direct impact that federal research funding has on local communities.

Jeffrey McDonald, a geologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said that he appreciated the chance to give members of Congress and their staffs a new perspective. “It was a great opportunity to talk to legislators about the interconnectedness of various science programs and the overall value of science funding, hopefully in ways they had not considered before,” he said.

Direct Impact on State Economies
Many focused on the big-picture role of Earth and space science. As an example, Ursula Ruiz Vera, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign who is studying how climate change affects terrestrial ecosystems, talked about how large-scale changes affect agricultural output. It’s an issue of major interest for a farm state like Illinois. “I strongly believe that scientific research is one of the most prominent ways to encourage economic growth,” she said.

The meetings sent a strong signal to Congress that scientists are interested and invested in policy—as well as ready and willing to share their expertise. AGU and its members are an invaluable resource for policy makers, and events like this help to make that clear.

CVD team in office

Mike Phillips of Illinois Valley Community College with Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.). Credit: Kinzinger staff

The Congressional Visits Day is one of several AGU programs that promote the importance of science on Capitol Hill and connect scientists with their representatives. AGU and partner organizations also host briefings, exhibitions, and additional Congressional Visits Days. These include Science-Engineering-Technology Congressional Visits Day, which was held 17–18 March 2015, andGeosciences Congressional Visits Day, which will take place in late September (dates to be announced).

For more information on AGU congressional events, visit AGU’s science policy website. To find out how you can get involved, email [email protected].

AGU thanks the following members for participating in the 2015 Congressional Visits Day:

Gary Acton, Sam Houston State University
Kristen Averyt, University of Colorado Boulder
Seth Campbell, University of Maine
Doug Clark, Western Washington University
George Clark, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Katia Kontar, International Arctic Research Center
Jurate Landwehr, The Sumanim Group
Ramon Lopez, University of Texas at Arlington
Kathleen Mandt, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio
Jeffrey McDonald, Environmental Protection Agency
Mike Phillips, Illinois Valley Community College
Laurie Rokke, National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association
Ursula Ruiz Vera, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Ted Scambos, National Snow and Ice Data Center
Elise Schultz, University of Alabama in Huntsville
Surja Sharma, University of Maryland, College Park
Seth Stein, Northwestern University
Annie Tamalavage, Texas A&M University at Galveston
Molly Tedesche, International Arctic Research Center
Mike Wiltberger, High Altitude Observatory

About the Author: Lily Strelich just ended her term as the AGU Public Affairs Intern and is headed back to sunny California.