APS News

APS Units, Members Get More Political

By Pamela Zerbinos

Lobbying on Capitol Hill
lobbying
Photo Credit: Susan Ginsberg
Bob Behringer of Duke University (left) discusses science policy with Robert Gordon, Legislative Director for Senator John Edwards (D-NC) and Kathryn Marks, Policy Director for Senator Edwards.
The APS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) is responsible for the Society's efforts to lobby Congress on behalf of the physical sciences. Recently, a growing number of individual APS members and units have begun participating in this effort, both within OPA and by undertaking lobbying on their own.

Last year, for example, the Division of Condensed Matter Physics supported an additional APS Senior Policy Fellow to assist the lobbying efforts of the OPA.

"The DCMP has felt that physics in general needed more lobbying in Congress," said division chair Donald Gubser. "The APS did have one fellow, but we felt they were overworked and needed more help." The DCMP paid for the fellow out of its own coffers for one year, and this year many of the other divisions have chipped in to help cover the costs.

"Having two fellows has definitely made the office more than twice as effective," said APS Executive Officer Judy Franz.

Gubser agrees, saying he has seen an increase in the efficacy of the OPA, but also in the lobbying efforts of the members of DCMP.

"Members come a day early almost every time they come [to Washington]," he said, "they write letters at APS meetings, and this is pushed by our policy fellow."

Other units have taken a different approach and started to do their own lobbying.

"This all got started about two years ago," said William Carithers, vice-chair of the Division of Particles and Fields. "We set up a group to step back and take a look at what the DPF was doing, how we could better serve our membership and the field, and what new initiatives could be useful."

Two standing DPF subcommittees came out of those meetings: the Education and Outreach committee, and the Government Liaison committee, which Carithers now chairs.

"Initially," Carithers said, "we thought more in terms of the educational aspect, of just making sure the congress and state government were aware of the issues in our field. But we came to the conclusion that approach was not going to be effective enough, and that what was required was more traditional lobbying."

To that end, the committee is currently in the process of setting up a telephone and e-mail tree that will assign each congressional representative a DPF member from their district. Some congressmen, such as members of key appropriations committees, will have multiple DPF members assigned to them.

"Basically, we want to make sure that every member is covered and that key members receive a full-court press," Carithers said. When there is a key issue before Congress, such as H.R. 34, which proposes to increase the budget of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the DPF members are supposed to call their appointed representatives and urge support of the measure.

They use what Carithers calls the "three-tier method, which is not quite as original as we first thought."

The tier-one message is the most important and the broadest, and it's the one representatives should hear first. It's also very simple: Increase funding for the physical sciences.

"It's something that all the physical sciences professional societies can get behind," Carithers said. "This way, over and over, Congress will hear this message first. Hopefully, this will head off some of the bad feelings that arise when people go to Congress and just push their pet project. The message gets too fragmented that way."

This doesn't mean Carithers advocates totally ignoring pet projects, however.

"The strategy is," he said, "if your tier-one message is well-received, you follow up and say, 'By the way, I work in the field of high energy physics and we're on the verge of doing incredible things like discovering supersymmetric partners and extra dimensions, but we're being held back by a lack of funding.' If you're still getting a sympathetic response, then you go on to tier three programs, key initiatives within the discipline like improving accelerator R&D. That's where your pet projects come in, but you only get there after you've talked about tier one and tier two."

The OPA supports this approach, and has been encouraging individual Society members to get involved with lobbying representatives from their home districts. For this year's Unit Convocation, which took place on February 1, the OPA invited the unit representatives to come to Washington one day early to do some lobbying. Of the 65 participants in the Convocation, 26 accepted the invitation.

The participants made their own appointments to see their representatives (it's much easier for a constituent to make an appointment than it is for APS to get one), and attended an hour-long crash course on lobbying given by the OPA staff.

"We spent lots of time talking about how to have a successful meeting," said Susan Ginsberg, the congressional fellow who led the course. "You start with the 'Asks,' what you want them to do for you. Their time is extremely valuable, so it's critically important to get this out of the way first and front-load your requests."

"It was a very positive and worthwhile experience," said Robert Behringer of Duke University. After the crash course, Behringer visited the offices of Sen. John Edwards and Rep. Robin Hayes, both from North Carolina, and went along for moral support to the offices of Reps. John Boozman (R-Ark.) and John Peterson (R-Pa.).

The lobbyists' key message was the same as DPF's tier-one message: Increase funding for the physical sciences, and support H.R. 34.

"Everyone was very enthusiastic and interested in what we had to say," said Anne Cattla, chair-elect of the Forum for Graduate Student Affairs. Cattla spoke with representatives from her home state of Kansas.

"I'd never lobbied before," Cattla said, "because I didn't think anyone would listen. But I read a lot of newspapers and I'm aware of what's going on and I'm always talking about what I think about these things. When I heard about this [lobbying event], I decided I should stand up for what I believe is important."

Based on their experiences, Cattla and Behringer both said they plan to do more lobbying in the future, and Cattla hopes to convince members of the FGSA to join her.

"It definitely has a nontrivial impact," Behringer said. "By the time a given office gets ten to 20 letters or phone calls, they start to take notice."

"They're very happy to hear from their constituents," said Cattla. "One of the aides had spoken to people from the APS before, but they'd never spoken to someone from Kansas. It made a big difference."


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