The American Geological Institute (AGI), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography (ASLO), the Geological Society of America (GSA), the Seismological Society of America (SSA), and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) hosted the Fourth Annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day on September 20-21, 2011. 54 geoscientists from 24 states converged on Capitol Hill in support of geosciences research and development (R&D) and geosciences education.
Participants began with a half-day workshop on the recent activities of Congress, status of the federal budget, and tips for successful visits. Former and current geosciences congressional fellows spoke to the participants about their experiences on the hill and what it is like to work in a congressional office.
Everyone was given folders of materials to give to policymakers. They got a chance to review the “leave-behinds” and “one-pagers” in the folders that they would be handing out to policymakers and familiarized themselves with their schedule for Wednesday. The participants practiced conducting a congressional visit and honed their message.
Wednesday was a full day of congressional visits with some geoscientists starting as early as 7:45 AM. The geoscientists had three to eight visits, and went alone or in small groups. There were at least 111 visits with congressional offices and a few informal visits were set-up while the geoscientists were in the congressional buildings. They met mostly with staffers in the personal offices of their district representative and the senators of their state. Some visited with the offices of other representatives from nearby districts or with professional staff members from various House and Senate committees. There were at least 20 visits where geoscientists were able to meet directly with their member (5 senators and 15 representatives from 13 states). The members were generous with their time and expressed interest in a variety of geoscience topics.
Geoscientists discussed the value of geoscience in keeping the U.S. competitive, ensuring secure energy, water, and mineral resources, sustaining and maintaining the environment, supplying a skilled geoscience workforce, and preparing for and responding to hazards while mitigating losses. In doing so, the participants stressed the importance of maintaining funding for the federal science agencies. They had opportunities to discuss topics of personal importance to them, such as energy resources, water management, and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. They made sure to emphasize the economic benefits that their work brings to their states and districts, as well as the scientific and technical advances.
Policymakers were happy to hear from their constituencies and especially from geoscientists. Many members of Congress, on both sides of the aisle, support the geosciences because of the scientists’ role in reacting to natural disasters, cultivating energy resources, and educating the workforce of the next generation.
After returning home, the participants sent thank-you emails to the congressional staff they met with and followed up on any questions they were asked. This important correspondence allows them to maintain a relationship with their congressional delegation and serve as a non-partisan source of scientific information. Geoscience is critical to addressing society’s most pressing needs, such as adapting to a changing climate, ensuring adequate supplies of clean water, and producing energy, and they can provide a valuable service to policy makers.
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