A resolution passed by the House on October 28 (H. Con. Res. 279) recognizes the 30th anniversary of the Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and pledges continued congressional support for the program. The resolution, which has now been referred to the Senate, finds that "Fellows bring to the Congress new insights and ideas, extensive knowledge, and perspectives from a variety of disciplines."
Intended to honor the 30th anniversary of the AAAS program (the celebration of which was postponed until May 2004 because of a hurricane in Washington, DC), the resolution further states that "Members of Congress hold the AAAS Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship Program in high regard for the substantial contributions that Fellows have made, serving both in personal offices and on committee staff." It reaffirms the House's "commitment to support the use of science in governmental decision-making" through the Fellowship program.
During discussion on the floor, several Members of Congress spoke in praise of the Fellowships. Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-CA), called the Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowships "a shining example of a collaborative program that benefits all who participate." The fellowships, he said, are "a remarkable partnership between Congress and the 30 or so participating professional societies that select and fund the Fellows."
APS, the American Institute of Physics, and numerous other scientific societies all sponsor Congressional Fellows under the auspices of the AAAS program. The APS was one of the original societies to participate in the program. The Congressional Fellowships enable qualified individuals to spend a year on Capitol Hill, working in the office of a Member of Congress or for a congressional committee. Fellows interview with personal offices and congressional committees to select an assignment that interests them. They do not act as representatives of their sponsoring organizations during their time on Capitol Hill; their only responsibility is to the congressional office in which they choose to serve.
Some Fellows accept permanent positions on Capitol Hill or in federal agencies after their Fellowships, while others return to academia or industry, to share their experience of the legislative process with others in the science community. The APS 1982-1983 Congressional Science Fellow, Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), was eventually elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he is now serving in his third term.
"For 30 years, the fellowship program has brought together Members of Congress with leading scientific practitioners and scholars in a variety of scientific fields," said Holt (a co-sponsor of the resolution) during the floor debate. And this has provided a level of scientific expertise not otherwise found on most congressional staffs, and it presents the congressional fellows with an intimate role in the process of decision-making in public policy."
Holt is one of only two physicists to ever serve in Congress, along with Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), who introduced the resolution, and called the rarity of physicists in Congress "an indictment of the scientific community because we should have more scientists in the Congress, but most scientists tend to shy away from this particular type of activity." He praised the fellowship program for filling that gap. "They provide some very badly needed scientific advice....[and] are extremely important in maintaining the scientific competence of the Congress, both House and Senate."
—Audrey T. Leath, AIP
Editor's note: For details on applying for the APS Congressional Fellowship Programs, see http://www.aps.org/policy/fellowships/index.cfm All application materials must be postmarked by January 15, 2004.
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Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette