AGI Government Affairs Advisory
June 4, 2005
9:00 am - 3:00 pm
An agenda with links to background materials accompanies
Jamie Robertson, Chair
Klaus J. Schulz, Society of Economic Geologists
Laurie Scheuing, Association for Women Geoscientists
Emery Cleaves, Association of American State Geologists
Blair Jones, The Clay Minerals Society
Lenny. Konikow, International Association of Hydrogeologists
Hal Gluskoter, Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration
Karl Glasener, Soil Science Society of America
Marianne Guffanti, American Geophysical Union
Hazel Medville, National Speleological Society
Tim West, U.S. Geological Survey
Wayne D. Pennington, Society of Exploration Geophysicists
Linda Rowan, AGI GAP Director
Katie Ackerly, AGI GAP Staff Associate
Amanda Schneck, AGI/AIPG 2005 Summer Intern
Anne Smart, AGI/AIPG 2005 Summer Intern
1.0 Introductions and Preliminary Business
Jamie Robertson called the meeting to order at 9:00 am with a welcome to everyone present. He began by stating that there are 42 AGI societies total, yet only 29 are represented on the Government Affairs Program Advisory Committee (GAPAC). He charged everyone present to reach out to the societies that are not currently represented on the advisory committee, and ask them to join. Linda Rowan added that she is working to get other societies to be represented, but clarified that it may make less sense for some societies, such as the Geological Society of London, to be represented.
1.1 Program staff changes
After Rowan added her own welcome and thanked everyone for coming, she began by reviewing the staff changes that have occurred in the Government Affairs Program over the past year. David Applegate, GAP director, left the program in January, 2004, after doing a wonderful job. Linda explained that she took over his position in February, 2005, after holding a position as an editor at Science Magazine. She also explained that she received her PhD at Cal Tech and completed a post-doctoral program at Johnson Space Center, where she continued her studies in mineral physics. Rowan expressed her special appreciation for Emily Lehr Wallace, who moved on from the Government Affairs Program in April.
Rowan reported that she is working with Chris Keane and Marcus Milling to hire a new staff member as Emily's replacement, hopefully by the end of the summer. In the meantime, Katie Ackerly, AGI's Spring Intern, will work as Emily's replacement. Katie has also applied for the position.
Rowan also introduced AGI's summer interns, Anne Smart, Amanda Schneck, both present, and John Vermylen, who would start June 6.
1.2 Approval of agenda
Robertson asked that the committee approve the agenda. Karl Glasener asked that a short discussion on grassroots advocacy be added to the agenda. The agenda was never officially approved.
Robertson explained his objectives for the meeting: to get a sense from the committee members regarding what they like about GAP, what GAP could do better, and what might be some new areas that GAP ought to explore. Robertson added that he sees the program as a service to the discipline that is critical for raising the visibility of AGI's societies.
In response to what members like about the Government Affairs Program, Blair Jones took the opportunity to compliment the monthly review, and comment that he distributes the newsletter throughout the Clay Minerals Society. There was a general consensus that the monthly review is GAP's most visible products, and should be as available as possible on the website.
1.3 Approval of report from last year's meeting and review of action items
Hal Gluskoter made a motion to approve the minutes from the last GAPAC meeting. The motion was seconded and approved.
1.4 Review of program finances
Rowan briefly reviewed how funding for GAP breaks down. She reported that funds come from member society contributions, AGI revenue, and the AGI Foundation. Twelve societies have contributed for 2005, and Rowan said she hopes to have 17 more by the end of June. Thirteen societies regularly don't contribute. The total budget for GAP is $230,000, $63,000 of which goes towards supporting the AGI congressional fellow and spring, summer and fall interns.
Rowan reported that AGI is working to get the fellowship endowed at the level of $2 million, which would support two fellowships annually. Rowan provided a pamphlet that contains information about the fellowship, to be distributed throughout AGI's societies as part of a grassroots fundraising effort. Rowan told the members present that building the endowment will make the fellowship program unique and stable, free up 25% of GAP's current budget, and allow for 2 fellowships annually.
Linda referenced the fellowship website, and highlighted the fact that societies should be encouraged to contact fellows and invite them to societies' annual meetings. Robertson suggested that GAP should be more aggressive to reach out to societies, instead of waiting for them to come to us. Rowan responded that she would send out a letter about the fellows and how to contact them.
As a tangential point, Emery Cleaves asked how many AGI societies visit the Hill regularly, or contribute discussion to GAP's agenda, given that AGI's membership represents some diverse interests. Rowan responded that the most active societies in Washington are SSSA, AGU, GSA, among others. To promote more engagement, GAP also organizes coordinated visits and participates in coalitions that span a much wider scientific community. Robertson asked the alternative question of why other societies are not involved. He said the point of GAP's strategy is not simply to collect more money, but to create less reluctance among societies to participate in policy.
2.0 Government Affairs Program: The Basics
2.1 Updates, Alerts, and Monthly Reviews
Rowan explained that GAP communicates via action alerts, special updates, and monthly reviews. Action alerts are time-constrained memos that encourage members to take action on a certain issue. This year GAP has sent six alerts, which are listed on the website. Rowan asks people to report back if they have taken action in response to such an alert.
On the subject of calling members to take action, Glasener explained that in his society (SSSA), they have been trying to figure out how best to engage full-time academics and other scientists in politics. He noted that the problem with the action alert system is that the number of responses to the alert is hard to track, and it is hard to attract a strong volume of responders. Glasener explained that SSSA uses a grassroots advocacy electronic resource, a software program called CAPWIZ, that posts a sample letter that individuals can sign their name to and send. In one instance, the program produced 400 responses to an SSSA alert within one hour. The program would allow AGI to attract not only a greater influx of participation, but also to identify who is active. Glasener said that SSSA plans to create a database of active constituent groups to further solicit in the event of a congressional visits event.
There was some debate about whether such form letters were effective. In Glasener's opinion, society members are likely to either click and send, or do nothing. Marianne Guffanti agreed that the count of names is most meaningful to members of congress.
Glasner estimated the email program would be an investment of $17,000 for the first year, and $12,000 per year after that. GAPAC members must still consider how to centralize the advocacy program within AGI and supply it to member societies. Glasener said he would provide Rowan with additional information on the program.
Getting back to the original agenda, Rowan finished up describing where and when monthly reviews are posted on the website, as well as some examples of special updates that have been issued recently. Examples include the President's budget request, and NIH's final public access policy decision. On the monthly review, Robertson asked whether AGI could add a place on future issues where web visitors or secondary recipients could easily subscribe to the newsletter.
Rowan listed the coalitions AGI is currently involved in, including the USGS Coalition, the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Coalition, the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), and the Natural Hazards Caucus Workgroup. The idea behind the coalitions is to pool time and resources to get more policy involvement from scientists and engineers. She added that GAP also works closely with individual organizations who are actively working on related issues, such as the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE).
2.3 Visits and Hearings
Basic functions of GAP include the preparation of policy and hearing summaries for the website, most of which are produced by GAP's spring, summer and fall interns. GAP also attends congressional visits in conjunction with coalition activities, or when opportunities arise.
2.4 Member society communications
In addition to web communications, GAP staff members engage in telephone conversations with member constituents and attend major society meetings, including the GSA, AGU, and AAPG annual meetings. Rowan explained that she is the AGI liaison for GSA and AGU's public policy programs. Rowan welcomed any suggestions to improve communications with member societies.
2.5 Fellow and interns
The AGI congressional fellowship program is conducted under the overarching fellows program organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which trains and coordinates 20-40 fellows every year. This year, there were 33. After completing the program, one third of the fellows go back to their fields, one third stay in policy, and one third do something completely different.
In the Spring and Fall, AGI hires one intern on a stipend that is shared 50-50 between AGI and AAPG. In the Summer, AGI and AIPG shares the cost of three interns each year. At the end of the summer, these interns are required to write an article for AIPG's publication, The Professional Geologist. Interns spend their time becoming acquainted with the legislative process, writing summaries, learning how to manage the website, and visiting agencies and congressional offices. One full day during the summer is devoted to a visit to the USGS campus in Reston. This year, 13 interns from the Carnegie Institution will likely join AGI's interns on some of these visits.
Cleaves asked whether Rowan had considered having interns visit state survey offices in nearby states.
Roberston added that he is pleased to hear that some of GAP's interns stay on in the public policy arena.
2.6 Status of GAP's Strategic Plan
GAP's strategic plan is described on pages 15 and 16 in AGI's overall strategic plan, which was finalized in 2003.
Rowan provided each member withh a copy of the strategic plan, and highlighted four points out of the 10 listed goals and strategies that the committee might want to discuss later:
Among them, Rowan was interested to gather input on: a) what policy issues are a priority for your society, b) how to improve outreach to the full membership of AGI's Member Societies, c) opinions on the effectiveness and content of position papers and d) how to facilitate the introduction of policy courses into university Geoscience Departments.
On point (b), a discussion arose regarding the importance and challenges of arranging personal visits between member constituents and congressional staff, so that scientists can establish themselves as reliable sources of information for lawmakers. Robertson noted that one doesn't have to go to D.C. in order to get involved; GAP should encourage district-level visits as well. Blair Jones offered that, although visits are a terrific vehicle for greater visibility, scientists have to make sure they're willing to maintain the responsibility of offering their expertise. Glasener prompted Rowan to point out that guidelines on how to conduct a congressional visit are posted under "Resources" on the GAP website.
Robertson made a final statement on the Strategic Plan, suggesting that it should be read not as a mandate but as a progress report or a living document. Robertson and Rowan left an open opportunity for GAPAC members to contribute input to help the Strategic Plan evolve.
3.0 Government Affairs Program Federal Activities
3.1 Fiscal year 2006 budget
Rowan gave a brief overview of the status of this year's appropriations process, starting with an explanation of the reconfiguration of the House and Senate appropriations committees earlier this year. She explained that the science agencies are now consolidated, and the EPA is now considered under one bill with the Department of the Interior, which may present appropriators with new, challenging funding decisions. The lack of parallelism between the scope and purview of the House and Senate subcommittees may further threaten the efficiency of the budget process.
Rowan explained that, following the release of the President's budget request, AGI submitted testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees with specific suggestions for how to fund various programs. The testimony is posted on the website.
Guffanti asked Rowan to explain the process AGI follows to formulate its position, seeing as member societies might express different priorities or areas of interest. Glasener asked further how GAP seeks member input for the testimony. Rowan responded that Special Updates and Action Alerts are the best mechanism to elicit input from members. For most issues addressed in the testimony, there is consensus for increased funding for Earth science research and education. The testimony is circulated to AGI's Executive Committee for final review.
*** The meeting adjourned for a short break from 10:30 to 10:45.***
The meeting reconvened with a discussion on the status of FY 2006 budget cuts and restoration for the USGS, and how USGS funding has been affected by the recent subcommittee shakedown.
Guffanti, speaking as the former head of USGS Volcano Hazards Program, put forward that the USGS budget is plagued foremost by rising salary costs that are not accounted for in the budget request or appropriations bills. She suggested AGI should make this fact more explicit in their testimony and other advocacy venues.
Klaus Schultz revisited the issue of how to resolve conflicts of interest and priorities among AGI societies when new appropriations bills have many programs that AGI societies would like to support in competition with one another. He said if AGI comes out in support of all the programs, it would look like we don't have a stance. Robertson suggested an approach wherein AGI and other active societies establish with appropriators what programs they are going to hear from us about continually. For programs we are silent about, they are free to interpret that silence.
Some related concerns were floated, such as the fate of the USGS in a zero-sum budget game. Rowan stated that AGI puts most of its energy worrying about major cuts rather than smaller programs and does not suggest cutting one program in favor of another.
DOE Oil and Gas programs
In the FY 2006 Budget request, the Administration proposed substantial cuts to Oil and Gas research within the Department of Energy. So far, some of these cuts have been restored in the House Energy and Water appropriations bill, but the Fossil Energy program continues to be reduced every year.
Rowan stated that the Office of Management and Budget should be another important place to make visits, because the budget process has become more and more influenced by the executive branch. Robertson commented that while this is true, getting into OMB is almost impossible.
Science Appropriations (NSF, NOAA, NASA, NIST)
The major concern this year is a substantial proposed cut to NSF's Math and Science Partnership Program, and plans to transfer most of the program into the Department of Education. Within NASA, cuts to the earth science programs and several delayed or cancelled observing missions pose the greatest challenge. AGU has been particularly active in advocating against this policy decision. NOAA's budget, which got a boost in the Administration's proposal, received a $500 million cut in the House recently. The main challenge AGI is tracking within NIST's budget, is NEHRP (earthquake hazard reduction) funding. Under a reauthorization bill last year, NEHRP was placed under NIST, but NIST has yet to receive any funding for it. They need $3.5 million.
Guffanti asked about the status of Landsat funding, which has received good support by both the administration and congress in both USGS and NOAA. On the alleged transfer of other NASA earth science missions to NOAA, Rowan explained that NOAA won't accept any new missions without more funding.
In response to the overall progress report, Wayne Pennington said that he thinks everyone is impressed with what they see and surprised at the scope of the material, but asked how GAP could improve publicity and accessibility.
Cleaves asked if it was possible to track hits to the GAP website. Rowan said that GAP currently does not track hits. Pennington said that it might be possible to conduct link statistics to find out how people arrive at the website, and the paths they take. Robertson suggested that all the pages be accessible within a few clicks from the AGI homepage.
3.2 Other Legislative Issues
Comprehensive Energy Bill
Rowan explained that AGI is also active in tracking the status of the national energy bill. The House passed their version in April, and it was criticized for involving too many incentives for oil and gas production and streamlining leasing processes. Highlights included large authorized funds for clean coal technology, nuclear hydrogen plant, fuel cell research, and ultra-deep drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill also opens the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and provides liability protection for producers of MTBE, two highly controversial provisions.
Tim West added other things to look out for in the Senate, including oil shale assessment and leasing opportunities, and the clean-up of orphan wells on public lands. He added that all the Senate energy bill titles are available on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee website.
Cleaves asked whether data preservation survived in the bill. Rowan said that it had been included in both the House and Senate versions.
National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program reauthorized
Rowan explained that AGI is continuing efforts to get NEHRP appropriate funding. In the emergency war supplemental, $20 million total was given for hazards reduction, mostly for NOAA and USGS to conduct tsunami warning plans.
In the budget request, Earthscope received and increase of 3.4% within the NSF science division. Earthscope includes a national seismic network, plate boundary observatory, and the San Andreas drilling project.
The House Science Committee passed an "organic act" for NOAA, which gives the agency its first-ever congressional mandate. The Resources Committee must add provisions under its jurisdiction before the full bill can go to the floor of the House.
National Cooperative Geologic Mapping Act reauthorization
Robertson described the status of the NCGMA reauthorization, which has been introduced in both the House and the Senate. Because of a few minor but frustrating differences, he said, there must be some informal conference before the final bill can be considered by both houses. So far it has been placed on the House's "uncontested" calendar.
Rowan explained that open access issues are an important issue for societies that are dependent on journal revenues, because it changes the business model for journals. NIH has the only federal open access policy as of May 2. Rowan said that AGI intends to watch the development and public reception of this policy over the next six months. The major question is whether NSF will follow suit. Glasener put forward that no one has thought about how to deal with open access for interagency cooperative research, so an NSF open access policy is less likely. Lenny Konikow asked Rowan whether AGI has an open access policy statement. So far, GSA is the only AGI society to have proposed a policy statement on the issue. Rowan said that she does not agree with open access in most instances, because it is unclear how it wouldn't jeopardize the peer review process.
Rowan described recent developments in the evolution debate that has flared up recently in numerous states. AGI tracks what is going on within each state. Rowan displayed the website. She noted that the most recent activity has regarded the Smithsonian's willingness to show a film produced by the Discovery Institute.
Guffanti offered what she knew about the issue. According to her husband who works at the Museum of Natural History, the decision was based on a misunderstanding or naivete. Smithsonian has decided to keep their agreement to show the film, but refused to accept the $16,000 they were paid to rent the space.
Robertson commented that at all levels of the AGI institution, we need to do all we can to uphold the peer review process, and we all need to be alert to the issue. Resources and timely information are going to be very important, he said. He asked Rowan whether AGI has a mechanism for mobilization of the issue on state-by-state evolution debates. Rowan responded that GAP itself doesn't , but she sends people to the NCSE website. On the subject of establishing a defined position, Rowan stated that, in her view, the battle is against negativity about scientists in general, not just about supporting evolution in science curricula.
The meeting adjourned for lunch at 12:00 and reconvened at 12:25.
3.3 Hazards Caucus
Rowan reconvened the meeting with an overview of AGI's activities as a leading member of the Hazards Caucus workgroup. The Hazards Caucus must be revitalized this congress after Senator John Edwards, one of the co-chairman, left the Senate last year.
AGI and its partners in the caucus workgroup are working to identify natural hazards champions in both the House and Senate to join the caucus. So far Senators Ted Stevens, Mary Landrieu, Jim DeMint and Ben Nelson have been asked to be co-chairs in the Senate. Jay Inslee, Dennis Moore, Brian Reichart, and Dana Rohrabacher have been asked to be co-chairs in the House. Rowan explained that the workgroup is aiming for a geographic and hazard-wise diversity of membership.
Two events are planned for the Caucus. The first will be a July 11 briefing on Hurricane safety, in which a coastal erosion geologist (USGS), a hurriance forecaster (NOAA), a civil engineer and a Red Cross representative will brief congressional staff on lessons learned from past hurricanes and mitigation efforts for this year. The second event will be coordinated with a joint meeting of the Seismological Society of America, the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, and Disaster Resistant California on April 18-22, 2006, the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco 1906 earthquake.
Rowan displayed the Hazards Caucus website, which will be revised once the Caucus has been fully established. Rowan explained that the caucus working group includes other scientific and engineering societies, responders, and emergency managers. The purpose of the Caucus is to educate congress, issue statements in support of certain policy initiatives, and to help congress respond quickly to big hazard events. The Caucus also hopes to address the importance of mitigation, education and preparedness before a catastrophe forces recognition.
Highlights from Congressional Visits Day: Science-Engineering-Technology Work Group
Rowan reported that the 10th annual congressional visits day was a success. AGI hosted 12 participants, who were joined by another 10 visitors from AGU and visited 35 Congressional offices representing 10 states. The core message was to raise visibility and support for federal investment in science and engineering. Prior to the visits, 30 participants from AGI and AGU were briefed on the highlights from the FY 2006 budget, and attended a number of receptions.
AGI's visitors brought with them several areas of expertise that they were able to offer congressional staff. Wayne Pennington corrected the printed summary of the congressional visits to reflect the fact that he emphasized the importance of the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy program in particular. He added a success story from his visit. Following the visit, in which a Capitol Hill evacuation prevented Pennington from visiting with Rep. Bart Stupak, his office contacted him to ask about DOE's fossil energy grants. Pennington said that because of the visits, he was immediately prepared to respond to the policy questions.
Tim West commented that evacuations on Capitol Hill have recently become a problem that can affect congressional visits. Linda pointed out, however, that the evacuation that occurred during our CVD became an opportunity to flag down members on the street and talk to them in person.
On a related note, Glasener asked whether AGI has been challenged by interests of big universities that have their own lobbying groups. Scientists that work at universities are instructed not to lobby for funding, in case it presents a conflict of interest. To get around this, AGI must communicate to the science community that we are not here to talk about specific earmarks but rather general funding.
Robsertson added that visitors who attend AGI congressional visits events must come on behalf of themselves or on behalf of their own association in order to avoid university and state agency rules. Laurie Scheuing noted, however, that some societies such as AWG are too cautious about "lobbying" and refuse to fund visits, even if it is for general advocacy.
Rowan continued with AGI's success stories, reporting that David Bieber, one of AGI's visitors, became an expert resource for the California Senate delegation through his visit, which coincided fortuitously with the mark-up of the Asbestos bill. Rowan concluded that CVD went well, and AGI hopes to attract more participants in the future.
Coalition for National Science Funding
Rowan explained that CNSF is organizing its own visits for September 13-14. There is also an exhibition coming up on June 21, which is basically a science fair for Congressional members and their staff. AGU, AGI and GSA are sponsoring two booths.
Coalition for USGS
The USGS Coalition completed their visits earlier this year, and members of the coalition were also able to visit the Office of Management and Budget. On June 6 there is a planned field trip to the northern Chesapeake Bay. Twenty-five congressional staffers will attend, and hear presentations on the role of the USGS in the Chesapeake bay, including projects addressing human population growth, land use, geology and water quality in the watershed. They will also take a ride out into the bay on the Skipjack Martha Lewis, where they will learn about biological programs.
The USGS Coalition will hold a reception on the Hill on September 19th.
The USGS Coalition is also active in getting congressional support for funding needs through Dear Colleague Letters, which circulate throughout each house of congress.
Coalition for Science and Technology Education and Math
AGI has supported the circulation of several Dear Colleague Letters with the STEM Coalition. They concern R&D funding for NSF or the DOE Office of Science.
On the subject of visits, Robertson commented that AGI organized district visits last summer. He asked whether there are plans to follow through on these activities, noting that it might be easier to get scientists to mobilize on a local level. Rowan responded that she hopes to pick out key appropriators, key constituents, and conduct district visits as early as August.
Hazel Medville also suggested getting involved in annual meetings of state officials, such as the Coalition of State Legislators meeting. Rowan commented that there has been some discussion among coalition members about going to these "big 7" meetings (there are seven such organizations, including state governors, etc.) Robertson added that AIPG has done a booth as such meetings that have been really successful. Handouts of state geologic maps and other materials tend to be popular. Rowan said that the issue was also brought up at AGI's leadership forum in early May, and she will talk more with GAP Advisory and Executive Committee members to coordinate future plans.
4.0 Government Affairs Program Fellows and Interns
Rowan explained that AGI's Congressional Fellow Katie Donnelly couldn't make it to the meeting. Donnolly is a petrologist by trade, who is currently working on nuclear waste issues and interim storage for Rep. Ed Markey from Massachusetts.
Rowan made a brief mention of Steve Quane, who was chosen to be the 2005-2006 William L. Fisher Congressional Fellow. Quane is a volcanologist with a PhD from the University of British Columbia.
Glasener asked whether there has been any criticism regarding the fact that the science fellows consistently joining Democratic offices. Roberston responded that this is another educational and outreach challenge for AGI. Fellows may tend towards one political leaning, but they also join offices that show an interest. AGI should start at the local level and encourage bipartisan political recognition of the value of science and taking on a science fellow. He said we have a sales job to do.
Because Donnelly was not present to discuss the fellowship, this item was scratched from the Agenda, putting the meeting back on track.
4.1 Update on Yucca Mountain
With the extra time, Guffanti asked for an update on the Yucca Mountain inspector general (IG) report. Tim West said that the Interior Department's IG hopes to issue a preliminary report by July. Then the USGS will take action. Meanwhile, the agency is checking the science to make sure it is sound, deciding who, how and when to investigate with respect to the science. West also reported that Congress has initiated some investigative hearings on the subject. Another hearing may take place later in June.
West explained that the Yucca project has received strong support from the appropriations side, but law-makers are becoming increasingly interested in secondary storage plans. Rowan added that for every year Yucca Mountain is delayed, it costs DOE $1 billion in lawsuits from states who were guaranteed a place to store their nuclear waste. Konikow commented further on the quality assurance program and the management problems unveiled through the release of the USGS emails. He said QA has become more of a legal tracking system than a scientifically-based accountability measure.
5.0 Member Society Collaboration and Input
5.1 GAPAC Member Society Reports on Policy Activities
Society of Economic Geologists - Klaus Schultz reported that the SEG does engage in many government affairs activities. He reported that only 37% of SEG membership is in the U.S. The international status of the society tempers its involvement, because it is difficult to set a precedent for engaging in politics in other countries. Actions SEG has taken include supporting the USGS mineral resources program.
Society of Exploration Geophysicists - Wayne Pennington reported that less than 50% of his society's membership is from the U.S., and the society has a presence in over 120 countries. He asked the group how AGI could play a role in his society's advocacy, saying that members should feel free to let AGI be their representative.
Rowan commented that several issues are of international interest. Guffanti added that societies should communicate the benefits of AGI to their international membership, even if the U.S. membership bears the burden of funding contributions.
Laurie Scheuing agreed, asking why should societies "reinvent the wheel" when AGI is already acting on their behalf. She said that her society, the Association for Women Geologists, must focus on a few things and can't do everything.
U.S. Geological Survey - Tim West described the mission of the USGS public affairs department. He and his colleagues are trying to get better congressional recognition and visibility for the USGS. He holds a briefing series every year, and are up on the Hill weekly. He said USGS and its cooperators will eventually be present on the Hill on a daily basis. He voiced his appreciation for the USGS Coalition and the work it does, and reported that the recognition of the USGS is getting better, and the USGS is taking on a more professional face.
National Speleological Society - Hazel Medville said that her society engages in cooperative agreements and memoranda of understanding with various agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The NSS tries to coordinate grassroots advocates that are non-confrontational. The NSS releases a biannual report to the Interior Department. It has an annual budget of $25, and fieldwork is volunteer-based. Medville commented that she would be open to hill visits, although activities are limited by the budget. Meetings are usually organized at other meetings, where people will be anyway. The last big action the NSS took was advocating for the National Cave Law, which prohibited damage to caves and places them on non-publishable lists. She said the NSS deals more with agencies than with Congress, but Tom Daschle was a champion of theirs.
American Geophysical Union - Marianne Guffanti talked about the AGU public affairs committee, which is in charge of issuing AGU's position statements. The most recent statement responds to NASA's moon-mars initiative. AGU also responds to visa issues for foreign science students, and participated in an amicus brief in response to the Cobb County textbook evolution sticker-disclaimers. AGU's policy statements have to be renewed every four years and approved by a council. The oldest statement concerns the place of creationism in science (1981).
On the subject of position statements, Pennington agreed that making statements are important, and scientific societies are sending the wrong message if they don't say anything.
Soil Science Society of America - Karl Glaesner described the activities of SSSA, which coordinates its public policy program with the American Society of Agronomy and the Crop Science Society of America. Of the three, the SSSA is the only society with a strategic plan for public policy. The SSSA headquarters are in Madison, WI. The public policy program is located in D.C. and has obtained some autonomy. As discussed earlier, it has coordinated a grassroots advocacy program. The main focus of the society's program is budget and appropriations. It also works extensively with coalitions. Karl said he has tried to address budget issues through agencies (OMB, OSTP). He hires one annual intern to help with activities.
Society of Mining, Metallurgy, and Engineering - Hal Gluskoter said that MME activities consist mainly of publications. MME publishes Mining Engineering, and distributes an online newsletter. Hal said he hopes to be more proactive, perhaps including a policy piece in Mining Engineering. A local SME group is developing a stronger relationship with AGI in D.C. SME also has a website for government and education.
U.S. National Chapter of the International Association of Hydrogeologists, based in the U.K. - Lenny Konikow said that neither the international group nor the U.S. chapter of IAH take policy or advocacy positions. The need for international collaboration was the basis for the organization. The IAH is also associated with the National Ground Water Association, which has a strong lobbying arm, but is not a member of AGI. They sponsor fly-ins that include IAH members. IAH's potential interests in AGI's position of advocacy include helping developing countries to secure clean, safe drinking water and groundwater supplies.
In response to this comment, several members asked whether AGI should be talking to other societies or government agencies about supporting such an initiative. West noted that in a recent hearing on the December tsunami, Sen. Bill Frist announced clean water a top priority. Guffanti suggested that USAID could offer the same kind of support it gave to the USGS Volcano Hazard Program. She said to talk to the USGS point person for volcano hazards, Rich Calnan, to point us in the right direction. She added that it is amazing how projects can be started from scratch. All you need to do is find your issue and strategy, and public advocate or champion. Robertson expressed interest in pursuing such a policy area. He said AGI might want to consider taking a lead in such an important public health issue. Rowan commented that AGI's environmental program currently releases assessments of water resources around the world. If GAP should get involved, we might want to capitalize on the White House's expressed support of water availability issues.
American Association of State Geologists - Emery Cleaves explained that AASG was established as a government affairs program that tries to bring state perspectives to congress and government agencies. AASG produces white papers, fact sheets and position statements, and meets in DC twice a year, visiting 40-45 agencies and congressional committees. He further explained that AASG is perceived as a group of reliable, credible and available scientists. Two issues of great concern to AASG members are data preservation and recent changes to the USGS topographic mapping program. Now states must partner in funding with the USGS to revise their maps, and many can not come forward with the money. As a consequence, the continuous, consistent national map is threatened by fragmentation. Robertson suggested AGI issue a statement about the need for consistent, high-quality national mapping. Rowan said in order to make such a statement, we would also need to provide a plan of action and funding.
Scheuing expanded upon her earlier comments, saying that AWG attends AGI events and creates position statements, but has no consistent approval process and no strong, autonomous public policy department.
Before Adjourning, Robertson and Rowan closed the meeting by thanking everyone for coming. Tim West also thanked Linda for all her hard work and her ability to facilitate the exchange of information among society members in such a short period of time since she joined AGI.
There was a brief discussion regarding how to plan the next meeting, and whether or not it was successful to hold GAPAC meetings at larger society meetings such as GSA. Pennington thought that this would be most effective, but others said that sometimes there is too much else going on at such meetings. Rowan said she would do a poll of GAPAC members for further input.
*** The meeting adjourned at 2:56 ***
Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.
Posted December 10, 2004