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Speaking to Congress

April 12, 2011

On Monday night at LPSC, Decadal Survey chair Steve Squyres was emphatic about the need for scientists to talk to Congress.  On Tuesday morning, the conference floor was abuzz with one question: How? 

In today’s post we introduce you to several resources that will help you learn how to effectively contact your Representative and your Senators.  Several of the professional organizations relevant to planetary science are active on the Hill, organizing Lobby Days and providing templates for letters that can be mailed, emailed, or faxed to your Representative’s office in Washington, D.C. or his/her district office in your state.  An in-person visit is always most effective, but you can accomplish a lot simply by staying up-to-date on the news for science funding and taking action (calling, emailing, faxing, or visiting your representative) at critical times, as suggested by the organizations below.  Visit them all or just choose one — each one takes a slightly different position and/or approach to keeping you informed and helping you make a difference.

1. The American Geophysical Union issues regular science policy alerts over email and on their web site. 

2. The American Astronomical Society maintains a public policy blog and testified on the Hill as recently as a couple weeks ago.  They also provide sample letters to send to your Congressional representatives when the AAS endorses a position.

3. The AAS DPS has a Federal Relations Subcommittee, currently chaired by Dr. Amy Lovell.

4. The AAAS has a great set of pages on science policy, including analysis and updates on federal R&D policy and ways that you can get involved.  Their email alerts are comprehensive and timely, pointing out a range of current issues.

5. Scientists and Engineers for America is a nonpartisan organization that encourages technically trained citizens to become more engaged in U.S. politics and the policy making process.  Their top link at the time this post was written was an article from Slate on “the innocent, unconscious bias that discourages girls from math and science.”

6. The National Association of Graduate-Professional Students maintains a Legislative Action Center and hosts Lobby Days on Capitol Hill.  If you are in or near DC during one of their lobby days, they’ll train you and guide you through the visits. 

Just one word of warning:  NASA civil servants MUST read this link about the Hatch Act and remember that “Federal employees subject to the Hatch Act continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, or furlough.”  In other words, don’t risk it – don’t lobby Congress AT ALL if you are employed by NASA or USGS as a civil servant.  If you don’t understand this statement, talk to your branch chief or division director – but please be careful. 

Still have questions?  Ask away!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 12, 2011 5:03 pm

    Thanks Susan!

  2. barbylon permalink*
    April 12, 2011 5:01 pm

    I’ve gotten legal clarification for federal employees / civil servants: The Hatch Act prohibits you from lobbying Congress for NASA in your professional capacity, but does not take away your citizen’s right to participate in the discussion. You may use your private citizen status to write a letter, make a phone call, etc. voicing your opinion. Just be extra careful you’re not using government time, computers, fax machines, letterhead, etc. and make sure in your text to identify it as your personal opinion based on your experience as a scientist, not representing the government. If you’re still skeptical, contact your home org and ask them for guidance.

    • April 12, 2011 8:26 pm

      Thanks for clarifying that, Barb! I’m on user lists still at SLAC and occasionally email goes out on policy issues with the same admonishments: don’t use your grant computers or lab resources to contact your representatives.

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