A Day on The Hill

Posted by barb on Sep 13, 2006 in Pictures, Random Thoughts |

Our group met in the cafeteria of the Rayburn representative office building. Let’s just say it’s a far cry from the Goddard cafeteria. We went over our strategy again before our first visit, and worried about the couple of people who did show up (one turned up in front of the office of our first visit, the other turned up later in the day).

Me in front of Representative Davis' office

The day was mostly low-key with mere moments of action puctuated with hours of waiting. I made 5 visits &#150 4 representative’s offices and 1 senator. Members of our group make a total of 8 visits, but when the schedule between visits was tight (30 minutes), we split the group to make both.

Each meeting went very well. The basic structure of each meeting was: introductions, a few talking points, a few anecdotes relating the NSF to our home institutions or institutions in the congress-person’s district, thank yous and a quick exit. Since the National Science Foundation (NSF) budget has already been through the full House and the Senate appropriations committee, we were basically sending a message of thanks to the congressional offices we visited. In fact, the NSF budget has seen a 7.5% increase in the House, and nearly that in the Senate. The one thing we were requesting was that congress keep the increase through the conference or omnibus bill.

Each meeting went very well. Since most of the VA legislators were in favor of increasing the NSF funding, we were mostly preaching to the choir. In fact, one of our visits was to the chair of the House’s science appropriations committe, in which case we were preaching to the preacher.

I ended up leading our first meeting of the day. It went very well, though I didn’t bring up a few of the points I would have liked to – so much for 20/20 hindsight. As the day wore on, though, our group started to get a good rhythm going, and were able to pick up slack in the conversation when things lagged.

Having said that, there was one member of our group who really brought things down. He was from my district, and was originally supposed to lead the meeting for my representative. Thank FSM he got caught in traffic. He didn’t show up to the orientation last night, so he didn’t know how these meetings were supposed to go. One thing about the meetings is to make a quick exit. So, when things were winding down and we had the staffer on our side, someone would ask what we as scientists could do to help in the future – this was our cue that we were going to cut and run after the answer. This guy, though, just didn’t get that. In at least two meetings that I was in with him, after we had asked the “what can we do for you” question, he would bring up something completely unrelated to what we were talking about and certainly not in the spirit of getting out of there quickly. Ah well. We survived despite this guy.

One thing several people have asked me is whether or not this sort of thing really helps. I have to say that I wondered the same thing going into this project. The answer came when we asked the staffers what we could do for them in the future. Every single one of them said to keep up what we’re doing – contact our congress people, visit our congress people, and have these kinds of lobby days. In fact, the staffer in the House science appropriations committee chair made the point that up until just a few years ago, the math and science lobby seemed to disappear. It took the US’s competitiveness crisis (i.e. that we are not turning out the numbers of scientists and technical graduates that we’re going to need to compete in the global market) for the math and science lobby to return. So, we really need to lobby through letters and visits and make ourselves available as experts on these topics, and we really need to look at this as a long-haul thing, not just something to do until the crisis has passed.

And just one more note: I mentioned that much of the day was waiting. Well, while one of the team members and I were waiting for our final visit, getting a cup of coffee (him) and chai (me) in the Senate coffee shop we saw Jenna Elfman. Who’d ‘a’ thunk?


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