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Legislative Affairs Readies For Action

New director focuses staff on bolstering U.S. competitiveness and innovation

by Linda Wang
February 13, 2006 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 84, Issue 7

On The Hill
Credit: Photo by Linda Wang
Ruskin is pushing a greater presence on Capitol Hill for ACS's Office of Legislative & Government Affairs.
Credit: Photo by Linda Wang
Ruskin is pushing a greater presence on Capitol Hill for ACS's Office of Legislative & Government Affairs.

Glenn S. Ruskin and I were in a taxicab recently, returning from a photo shoot on Capitol Hill, when he turned to me and asked, "Where do you see yourself in the future?" We had been chatting about the unusually warm weather for January and about my work as a budding writer and photographer. Though the question took me by surprise, it moved our conversation from a professional one to a personal one.

Forging personal relationships and communicating a genuine interest in people are two things Ruskin does exceptionally well. When he joined the American Chemical Society staff in May 2005 as the director of the Office of Legislative & Government Affairs (OLGA), he asked each of his staff about their backgrounds, their interests, and their hopes and aspirations.

Ruskin hit the ground running, using information gleaned from these interviews and the insight gained through years of government relations and communications experience. He reorganized the office into two functions: One focused on public policy, and the other focused on advocacy. "He made the effort to figure out who we all were and how we could fit together to be a more effective team," says Ray Garant, assistant director of public policy.

Ruskin has headed a number of effective teams during his career. Before joining ACS, he served as vice president of public affairs for Solutia, leading the company's communications effort during its massive litigation settlement and Chapter 11 reorganization. He also worked for Ciba Specialty Chemicals as director of government relations; before that, he was manager of federal legislative affairs at Ciba-Geigy. He also spent several years on Capitol Hill working for the late Rep. James J. Howard (D-N.J.).

Running OLGA is another big task. The office employs 10 full-time staff members and has a 2006 budget of $1.9 million. Created in 1965, OLGA promotes policies that advance the chemical enterprise and its practitioners. Through its various programs, OLGA enables ACS members to participate in the public policy process. The office also offers programs that educate policymakers on key scientific issues.

OLGA's activities are guided by ACS's public policy priorities, which this year include more than 30 issues determined by the board of directors to be of importance to ACS members.

For instance, ACS and its members are very much interested in making sure that research is appropriately funded by the federal government. The society's position on the 2006 budget for the Department of Homeland Security, for example, is that the organization "supports the President's 23% increase for the Science & Technology Directorate at the Department of Homeland Security in fiscal year 2006."

One of Ruskin's responsibilities is to prioritize these policy positions. This year, nearly two-thirds of the policy positions are related to bolstering U.S. competitiveness and innovation.

Credit: Photo by Linda Wang
Credit: Photo by Linda Wang

ACS considers these issues to have top priority. "We basically have a crisis in this country with not enough of our own homegrown talent taking up science as a career and also just with basic science literacy," says Madeleine Jacobs, ACS executive director and chief executive officer. "We have to get more funding for those areas that are going to provide basic research. All innovation eventually stems from basic research, and we have to advocate on behalf of policies that are going to really promote an environment in the U.S. for innovation, because that's going to keep us competitive."

Garant says Ruskin's reorganization of the office has helped focus the staff around this theme. "Glenn's model has put us in a position where we all have a common message, and all of the efforts of the office are leveraging the other efforts better than they have in the past," he says. "There's a clear notion that there's a single songbook we're all singing from."

Another one of Ruskin's goals this year is to increase OLGA's presence on Capitol Hill and build stronger relationships with key federal agencies as well as with other organizations dedicated to the chemical enterprise, such as the American Chemistry Council, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association.

Ruskin expects 2006 to be a better year for science funding than 2005, which he says was "an extremely difficult budget year." Still, OLGA had a hand in several notable achievements. There was a 3.3% increase in funding for the National Science Foundation, a 9% increase for the National Institute of Standards & Technology, and a 2.8% increase for the Department of Education's Math & Science Partnership.

Ruskin's experience working in industry gives him a unique window to the real world, and this insight is what his colleagues say gives him an edge.

"He has an independent style, a kind of derring-do that so far is challenging the ACS culture just brilliantly," Garant says. "We tend to be very careful and conservative, those of us who have been around for a while, and he's coming in with a whole different perspective."

"Glenn is very strategic, and I think we were very fortunate to hire someone with his broad experience in the entire chemical enterprise," Jacobs says. "He's a diplomat, he's smart, he's an excellent manager, he gets along extremely well with our members in governance, and he knows his way around the halls of Congress and the executive branch."

Ruskin, who places a strong emphasis on advocacy, wants to find new ways to motivate ACS members to get involved. "Our success is their success," he says. "We're acting on issues of importance to our members, and we need their continued involvement both in terms of raising issues and helping us communicate those to policymakers."

One tack involves redesigning OLGA's Web presence and making its website ( more informative and user-friendly. Ruskin says he would like to increase communications with members and keep them informed of OLGA's activities.

Another approach to motivating members is to give them firsthand experience in the public policy process. Each year, through the congressional and science policy fellowships (, OLGA sends three chemical professionals to Washington, D.C., to spend one or two years working either on Capitol Hill or as a staff member in OLGA.

OLGA also offers educational programs for policymakers. The Science & the Congress Project is a series of briefings that provide legislators and their staff with scientific information to help them make informed public policy decisions. For example, OLGA recently held a briefing on partnering for results in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

Another program geared toward policymakers is the Legislative Summit, which usually takes place in April. ACS governance and other members meet with key members of Congress and their staffers to talk about issues important to ACS members. The summit concludes with the Public Service Awards, which recognize members of Congress and representatives from the executive branch for their work and dedication in supporting advancement of the sciences, education, and research and development.

Next week, Feb. 20-24, is Contact Congress Week. Ruskin encourages ACS members in local sections to meet with legislators in their district offices, attend town hall meetings, and host events at their research facilities.

"The most effective means of communication with a member of Congress comes from back home," Ruskin says. "The more ACS members we can get to become advocates, the more effective we can be for them in Washington, D.C.

"When we achieve success for our members, we also achieve success for the future of our nation," he concludes.


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