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Prospectus for AGI Congressional Science Fellowship

Summary

Beginning in 1998, the American Geological Institute is offering a Congressional Science Fellowship that will enable geoscientists to bring their knowledge and expertise directly to bear on national science and technology policy issues. Although the need has never been greater for sound science applied to decision-making, Congress is largely unaware of the relevance of the geosciences to our nation's environmental, natural resources, and energy policies. By putting professional geoscientists on Capitol Hill, this fellowship is the most effective way to introduce improved scientific expertise into the legislative process, which is a goal that benefits AGI and its Member Societies. The geoscience community will also benefit from an improved understanding of how Washington works and the type of scientific input that is needed.

The Fellow will be a postdoctoral or mid-career geoscientist with a strong interest in applying his or her scientific knowledge and experience toward the solution of national problems confronting Congress. Because AGI represents the entire spectrum of the geosciences, it is uniquely positioned to select geoscientists with a wide variety of backgrounds and experience. Support for the fellowship has been generously provided by the AGI Foundation.

Program Rationale

For more than twenty-five years, the Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship Program has been providing opportunities for accomplished and societally aware scientists and engineers to participate in and contribute to the public policy making process in Congress. The program was initiated in the early 1970's by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the American Physical Society, and the American Chemical Society in recognition of the increasingly complex issues before Congress that had significant scientific or technical components. Congressional staffers traditionally trained in law or political science were inadequately pre pared to deal with the flood of information on these issues, creating a need for in-house technical expertise to filter and distill this information for Members and committee staff.

Since 1973, over 600 scientists and engineers have spent a year working as special legislative assistants on the staffs of members of Congress or congressional committees. The program is well-established on the Hill and enjoys an excellent reputation. Each year, there are many more congressional requests for fellows than there are fellows available for placement. Former fellows have assumed senior positions in Congress, the Executive Branch, academia, and the private sector. Reports from the Congress about individual fellows and the program have been highly laudatory with support voiced from across the political spectrum.

Fellows perform as high-level legislative staff members either with committees or in the personal offices of representatives or senators. The range of activities includes but is not limited to:

  • Staffing bills from their introduction through hearings, floor votes, House-Senate conferences, and final enactment into law
  • Writing speeches and press releases on a wide range of topics
  • Conducting oversight investigations
  • Planning and coordinating seminars in congressional districts
  • Assisting in legislative debates on the floors of the House and the Senate
  • Providing liaison with the committees to which a Member is assigned
  • Organizing hearings on legislative issues
  • Briefing Members of Congress and relevant staff
  • Meeting with lobbyists, special interest groups, and agency representatives

Although the geosciences bear directly on a wide variety of issues on which Congress must legislate, there are few congressional staffers with a geoscience background, and only three of the approximately thirty current science fellows are sponsored by geoscience societies, one by the Geological Society of America (jointly with the U.S. Geological Survey), one by the American Geophysical Union, and one by the Soil Science Society of America (jointly with several agricultural science societies). The new AGI-sponsored fellowship will complement these existing programs and add to the number of geoscientists on Capitol Hill. The AGI fellowship will draw on candidates from the entire breadth of the geoscience community.

Past AGI fellows have worked for the House Energy and Mineral Resources Committee, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and J.C. Watts (R-OK). During their time on Capitol Hill, these fellows put their scientific background to work on real-world problems including nuclear waste disposal, energy policy, public lands policy, oil and gas policy, environmental technologies, and mining law reform.

Program Logistics

The program is open to highly qualified postdoctoral and mid-career geoscientists in academia, government, and the private sector. Applicants must either have a Ph.D. (granted by the time the fellowship begins) or else have a master's degree plus three years of post-degree work experience. Due to the nature of the position, preference will be given to applicants who are US citizens or permanent residents. The prospective fellow must demonstrate exceptional competence in some area of the geosciences; have a broad scientific and technical background; possess excellent oral and written communication skills; be able to work effectively with a wide variety of people; and have a strong interest in applying their expertise toward the solution of public policy problems. Applicants must be a member of one of AGI's 34 member societies, a list of which is available at http://www.agiweb.org/members/index.html.

The annual application deadline will be on or about February 1. Interested candidates should submit a letter of intent, a curriculum vitae, and three letters of recommendation to AGI. Interviews will take place in Washington DC in late March or early April. The selection panel will include the AGI president, AGI executive director, AGI Government Affairs Program Advisory Committee (GAPAC) chair, and three member society representatives to be appointed from GAPAC or the Member Society Council.

The fellowship begins in September with an intensive orientation program on the legislative and executive branches, organized by AAAS, which also guides the placement process and organizes educational and collegial programs for the fellows throughout the year. Fellows choose their own placement in specific committee and personal staff offices. To facilitate the process, AAAS contacts offices before-hand and provides fellows with a list of those that have expressed an interest in having someone with expertise in a particular area. Placement occurs after orientation, and fellows are encouraged to choose an office based on criteria including: issues and tasks likely to be assigned, the office environment and style, likely compatibility with staff members and the representative or senator, potential for making valuable contributions, and the "track record" of the office. Choice of placement is entirely up to the Fellow, who is operating as an independent agent sponsored by, but not a representative of, AGI . Because the fellows' stipends are covered by their sponsoring organization, they are much in demand in those offices which recognize the value of having staff with scientific expertise. The fellowship nominally lasts a year, but fellows may request a four-month extension in order to complete projects in their congressional office.

Expected Outcomes

The Congressional Science Fellow program is an investment in the future of our country. Congress will continue to legislate on technical issues with a large bearing on the geoscience community, and it is incumbent on us to provide expertise to ensure that such legislation is made with the best scientific knowledge available. One of the most effective ways to bring that knowledge to the Hill is by turning scientists into congressional staffers.

The fellows do not act as advocates for AGI or its member societies, an arrangement that is critical in order to maintain the credibility that has been the hallmark of the program. This allows fellows to be most effective, earning the trust and respect of their colleagues and the representative or senator for whom they work. The fellows can, however, be asked to write occasional articles or otherwise provide their insights and experiences to the geoscience community.

How does the geoscience community benefit? First, there are cumulative effects on Congress as the staff system is upgraded over time by the presence of highly talented, experienced, and technically knowledgeable individuals. Second, the industrial and academic worlds gain from the growing number of individuals who bring congressional experience to their respective institutions. Even after their tenure on the Hill, the fellows could give presentations on science policy awareness at AGI and member society meetings. Third, a long-term benefit for the fellows and for the geoscience community are the contacts they have made, the knowledge they have gained about the government process, and the interest in policymaking they can inspire in other scientists. By promoting the ideas and experiences gained by the fellows, AGI and its member societies can make major contributions to the decision-making process.

Fellows develop a much better view of the tremendous breadth of the scientific impact on issues which affect the lives of people every day. It is important for our community to become more aware of that as it seeks to justify its existence to the public. The more education and interaction, the better off the whole community will be.

Budget Requirements and Justification

The fellowship carries an annual stipend of up to $49,000 as well as allowances for relocation ($1,000), travel ($2,000), and health insurance ($2,000). In addition, AGI pays a fee to AAAS for program management, including the two-week orientation and ongoing seminar programs for the fellows.

Please send any comments or problems with this site to AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org

Posted February 26, 2003

   

 


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