The mission: visiting with Congressional Legislators
The message: support for funding science research and education in fiscal year 2013
The visit: less than 2 days
The challenge: accepted by a group of more than 25 people, made up of Science Societies members and leaders, along with some of the top graduate students from across the country
By Teri Barr
Visits an Opportunity to Advocate for Science Research and Education
It’s called Congressional Visits Day. But the name doesn’t share the excitement, stress or desire of those participating in the recent opportunity to have their voices heard in an effort to protect science funding.
Overall, the idea is pretty simple: federal funding for scientific research is essential for many reasons and the benefits extend far beyond the important work being done in schools and labs. It also creates jobs.
The American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), and Soil Science Society of America’s (SSSA) Science Policy Staff in Washington, D.C. supports the proposed budget which includes $7.373 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), an increase of 4.8 percent or $340 million. And in turn, NSF supports fundamental scientific discovery in the United States. One example is Google, which was founded by two NSF-supported graduate students and currently employs thousands of people. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is another development from NSF-backed research and now used by businesses, law enforcement and the government for quickly compiling and sharing data when dealing with everything from a disaster area to precision agriculture. The funding for NSF is considered an investment, keeping the country’s research and education systems healthy and competitive. It also creates needed public-private partnerships. And again, it creates jobs.
If you’re not yet convinced, here’s what Colorado State University student Grace Lloyd Miner said to Colorado 4th District Representative Cory Gardner, “The funding will help in the discovery of different crops to deal with the problem of water security, especially when trying to feed a growing population. I’m lucky my research training in crop stress physiology will mean I’ll have a job to help answer the need for food in the future.”
(Photo at Congressional Visits Day 2012: Colorado State University student Grace Lloyd Miner speaks across a small table in a meeting room to Colorado 4th District Representative Cory Gardner. Seated to her left, American Society of Agronomy President Ken Barbarick and visible to her right, Certified Crop Advisor and Society Member Fred Vocasek)
Lessons and Legislators are a Whirlwind
The visits with Legislators and their staff are a whirlwind. A tightly packed schedule keeps participants, divided into 8 groups, moving between the House and Senate office buildings, often running into other organizations who are visiting for the same or even a different funding reason. And it helps to know a little about the appropriations processes following the President’s budget proposal. We received a brush-up on this, NSF’s most recent funding, and current activity in Congress—all before heading out the door to ask for this important support.
And being prepared, paid off. University of Wisconsin Stevens Point student Waneta Kratz ended up being asked numerous questions by Wisconsin 7th District Representative Sean Duffy during her visit. He wanted to know how NSF grants tie-in to agriculture and also wondered if Kratz knew which schools receive support. She did and offered her answers, in the end saying, “Research funding is important in almost every step of agribusiness. Corn, soybeans or pork all carry a common theme. And it is a bright spot in the state’s economy.”
Senior Lab Agronomist and Certified Crop Advisor Fred Vocasek of Servi-Tech Laboratories in Kansas is also an ASA member who decided to take the lead role on his team. It meant getting the visit started in the right direction, knowing he often only had a few minutes to do it. Vocasek later telling me, he’s glad he took part, saying, “We were received well by staffers and Congressmen alike. Things went smoothly. The graph of (past) NSF allocations by state was met with a universal comment of ‘this is very useful.’ ”
Texas A&M University Professor and ASA, CSSA, SSSA Member David Baltensperger shared a similar reaction. “It was great to work on the Congressional Visits Day program. Our group certainly had a positive response to the NSF ask,” says Baltensperger.
(Photo at Congressional Visits Day 2012: University of Wisconsin Stevens Point student Waneta Kratz with Wisconsin 7th District Representative Sean Duffy)
Reaction and the Process Underway
The day is declared a success. Colorado State University Professor and ASA President Ken Barbarick says, “The visits were very beneficial. I also thank everyone who participated and represented our 3 societies and your respective institutions. You are all excellent role models and great spokespeople.”
I also came back with a feeling of pride, knowing the efforts to raise awareness for NSF funding on the Hill was an extreme success, both on an individual level, and for our Science Societies. Everyone did their homework and quickly came together in support of the science research and education we all believe is important now, but will only become more critical in the future.
And with the rest of the budget process underway-- we’ll just have to wait and see.
Appropriations holds hearings and goes through several rounds of voting before possible approval in the fall. And keep in mind, November is a Presidential election. The new fiscal year for Congress begins in October, but Legislators can always pass a resolution to basically keep the government running under the current plan until all bills are passed and signed into law.
We know they heard our message.
But were they listening?