Issue Date: October 6, 2008
Don’t Stop Now: Making Science A Priority In Washington
Throughout 2007, Congress and the Administration assured the scientific community that funding for science was on track. After all, Congress had passed and the President had signed into law the America Competes Act. This act focuses on the important role research funding and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education plays in ensuring our nation’s future as a leader in innovation and economic competitiveness. Both Congress and the Administration agreed that a fully funded America Competes Act would provide $1.2 billion for the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards & Technology, and the Department of Energy’s science programs.
ACS members and governance helped lead the science community in clarifying for policymakers the critical connections between basic physical sciences and STEM education, on one hand, and maintaining America’s technological edge, on the other. But while everyone in Washington, D.C., seemed to agree that funding the America Competes bill was a priority, in the end, full appropriations as authorized by the act failed (C&EN, Sept. 15, page 31). Key federal science agencies were severely underfunded in fiscal 2008.
Talk about disappointment!
And yet, we ACS members knew our case for investing in U.S. innovation was compelling and important. As 2008 progressed, it became clear that there was only one way to reverse the disappointment. This was to persuade our national leadership to attach funding for the depleted science agencies to the fiscal 2008 emergency supplemental funding bill. The bill was originally slated to fund only ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. To persuade the White House and congressional leaders to include research funding would be a real uphill battle for the science community.
ACS members, particularly the 16,000 members of the Legislative Action Network (LAN), the ACS Board of Directors, and other ACS leaders, joined with their colleagues in the scientific, academic, and industrial sectors. This advocacy played a major role in ultimately persuading Congress and the Administration to set aside funds for NSF, the National Institutes of Health, and the DOE Office of Science.
How did we advocate for funding? ACS LAN members sent more than 4,200 letters to the White House and to their respective members of Congress. They made more than 800 phone calls during the Senate’s consideration of the supplemental bill and pressed our case through ACS’s act4chemistry.org site. During the annual ACS Legislative Summit in April, ACS leaders personally delivered the message to Congress: Invest in U.S. competitiveness and scientific innovation in the then–pending emergency supplemental bill. ACS President Bruce E. Bursten and 18 other scientific society presidents sent a letter to leaders in the White House and Congress urging them to include science in the supplemental funding bill as well. At the same time, many ACS local section Government Affairs Committees met with their respective members of Congress to discuss the importance of basic scientific research and STEM education.
When the dust settled and the emergency supplemental bill was passed by Congress and signed by the President on June 30, the final legislation provided additional fiscal 2008 funding for key federal agencies—$62.5 million each for NSF, the DOE Office of Science, and NASA, and $150 million for NIH (C&EN, June 30, page 11). Cancellation of 90 unscheduled job layoffs at Fermilab was just one of the immediate effects of having science funding included in the emergency supplemental bill.
The inclusion of science funding was a significant political win for the science community. It demonstrated that ACS members can affect public policy in Washington with a real-world impact.
Fast forward to October 2008. Wall Street rescue packages dominate the budget forecast. Congress has passed a stopgap funding measure that will extend this year’s already dismal funding levels into the first few months of 2009, leaving the new Administration and a new Congress to work out the details.
Once again, ACS members will need to let lawmakers know our science agencies need full funding as outlined in the America Competes Act—not just a down payment.
What can you do? If you are not yet a member of the ACS LAN, visit www.act4chemistry.org to sign up. If you are a member, respond to those LAN alerts. If you don’t speak up for chemistry, who will?
You can also contact your local section’s Government Affairs Committee to help arrange a visit with your member of Congress. If your local section does not have a GAC, consider starting one—the government affairs staff of the ACS Office of Public Affairs will be pleased to help you get started.
If the idea of meeting with your member of Congress is intimidating, check out the ACS Office of Public Affairs’ new training video, “Speaking for Science.” The video illustrates the “do’s and don’ts” of meeting with an elected official. (You will chuckle at the hapless team who illustrates how not to do a meeting, while the successful ACS team will show you how to make the most of meeting with a member of Congress.)
Making science a continued priority for our policymakers won’t happen overnight—it’s a long-term effort in a policy world known for short attention spans. But with your help, we can make the case to our national leadership that full funding for the America Competes Act is an essential component for our nation’s innovation future.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.
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