The American Geosciences Institute (AGI), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the Geological Society of America (GSA), the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA), the American Meteorological Society (AMS) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) hosted the Fifth Annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day on September 11-12, 2012. 44 geoscientists from 20 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. Bess Evans from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy gave a presentation on the sequestration and its estimated impact on science funding while current geosciences congressional fellows spoke to the participants about working in a congressional office.
Once the participants were given their schedules for Wednesday’s visits, they got a chance to review the “leave-behinds” and “one-pagers” in the folders that they would be handing out to policymakers. The participants practiced conducting a congressional visit and honed their message.
Wednesday was a full day of congressional visits for the participants. There were at least 100 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 17 meetings scheduled for the geoscientists to meet directly with their representatives (5 senators and 12 representatives from 13 states). The members were generous with their time and expressed interest in a variety of geoscience topics.
The participants 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 visiting with over 100 offices, the participants attended the United States Geological Survey Coalition Reception in Rayburn House Office Building. The USGS Coalition is an alliance of over 70 organizations that champion USGS programs. It annually recognizes lawmakers for their support of the agency by presenting Leadership Awards at the reception. This year’s award winners were Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Representative Steven LaTourette (R-OH). McCollum and LaTourette serve on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which oversees funding for the USGS and other Department of the Interior programs.
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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