OSA and SPIE Go to Congress
Anne L. Fischer
Members of the Optical Society of America (OSA) and SPIE took up the cause of increasing US government investment in research and development by going to Washington to meet with members of Congress. The group joined more than 200 scientists, engineers and business leaders for the 10th annual Congressional Visits Day held May 10 and 11 and sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology (SET) Work Group. The goal of the two-day event is to bring important issues before policy-makers. SPIE Executive Director Eugene Arthurs believes that better communication and some education on the issues will lead to political decisions that
are more supportive of science and technology.
The SET Work Group is an information network that includes scientific and engineering societies, higher education associations, colleges and trade associations, with the goal of advancing sciences, mathematics and engineering in the US.
Congressional Visits Day began with 2 1/2 hours of talks by government administrators and congressional staff members, including Kathie L. Olsen, associate director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Hratch G. Semerjian, acting director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology; David J. Goldston, chief of staff for the House Committee on Science; and William B. Bonvillian, legislative director and chief counsel for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn.
Expected budget cuts
The group also attended a briefing on the research and development budget, presented by Kei Koizumi of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He indicated that the federal R&D budget is at an all-time high of $132 billion but that, with flat funding for many agencies, it will increase just 0.1 percent in 2006.
Additionally, under the current budget, federal research funding will fall 1.4 percent next year. Although modest increases are planned for space exploration and homeland security R&D, there will be cuts for the US Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US Geological Survey and the US Department of Agriculture's agricultural, nanotechnology and information technology R&D. He explained that hard choices are ahead for some agencies. For example, NASA will have more funds for the space station and space exploration technologies, but physical and environmental research will decline.
In the evening, the group attended a reception, where the George E. Brown Jr. Science-Engineering-Technology Leadership Award was presented to Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, R-Mich., and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. The award is given annually by the SET Work Group to those who advocate federal government support of research and who play an active role to advance SET public policy.
Bingaman was honored for his leadership efforts to increase federal investment in R&D, particularly through the DoE. Ehlers, who holds a PhD in nuclear physics, was recognized for his support and advocacy of federal investment in science, engineering and technology and for his promotion of the role of science and engineering education.
Message to lawmakers
Elizabeth Kunkee, a staff engineer with Northrop Grumman Corp. in Redondo Beach, Calif., and an OSA member, took part in the congressional visits. She indicated that the event serves two purposes. "One is to bring a message to Congress that R&D secures our nation's future." The other is that scientists and engineers who may never have been involved in the legislative process get the chance to go to Washington and gain insight into how federal money is allocated.
On the second day in Washington, the group visited individual members of Congress. Kunkee said that the approach has gained sophistication over the 10 years of the meetings, with briefing papers prepared in advance so that everyone is delivering the same message. The participants were grouped according to society and visited offices in which at least one of them was a constituent. They often met with aides, but sometimes the member of Congress was present.
Kunkee said that individuals also took up their own issues of importance to their group. The OSA tried to educate aides about how R&D works, giving them specific examples of applications in homeland security, defense and education. They also voiced their support for legislation that proposed assisting students in math and science fields.
Although the Congressional Visits Day has been going on for some time, there seems to be an increased sense of urgency, she said. She pointed to funding for the physical sciences, which has been flat or declining, with a specific portion devoted to basic research. What distinguishes America is its high-tech economic engine, she said, "and we need committed basic research."
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