Communicate with Congress

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Winter

2014

Special Feature

Communicate with Congress

A call to action

By:

by Richard Jones, Government Relations, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD

Richard Jones. Photo courtesy of AIP.You are needed! Your actions can help influence the amount of money that the federal government provides for physics research at our nation's universities, the policies the government formulates on environmental and health issues, or revisions to student loans.

Every year Congress passes appropriations bills providing research dollars for federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, NASA, the Department of Defense, and the National Institutes of Health. These appropriations bills are “the bills that pay the bills”; they allow science and technology agencies to conduct competitions for research grants and contracts. A professor obtaining one of these grants or contracts can use it to assemble a team (that might include you!) to engage in cutting-edge research.

Federal funding is tight. An agreement between the Obama Administration and Congress has put tough budget controls in place. There are many worthy programs that members of Congress must consider when making decisions about how to distribute money among the appropriations bills. Some programs are visible and easily understood, such as interstate highways or troops based overseas. Others are not as apparent or are thought to benefit interests far away.

That’s where you can make a difference. The federal government funds thousands of programs. A big part of the decision-making process that members of Congress use in allocating taxpayer money is based on what they hear from their constituents. A senator or representative who knows of a constituent’s interest in a particular program is more likely to support it.

Members of Congress and their staffs are often highly receptive to students. As Eric Beier writes in his adjacent letter, he was able to spend an hour discussing the importance of R&D with a staff member of one of his senators. Members of Congress see R&D as a vital component of America’s economic strength, and students as an important part of our nation’s future.

Get started by learning more about the issues. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has a science policy bulletin tailored for the physical sciences community that tracks congressional bills and other Washington developments. You can receive “FYI: The AIP Bulletin of Science Policy News,” for free by e-mail. It is also posted on the AIP Government Relations site with other science budget and policy information.

To make your voice heard, you might begin your interactions with a member of Congress with a letter. You can also request an in-person meeting, or even work with your university to invite the elected representative to your campus for a lab tour. Seeing something first hand can make a significant impact on a member of Congress. A congressman I worked for many years ago decided to champion funding for a veterans’ hospital after visiting and seeing firsthand a thick layer of lint on the walls of the laundry area. “We have to do something about this,” he told me at the time, and he did. For guidance on how to communicate with Congress, visit the AIP website (details at left).

Federal support for science and technology is strengthened when relationships like the one Eric describes are formed. Join Eric in working to increase the visibility of federal support for science and technology and the benefits that it brings to your university and to our nation.

Get informed about the issues

  1. Subscribe to FYI and learn more about communicating with Congress on the AIP website at www.aip.org/policy. 
  2. Check out the ìPolicy and Politicsî feed from Physics Today at http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/news/politics....
  3. Change starts with you! Plan your strategy with guidance from Anna Quider (see articles on p. 6 and 19) at www.spscongress.org/change. 
  4. Read news and find advocacy resources from the American Physical Society at www.aps.org/policy/.

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