Government Affairs Program

AGI Government Affairs Advisory Committee Meeting
DRAFT Report

October 1, 2005
AGI Headquarters
Alexandria, VA
8:30 am - 12:00 pm

An agenda with links to background materials accompanies this report.

Jamie Robertson (Chair), State Geologist of Wisconsin
John Keith, Association of Earth Science Editors
Skip Watts, Association of Engineering Geologists
Cathy O'Riordan, American Geophysical Union
Adrienne Sponberg, American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
Laurie Scheuing, Association for Women Geoscientists
W. Jerrold Samford, GeoInstitute of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)
Tamara L. Dickinson, Geological Society of America
Lenny Konikow, International Association of Hydrogeologists, U.S. National Chapter
Hazel Medville, National Speleological Society
Klaus J. Schulz, Society of Economic Geologists
John L. Havlin, Soil Science Society of America
Tim West, U.S. Geological Survey

Marcus Milling, AGI Executive Director
Linda Rowan, AGI GAP Director
Katie Ackerly, AGI GAP Staff Associate
Peter Douglas, 2005 AGI/AAPG Fall Intern

Robert Ridky, National Education Coordinator, U.S. Geological Survey

1.0 Introductions and Preliminary Business
Jamie Robertson called the meeting to order at 8:29 am. He thanked the committee members that were present for their participation and reminded the group that the degree to which GAP successfully serves the Member Societies depends upon the flow of input received from Member Societies.

1.1 Approval of agenda
Robertson asked that the committee approve the agenda, and the motion was agreed to.

1.2 Approval of report from last year's meeting and review of action items
Klaus Shultz made a motion to approve the minutes from the last Government Affairs Program Advisory Committee (GAPAC) meeting. The motion was seconded and approved.

Linda Rowan reviewed the action items from the June 4, 2005 meeting.

1. Rowan said she is still working on inviting other societies to be represented on GAPAC.

2. On increasing fellowship involvement in Member Society activities, Rowan said she is trying to get fellows together at the Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting this fall to talk about how former fellows can help other geoscientists get involved in public policy.

3. GAPAC members should consider how to centralize the advocacy program within AGI and supply it to member societies. Rowan reviewed a recommendation from the last meeting put forth by Karl Glasener, from the Soil Science Society of America, about a software program called CAPWIZ that would allow AGI not only to attract a greater influx of participation in action alerts but also to identify who is active. GAPAC Member Societies would help share the costs, which are $17,000 for the first year and $12,000 per year after that. Cathy O'Riordan said that AGU uses a similar program called VOCUS, which costs roughly $25,000 per year.

4. GAP has made its monthly review more visible by placing a prominent button on the homepage.

5. GAP has not yet sent interns to visit state survey offices in nearby states, but it is still a possibility. Interns this summer did visit local scientific institutions and federal agencies.

6. Responses to the follow-up questionnaire from the June 4th meeting would be reviewed later in the agenda.

7. Organizing visits to district offices of Congressional Members did not happen this August due to other priorities over the summer, but maybe there will be an opportunity to organize such visits next August.

8. Rowan did attend the National Council of State Legislatures meeting this August, and said it was a worthwhile experience. There were many Earth science-related topics, particularly many sessions on energy. Robertson said that the state geology map postcards are popular and bring attention to geology; Rowan said that it's also a good place to raise visibility for Earth Science Week.

9. No movement has been made on leading a "geologists without borders" clean water initiative.

10. AGI has not issued a statement on geological mapping or data preservation, but GAP addresses the issue through coalition work. Robertson urged that AGI continue to consider crafting a statement or one-pager. Rowan showed the list of Member Society statements on mapping and data preservation accessible through the AGI website, including statements from AAPG, AASG, AGU, GSA, and SEG (Economic Geologists). Milling added that information is also available through AGI's publications.

On a side-note, Milling reported that there has been some headway on the issue of data preservation with more major oil companies becoming involved. AGI just signed an agreement with Chevron Texaco and USGS to gain access to Chevron's offshore data. Robertson noted that there were still major challenges, and hoped that the 5-year preservation program in the energy bill will spur forward movement.

11. On polling GAPAC members about whether they prefer to meet at major meetings such as GSA, Rowan reported that responses showed a 50/50 split.

1.3 Review of program finances
Rowan briefly reviewed how funding for GAP breaks down. She reported that outside of the fellowship, Member Societies contribute 50% of GAP's funding, with the other 50% funded by other AGI programs. Rowan plans to send out a letter soon thanking members for their support and asking members who have not yet paid to do so.

Rowan took the opportunity to announce AGI's 2005-2006 fellow, Steve Quane, who worked as a Visiting Assistant Professor at Colorado College after completing his PhD in volcanology in 2004 from the University of British Columbia. He is now working in the office of Rep. Tom Udall, from New Mexico.

2.0 Member Society Collaboration and Input
Each society had a chance to report their response to a questionnaire from the June 4th meeting about the effectiveness of the Government Affairs Program, including priority policy areas, and recommendations for improving the program's reach.

Society of Economic Geologists - Klaus Schulz reviewed the policy issues that are of immediate concern to SEG, and wished to follow up on the success of the NIH open access policy and the status of the USGS Mineral Resources Program.

Rowan reported that as of July, the NIH policy has not been very successful. Few authors are submitting titles to the digital library "PubMed Central," and some that have are not well qualified. There have also been issues with copyright infringement that have to be worked out.

On the USGS Mineral Resources Program, Robertson asked whether GAP could do something more on behalf of the program. It was his understanding that, not only is the government consistently proposing cuts for the program, but they are also proposing an external grant program, resulting in a much greater net loss of resources.

Schulz responded that because the program has been getting good OMB reviews, there was good reason to advocate for support. Rowan reported that DOI still feels that private industry is doing some of the research and Mineral Resources is redundant to some extent. Rowan noted that the National Mining Association is active in informing DOI that industry does in fact depend on USGS data.

National Speleological Society - Hazel Medville reported on the status of current legislation that impacts cave protection. Senator Pete Domenici's (R-NM) "Fort Stanton-Snowy River National Cave Conservation Area Act," was reported out of committee and heads to the Senate floor. A Hawaii state bill to change the Hawaii Cave Protection Law died in committee.

Medville also put forth the recommendation that GAP improve its outreach to societies by offering articles to Society publications and papers at annual meetings concerning what GAP has been doing.

International Association of Hydrogeologists, U.S. National Chapter - Lenny Konikow asked about the status of hiring a new director for the USGS as an important policy issue. Milling responded that Bill Dickinson at the National Academies is in charge of reviewing candidates and has produced a short list. AGI was asked to submit five candidate proposals, which Tom Weimer at DOI added to Dickinson's list as the department prepares to make its decision.

Association of Engineering Geologists - Skip Watts raised the important issue of the growing tendency for politicians to discount proven scientific principals related to hazards. This issue became a theme at the recent AEG meeting. He cited the New Orleans levees as an example, but focused on what is going on in Yosemite National Park. The National Park service has continued to deny and refuse to investigate evidence that the practice of pumping storm and wastewater into rock fractures has caused catastrophic rock falls that have claimed at least one life. A hearing on the subject will take place on October 21, 2005 in California.

Jerry Samford said part of the solution to making science politically viable is for scientists to find a way to present themselves more compellingly. Because science is complex, scientific ideas are glossed over and not used to form political positions.

Robertson asked whether we can somehow find a way to mandate science being respected as the final word in policy.

Tim West added that the same problems have cropped up in the Endangered Species Act debates. There is frustration about what science is on both sides of these debates.

Rowan said one way to address this issue is to consider holding a briefing on rock falls.

Geological Society of America - Tammy Dickinson brought the issue of teaching evolution to the fore as a topic that AGI needs to address, and one that also ties into the science-politics relationship. Rowan offered that action must occur at the local level. AGI and its members can do what they can to issue position statements, but scientists can only have a real impact if they become vocal and active participants in local school boards, for example. For example, in Charles County, MD, teachers are the only ones fighting against school board members who favor intelligent design and other related ideas of the evolution of life.

On what AGI can do, Milling highlighted the AGI publication "Evolution and the Fossil Record." Robertson suggested that AGI should produce sample letters and other information resources that contain a coherent argument and that people can adopt locally. Cathy O'Riordan noted that AGI and AGU signed onto an amicus brief for the Dover, PA case; and AGI can continue to exert pressure using similar avenues as well.

3.0 Earth Science Education

3.1 Report from Bob Ridky, National Education Coordinator, USGS
Bob Ridky delivered a PowerPoint presentation (11.5 MB) that led to an open discussion on support for Earth science education at the federal level.

Ridky's presentation focused on where the USGS fits into the federal science education agenda, and how best to promote the importance of science education with limited resources. According to his presentation, only the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education have authorizing language for education programs.

Education and outreach are inextricably bound at all levels of a scientific organization, Ridky said. Although everyone has a preconceived notion about what education entails, the line between what is research and what is education can be very fine in the scientific discipline, particularly earth science. This is both a challenge and an opportunity.

The National Research Council has stated that there must be Earth science in our national science standards, and statistics show that enrollment in earth science and earth science teaching in general has fallen over the last 30 years. The geosciences community must find a way to respond to these signals. Ridky favors a model in which, ideally, scientists would become more active citizens who bring their research to the public, rather than having agency employees doing the work out of a prescribed education program. There was some conversation among several committee members about how one would go about implementing such a model practically.

*** Meeting recessed at 10:15 for a 15 minute break ***

4.0 Getting Geoscientists involved in Public Policy

4.1 Review of grassroots discussion from previous meeting
This issue was shelved as it had already been addressed under the first Agenda item.

4.2 Summary of steps GAP has taken to increase participation
Rowan gave an overview of GAP's activities, using GAP's new one-pager as a guide. The one-pager lists GAP's activities as follows:

Rowan elaborated that the internship is a great opportunity to expose geoscience students to the public policy arena and encourage their future involvement. They have a chance to visit federal agencies and meet with their representatives in addition to their day-to-day duties.

Rowan also described the recent activities of each coalition with which AGI is involved.

4.3 Open discussion of old steps and new ideas
Robertson said the list of GAP activities was remarkable, but stressed the point that the committee must be critical in order to get the best out of the program, because many of the activities depend on the engagement and empowerment of AGI Societies to get involved. Milling agreed that AGI needs to know members' recommendations for improving GAP, including not just what to do, but how to do it.

John Havlin and Watts asked about the distribution of the monthly review, including how many non-members receive it. Rowan said that it was hard to track, but she estimated about 1000 people receive the Monthly Review directly, and an unknown number in addition who are forwarded the review from society leadership.

Robertson asked how to be more proactive to increase the Monthly Review distribution. Scheuing said that more society leaders should be encouraged to forward the message to their members. She also noted that AGI is holding a seminar on public policy the Friday before GSA for AWG and the seminar is open to all.

Samford added a second suggestion of adding an invitation to subscribe to the Monthly Review on GAP's dues statements.

O'Riordan asked whether AGI can track what programs, activities, or information gets accessed the most. Milling reported that the results of a recent member survey revealed that the Government Affairs Program is the third most valued AGI service. O'Riordan suggested AGI distribute a similar survey with a list of services specific to GAP. Rowan also said she may be able to pursue tracking web hit counts.

Schulz asked how to communicate the value of the GAP program to societies' international membership. Although international members such as the Geological Society of London are not expected to provide donations to GAP, Robertson and others agreed that it is important to show why what we're going is relevant to the international community. Adrienne Sponberg gave the example of visa issues, which has particularly concerned her society. Rowan noted that although international public policy relationships are important, it is hard to expand our activities into the international arena explicitly.

5.0 Natural Hazards: Connecting Science with Policy

5.1 Review of scientists' efforts to respond to Hurricane Katrina in the public policy arena: open discussion

Robertson asked whether AGI should consider a statement about whether to rebuild New Orleans. Rowan warned that we have to be careful about statements that suggest it would be silly to rebuild New Orleans, because they are ultimately unpractical. It would be more productive to issue recommendations on what or how to rebuild.

Watts said that engineers hold the position that if a rebuilding effort is going to happen anyway, then it is fully appropriate to take advantage of the opportunity and offer recommendations.

The Hazards Caucus, which is just getting started, is the proper venue for educating Congress about correct recovery strategies. The same applies for the Yosemite rock fall problem. Individual scientists can get involved by contributing their expertise in fact sheets and by speaking at briefings.

Rowan said that the best way for Member Societies to drum up support at the local level is to get on local, state, and regional commissions that deal with these hazards and recovery issues. A healthy partnership with industry is also helpful. The two challenges facing us are (a) a tendency not to listen to science and (b) time; politicians needing to act in order to recover their economic base quickly.

Robertson added that scientists can get trapped by offering solutions versus scenarios. Above all, GAP and Member Society leaders must facilitate the connection between constituents and their representatives.

6.0 Wrap-up and other business

Before closing, Robertson revisited the issue of meeting schedule. After some discussion, the conclusion was to keep holding two GAPAC meetings a year, both at AGI, with one in conjunction with another Major Society event such as the AGI Leadership forum or Congressional Visits Day.

*** The meeting adjourned early at 11:41 am ***

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Posted November 22, 2005