APS Member Steven Shapiro (left) of Guilford College, visits his Representative, Howard Coble (R-NC) on Congressional Visit Day in May. (Christina Hood/APS)
At the APS March Meeting in Seattle, the Division of Condensed Matter Physics and the APS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) sponsored a campaign to encourage physicists to write to their Congressional representatives. The effort was duplicated a month later at the APS April meeting in DC. Conference attendees could sit down at a computer, generate a letter based on sample text, print it out on the spot and leave it to be mailed," said Christina Hood, APS Public Affairs Fellow, who organized the effort. The computer system automatically looked up each individual's legislators based on their APS membership information.
Letters on two topics were sent out: those expressing concern at the proposed cuts for research funding in the Bush administration's budget outline, and those calling for an emphasis on science education in the K-12 education reform currently being formulated. "As with running any system for the first time, there were the usual hardware and software problems," said Hood. Specifically, poor software design made it confusing to use, especially for those unfamiliar with Windows, and printer errors slowed down the process considerably.
However, the technical difficulties seemed to have minimal impact on the response, which was "definitely encouraging," according to Hood. She estimates that about 950 letters were sent out during the March Meeting, addressed to 231 separate legislators, including 74 senators in 40 states.
The April meeting, while significantly smaller, nevertheless showed a similar strong turnout with 500 letters sent out to 165 legislators, of whom 61 were senators. In total, some 277 members of Congress were contacted, 85 of whom were senators. The April meeting culminated with the annual Congressional Visits Day, organized in conjunction with several other DC-based scientific organizations. The event kicked off with an afternoon briefing session, featuring a talk by NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, as well as representatives from the NSF, DOE, NIST, and the Office of Management and Budget.
Participants were coached on the proper protocol for Congressional visits and were provided with a summary of the Federal R&D funding structure. Concluding remarks were delivered by Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX), ranking member of the House Science Committee. Participants attended a continental breakfast briefing the next morning featuring remarks by Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) chair of the House Science Committee, before departing for the day's scheduled visits. In all, some 40 APS members visited approximately 75 different Congressional offices.
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Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette