August 4, 2015
Every August, Washington D.C. shuts down as members of both chambers of Congress return to their districts and everyone else in politics takes vacation; this is known as August recess. During August recess members will be focused on spending time with their families, visiting important sites in their district, and making themselves available to their constituents through coffeehouse chats, town halls, and other public events. August recess is a time for Members of Congress to step away from lobbyists and “inside the beltway politics” and reacquaint themselves with what’s happening in their district and hear from their constituents. Most Members will also bring with them key staffers so that staffers can become familiar with the district and meet with key constituents.
An August recess district visit presents a unique opportunity to engage your lawmakers on the value of geosciences and discuss your work and passion for the geosciences.
Members are leaving D.C. without having reached a federal spending agreement or dealt with the federal deficit. In many ways that’s good news for constituents because August recess gives you the opportunity to meet with your member at home and talk about these issues. Lawmakers will be actively trying to sway opponents and bolstering supporters based on the legislative acts and votes they have taken so far this Congress. Lawmakers will also be assessing their priorities based on what they hear from constituents.
It’s important that geoscientists talk to their lawmakers because funding for and recognition of the importance of science, specifically the geosciences, seems to be flailing. The House of Representatives prioritized funding for other areas of science over the geosciences in both the bill that funds the NSF Geosciences Directorate and the bill that lays out the policy goals for the NSF. For many Members, the geosciences have become synonymous with “climate change,” which has become one of the most politicized issues on Capitol Hill. And for the first time in recent memory, the NSF merit review process was questioned and legislation directed funding increases only to specific NSF directorates.
One should be concerned but not distressed at this recent turn of events. There are still dozens of lawmakers that fight and voice their support for the geosciences and their frustration with their colleagues who don’t understand the full value of the geosciences to society. And there are dozens of other lawmakers who have probably never met a geoscientist and have no idea what geoscientists study or how it impacts their district or lives. Reaching out to both set of lawmakers is important. It’s important to thank those lawmakers supporting the geosciences and it’s also a good time to tell them about the newest discoveries or innovative research in the geosciences; making it easier for them to continue being an informed supporter for the geosciences. It’s equally important to educate other Members about what the geosciences are, why are they valuable, and how are they relevant to that Member’s district and interests.
This is a great opportunity to educate your Representative or Senator about the important work you do, how it furthers society, and specifically how it affects their district.
To get you started, AGU has posted a webinar on district visits that walks you through how find out who your Members are, how to prepare, schedule, and hold a successful meeting, and then what follow-up you should do after the meeting. We also have a quick tips sheet for brushing up or fast reference.
As a constituent, your Member and their staff are interested in your views and want to know how they can better serve and represent you. In addition, it’s a huge service to the geoscience community at large for scientists to talk to their legislators about the value of Earth and space sciences. Just make sure you share your science and convey the importance of your science in a way that it’s accessible, interesting, and relevant to the Member and their district. And feel free to bring a colleague with you. Now is the time – what are you waiting for?