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Your voice in U.S. science policy

by Lee Latimer, ACS Director-at-Large
February 13, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 7

Credit: Courtesy of Lee Latimer
A photo of Lee Latimer.
Credit: Courtesy of Lee Latimer

Did your preferred candidates win your local, state, and national elections? No matter who won, it’s always challenging to communicate with lawmakers about science-related legislation, actions, and policies we care about.

In C&EN, American Chemical Society President Allison A. Campbell (Jan. 2, page 33) and Immediate Past-President Donna J. Nelson (Jan. 9, page 34) have emphasized the critical role the society and our members play in advocacy. In fact, through its 1937 national charter, ACS is expected to advise policy-makers on a range of issues. So how does ACS make itself heard in Washington, D.C., and how can you participate?

As individual members, some of us speak directly with government officials and our own representatives. We also speak with a collective voice through ACS government affairs, previously in the Office of Public Affairs and recently merged into the External Affairs & Communications unit of the Office of the Secretary & General Counsel. The government affairs staff focus mainly on federal issues but also follow important state legislation affecting chemists, chemistry, and the chemical enterprise.

Using a nonpartisan approach, ACS promotes and advances beneficial legislation and regulation. This process starts and ends with ACS members.

Members who serve on committees that address public policy—including the Committees on Environmental Improvement, Chemistry & Public Affairs, and Science—gather at ACS national meetings. They often invite experts to give information and advice about policy issues related to the chemical enterprise. Working with ACS staff, committees then draft policy statements. The board of directors, which sets the society’s strategic vision, has delegated authority to the Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations (PA&PR) to review these proposed statements. In most cases, if PA&PR approves a statement, it becomes an official ACS policy (C&EN, Jan. 16, page 34).

ACS promotes and advances beneficial legislation and regulation.

Government affairs staff members, who monitor developments in the Administration and Congress, use these approved statements to devise options for putting the ACS stamp on policy. Such options range from providing information to directly advocating for or against particular legislation. These staffers develop briefings, issue press releases, send letters, and meet with government officials. They also draft legislative language or public comment on proposed regulations to ensure the chemical sciences are properly represented in policy.

In building this foundation, staff offer legislative training to ACS members, help members schedule meetings with their representatives at home and in Washington, and provide materials and protocols for these meetings. Through the Legislative Summit for board members and the Act4Chem legislative action network, ACS members directly address lawmakers and government to ensure the voice of the society is heard.

What have these efforts accomplished? In 2016, they helped create bipartisan agreement on several ACS policy priorities:

▸ The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, the reform and modernization of the Toxic Substances Control Act, was passed and enacted. It includes ACS-supported language that ensures 21st-century science will be used in decisions on safe chemicals management.

▸ Congress passed S. 3084, the American Innovation & Competitiveness Act, to reauthorize research funding at agencies including the National Science Foundation and Department of Energy. It includes ACS-initiated language to boost federal investment in and coordination of sustainable chemistry.

▸ H.R. 3537, the Dangerous Synthetic Drug Control Act of 2016, would have listed more than 300 chemicals as having high potential for abuse but no therapeutic or medical use, making research with these compounds difficult. After working with ACS staff, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in July 2016 introduced S. 3224, which replaced the House version and includes only 22 chemical compounds on the list. Final action is pending.

▸ With the American Physical Society and Materials Research Society, ACS produced a report for Congress on the nation’s helium shortage. It outlines legislative recommendations to facilitate scientific research by addressing the shortage.

In 2015, staff, ACS governance, and members advanced other top priorities via legislation passed by Congress:

▸ The Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law. This successor to the No Child Left Behind Act includes science testing and a strengthened Math & Science Partnership program that supports teacher training.

▸ The Research & Development Tax credit was renewed and made permanent.

Also in 2015, ACS helped create the bipartisan Congressional Chemistry Caucus in the House of Representatives, which informs members of Congress, their staffs, and the public about chemistry’s benefits.

In the coming year, ACS will strengthen existing relationships, build new ones, and identify areas in which the society and its members can work closely with the new Congress and Administration for the benefit of Earth and its people.

I invite and challenge you to participate in this process by talking about the importance of chemistry with the people who represent you on Capitol Hill and with the program managers you work with in federal agencies. ACS has prepared some sample talking points on topics such as science funding and education, energy, and climate. Check out these resources and other suggestions on how to get involved at ACS’s advocacy website, And please share your own ideas and let us know how you would like to be informed about government affairs activities at

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



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