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PGNet and You

By D. Allan Bromley (APS President) and Robert Schrieffer (APS Past President)

The following message summarizes the 1996 grassroots legislative affairs of the American Physical Society. It was sent to the nearly 1,000 APS members who have volunteered to contact their Member of Congress when they receive an alert from the APS Washington Office. The activities of these APS members have been critical to the welfare of the entire physics community. We applaud their efforts and on behalf of the APS we express our thanks.

The APS established the Physics and Government Network (PGNet) three years ago to respond to the federal budget challenges that were then already evident on the science horizon. Today, the PGNet has grown to 1,000 participants, far beyond our original expectations. Indeed, as members of the network, many of you have played a significant role in helping to shape federal science policy during these very difficult times by ably responding when we called upon you for congressional action.

During 1996, we issued five PGNet alerts. In each instance, we notified only those of you whose Members of Congress were playing key roles in pending legislation. To those of you whom we contacted, we say thank you for your help on behalf of the APS membership. Below, we provide you with a summary of the 1996 issues in which PGNet participated and what the results were.

If we did not contact you last year, please remember that we still need you. Committee assignments have been reshuffled in the new 105th Congress, and the critical issues may change. If your Representative and Senators were not heavily involved in science policy activities in 1996, they may well be in the coming year.

One lesson that we learned well from our 1996 activities is that our success on policy issues improves whenever the scientific community speaks with a broad, consistent and strong voice. Therefore, as part of our APS efforts in 1997 we are attempting to improve our cooperation with other scientific societies. We hope, too, that with vigilance, we may avoid some of the crises that erupted in 1996. Still, some crises are inevitable, and your participation in the PGNet is crucial if we are to preserve our nation's leadership in science.

Summary of 1996 PGNet Activities


ISSUE: Proposed sale of the nation's strategic helium reserve.
STRATEGY: The APS Council issued a statement urging Congress to halt the sale. The APS Washington Office publicized the issue in major print media. Letters were sent to all Members of Congress with the APS Council statement and press clippings included. Meetings were held with White House and congressional staff and key industrial leaders. An alert was sent to PGNet members matched to key members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
OUTCOME: Bipartisan acceptance of an amendment to require the National Academy of Sciences to report on the technological implications of selling the helium reserve before any sale can occur. The amendment was included in the final legislation and was signed into law.


ISSUE: Lack of full year appropriations for NSF with potential loss of $75 million for FY 1996.
STRATEGY: An alert was sent to all PGNet members and then to all 20,000 APS members with listed e-mail addresses. The alerts resulted in more than 2000 direct contacts by physicists to Members of Congress. Other science societies carried out similar initiatives. The APS Washington Office also initiated direct contact with Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston.
OUTCOME: Livingston pledged to take up the NSF issue at the earliest possible date. An omnibus appropriations bill passed in March that restored full funding to NSF.


ISSUE: Proposed major cuts to the DOE's FY 1997 research budget.
STRATEGY: The APS Council issued a statement urging the Administration and Members of Congress to maintain funding for the DOE Office of Energy Research (OER). The APS Council statement was sent to members of the House Budget Committee, House Science Committee, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, House and Senate Appropriations Committees, and Executive Branch officials. Early in the budget cycle, an alert was sent to members of the PGNet who were constituents of members of the House Budget Committee. Then, last September, an alert was sent to PGNet members who were constituents of the conference committee for Energy and Water Appropriations.
OUTCOME: The Senate Appropriations Bill increased spending for OER by 2.5%; the House Bill called for flat funding. The House and Senate conferees split the difference, resulting in slightly more than a 1% increase in spending for OER relative to FY 1996.


ISSUE: Late in the budget cycle last June, the conferees on the Budget Resolution agreed to increase domestic discretionary funding by $4 billion, adding 350 million to the VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee which funds the NSF.
STRATEGY: An alert was sent to PGNet members who were constituents of the House VA-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee. Appropriators were urged to put some of the additional money into the NSF budget. The NSF itself was unable to make headway.
OUTCOME: No money was added to the NSF budget.

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin