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Speaking For More Than 158,000 Members

by John Adams, District V Director And Chair, Committee On Public Affairs & Public Relations
May 4, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 18

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
John Adams, Chair, Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

As a member of the American Chemical Society Board of Directors, I am often asked why our society is not doing anything about (take your pick here) research funding, science education, climate, or any of a dozen other issues. Once I explain what we in fact are doing on the issue, the member often follows with a question about how these things get decided.

ACS is a large, multifaceted organization. Most of our members are very familiar with those specific programs that provide them with direct professional benefit, but few are experts on all ACS offerings. One important activity that is noticed by few members is fulfillment of our national charter responsibility to provide science and engineering advice to the government and to advocate the advancement of chemistry.

The members of the ACS Board, and particularly the members of the Board Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations (PA&PR), spend substantial time in this arena because we are charged by the ACS constitution with approving “any statement purporting to express the position of the Society on any public matter.” As you might imagine, speaking for an organization of more than 158,000 members with varied interests is no small task. Fortunately, we have considerable help in fulfilling these responsibilities.

So how do we determine what ACS will say on the broad array of issues covered by U.S. science-related policy at the national and state levels?

First and foremost, we work with a wide range of members, committees, and divisions to follow the issues and get advice on what our positions might be. Every other year, we include 15 ACS committees in the development of a one-page document that lays out an overview of the society’s public policy priorities.

Our positions fall into four broad categories: fostering innovation through research and technology, strengthening science education and the scientific workforce, advancing science through openness, and promoting science and sustainability in public policy.

For many issues, more detail is required to make us effective advocates for chemistry and its practitioners. That detail is provided in ACS policy statements. There are currently 24 such statements that can be found at Several ACS committees routinely work with the board to draft these positions, and PA&PR gives final approval (C&EN, March 2, page 36).

Last year, PA&PR, acting on the recommendations of seven ACS committees and one technical division, adopted 11 policy statements. The committee process allowed hundreds of ACS members to contribute to ACS position development. Through coverage in C&EN and on the Web, all ACS members were invited to offer input to the process.

With so many positions on such a wide range of matters (most of which are important to some sector of ACS or the practice of our science), priorities need to be set to keep the focus on those issues where advocacy effort from members and staff will yield maximum benefit. These priorities are set by the board, working with staff to evaluate the likelihood of legislative or other policy action and to assess the society’s ability to have an impact on the outcomes.

This process allows us to put the lion’s share of our resources on the highest priorities in a top tier while differentiating three other tiers of investment, the lowest level consisting of issues that are monitored for targets of opportunity. Furthermore, ACS is an active leader in the Washington, D.C., science and technology policy community, working across sectors in coalition with the science and engineering, education, and business communities on a wide range of topics.

Now, how do we actually advance these positions? That effort is a shared responsibility among members, governance, and professional staff in Washington, D.C.

Our staff, housed in the ACS Office of Public Affairs (OPA), provides us a wide range of services. In consultation with PA&PR, staff translate policy positions into letters to Congress, into talking points for ACS members to use when visiting elected officials, and sometimes into legislative language that works its way into congressional bills. They also provide nonpartisan briefings on the application of science and technology to public policy issues through the ACS Science & the Congress Project. The sum of all of these efforts is a bipartisan policy agenda that allows us to work effectively with both political parties no matter who is in charge of Congress, the Administration, or statehouses.

To the surprise of some of our members, our staff also includes registered lobbyists who work directly with Congress to advance our positions. Like most U.S. not-for-profit organizations, we are allowed to spend a small fraction of our annual budget to advance policy positions through professional lobbying, and OPA provides that service as part of a comprehensive ACS advocacy program.

Here, though, is the most important part of my message to members. All this ACS policy infrastructure is pointless unless our members are involved. Therefore, let me end by sharing this advice: In order for our common interests to gain currency and the power to influence, your elected officials need to hear from you. Yes, I mean YOU!

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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