American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


Congressional Visits Day

The following report appears as a News Note in the May 1998 issue of Geotimes. It is reprinted here with permission.

More than 200 scientists and engineers from across the country traveled to Washington, D.C., to participate in the third annual Science and Technology Congressional Visits Day on Feb. 25 and 26, an event sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology Workgroup and the Coalition for Technology Partnerships. Following a day of briefings by members of Congress and the administration, groups of scientists and engineers visited with their own representatives. AGI coordinated the visits of more than a dozen geoscientists who took part in these events.

Administration briefing
Representatives from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and federal agencies explained how federal support for science and technology fared in the Clinton administration's budget request. Presidential Science Advisor Jack Gibbons praised the increases contained in the budget as part of the President's 21st Century Research Fund. The fund is not a program itself, but includes most of the federal allotments for nondefense research and development. In the budget, the fund totals $31.1 billion, nearly 8 percent above the fiscal year 1998 funding levels for these programs. For the first time since efforts to balance the budget began, the budget contains outyear projections with real increases for science, Gibbons noted. He emphasized the cross-cutting initiatives contained in the fund, including climate change, network and computing capabilities, and education.

Gibbons, who had recently announced his retirement from the White House post, introduced his successor, current National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Neal Lane, who praised the 11 percent increases for NSF. Lane emphasized that the economy is driven by advances in science and technology and that "partnership is the future of science and technology in the United States."

Congressional briefings
The visiting scientists and engineers also heard from several members of Congress, who share an interest in science but have different views of the role of government. Participants had the opportunity to witness Congress at work by attending a Senate forum entitled "Research as an Investment." With an overflow crowd on hand, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) led a discussion with leaders from industry and academia on how research contributes to the nation's economic growth and global competitiveness. The panelists also discussed the National Research Investment Act of 1998 (S. 1305) which Bingaman co-sponsored with Senators Phil Gramm (R-Texas), Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.). The bill would double federal research funding for most civilian agencies in a decade. Due to lingering concerns by Sen. Gramm over activities of the former National Biological Service (now the Biological Resources Division of the U.S. Geological Survey), S. 1305 does not contain the Department of the Interior in the list of agencies to receive an increase in funding. A bill that does include the Interior Department will soon be introduced in the House.

Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart surgeon and researcher, spoke to participants about the advantages of science and research, which include an enhanced quality of life and economic expansion. He explained how increases in mandatory spending -- for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- have decreased the amount of funding available for science. He suggested funding those projects that support priorities for our nation, and proposed four criteria for Congress to follow when determining which research to support: (1) focused, peer-reviewed, knowledge-based science, (2) fiscal accountability; (3) measurable results; and (4) and consistency.

At a briefing the following morning, Science Committee Ranking Member George Brown (D-Calif.) spoke about his belief that the government must take a role in funding research to help promote the technologies needed for economic growth. "The United States cannot," he continued, "afford to be less than the best with regards to our economic productivity."

At an evening reception, Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.) spoke to participants about a study he is chairing to develop a comprehensive national science policy. Initiated by Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), the study will "conduct a review of our national science policy and develop a new long-range science and technology policy that is concise, comprehensive, and coherent."

Ehlers was joined at the reception by Sen. Gramm, who was the original sponsor of S. 1305. Gramm emphasized the value of personal contacts, noting that he -- and many of his colleagues -- would be more likely to support legislation increasing funds for research if it was requested by any of his former teachers.

Congressional visits
The 13 geoscience participants made 25 visits to senators, representatives, congressional staff, and committees to discuss the importance of investing in research from a geoscience perspective. Their visits included meetings with members from Tennessee, Colorado, Virginia, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and Connecticut. They carried two core messages to their hosts on Capitol Hill:

Participants tailored the message of their visits to each member. Some visits were aimed at thanking members for their long-standing support of science and others were directed at convincing members that research and development is a vital investment in the nation's future. Some participants also asked senators to include the Department of the Interior in S. 1305.

AGI Past President Robert Hatcher Jr., who met with members of the Tennessee delegation, found the overall response from senators and members of Congress to be "superb" and noticed "a real enthusiasm from staff members about science and technology."


Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at govt@agiweb.org.

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs Program
Posted July 6, 1998


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