August 2, 2016
John W. Geissman is a Professor Emeritus in Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico
Welcome! The title of this blog is not meant to imply that you are bored, or already finished the five papers you intended to write this summer, or already took your one-day summer vacation. Rather, the purpose of this post is to highlight a great opportunity. Now is the perfect time to schedule home office visits with your members of Congress! The 114th Congress of the United States has begun its 7-week summer recess, and many Senators and Representatives (as well as their key staff) will be returning to their home states and districts.
Believe it or not, your elected officials truly want to meet with their constituents – especially those informed ones who have something useful to say! Generally speaking, the home offices of your elected officials are close in proximity and easy to find. They might even be short bike ride away – In my home town, I can pedal to four offices in less than 20 minutes. Not too long ago, former Senator Pete Domenici even lived a few blocks away from our home.
Scheduling a meeting with your legislator is easier than you might think. After a quick internet search to find your Senators’ and/or Representative’s website, you can find the contact information for the home office (there may be several) and give them a call. Politely introduce yourself and give your background—what you currently do and what your interests are. Ask about the possibility of a brief meeting with the legislator. Many times, even during recess, members of Congress might be busy making appearances and taking meetings, so don’t be surprised if you are offered to meet with a member of their staff. Highlight the main reason you’d like to meet with the office. Something as simple as “I’d like to speak about the value of my Department’s research to the state and district” will suffice. State that you are taking advantage of the summer recess and emphasize that your desired meeting can be scheduled at the office’s convenience.
Do not be surprised when you actually get what you asked for! The scheduler on the phone will likely reply with, “Yes, the Senator and her key staff on science and technology will be happy to meet with you next week…” – Oh, no! You have to get organized, look presentable (no shorts, tshirt, and Chacos!), and be prepared to present your viewpoint and respond to potentially thoughtful questions. Scared? Nervous? Don’t be! Meetings with your congressional offices are a fantastic opportunity for you to display your passion for what you do and why it (and the myriad of other endeavors in the Earth Sciences) is so relevant to society and the well- being of your country. Be aware that there are several sources to draw upon regarding federal funding for R&D and how that funding has changed (well, decreased) over the years. The AAAS website is a great resource for detailed downloadable images and charts that can show this funding trend.
During your meetings, some hot topics (anthropogenically induced climate change, the future of carbon-based energy, water and massive drought in the West, the next big earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, etc.) may come up, in addition to issues with a more local focus. If you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to, that’s okay! It provides you with a great opportunity to follow up with the office. After your meetings, be sure to thank the staffer in a follow-up e-mail and reiterate any important points from the meeting. Keep in mind, the purpose of these meetings is to begin a dialogue and a relationship – you want to be a resource to the office!
I have attended many of these congressional meetings, in my home town, as well as part of the Geosciences Congressional Visits Days. The opportunity and experience provides a new context to communicate your science, as well as a unique chance to showcase the value of science (besides being a great summer activity!)