Physicists from 31 states dropped in on Congress

Capitol Hill Visit
Photo provided by Congresswoman Berkley's office

Several physicists from Nevada meet with Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) during a Capitol Hill visit. Left to right: Dr. Philippe Weck, Zachary Quine, Dr. Eunja Kim, Representative Shelley Berkley (NV-1st), Dr. Michael Pravica, Ed Romano Brian Yulga.

Over two days in March, more than 100 physicists and physics students took time off from the APS March Meeting in Baltimore to discuss the importance of science research funding with their individual Congressional representatives.

"Carrying the message to individual offices remains one of the best means of influencing a Member of Congress," says Kimberly Regan, science policy fellow with the APS Washington office, of the incentive behind organizing the event. "The advantageous location of this year's meeting provided an exciting opportunity to have attendees from as many districts and states as possible travel to Washington, D.C., to educate Congress on the importance of science funding."

Following a briefing in Baltimore, participants were bused to Capitol Hill. They met with staffers — and in some cases the members themselves — in 153 Congressional offices from 31 states. The emphasis was primarily on encouraging Congress to fully fund the Bush administration's FY07 budget request as outlined in the American Competitiveness Initiative. This includes an 8% increase for NSF, a 14% increase for the DOE Office of Science and an 18% increase for NIST. Participants also urged Congressional members to increase NASA's science budget by at lease 3%, in line with the current rate of inflation for research.

Another focus of the visits was to encourage Congressional members to sign "Dear Colleague" letters circulating in the House and Senate, calling for support of the budget requests for NSF and DOE. Many were first-time signers, which Regan credits to the efforts of APS members during the visits. The event also had more long-term objectives, namely, demonstrating to APS members the importance of informing their elected officials about what physicists do, and encouraging them to become more active in this regard.

Congressional Visits DaysMarie Mapes of the University of Wisconsin met with staffers from five offices of members of Congress from her district. Mapes decided to participate in the Congressional visits "because I wanted to let my representatives know how best to represent me," she said. "Now that I know it is relatively easy to access our members of Congress, I'm much more likely to approach them again about issues that are important to me."

While describing the outcome as "a terrific start" to the appropriations process, Regan emphasized, "We view these visits as part of our members developing a relationship with an office rather than a one-time event." The hope is that members will follow up in the future, make visits to home offices, and perhaps even invite staff members of Congressional representatives to visit their laboratories.

In turn, Congressional offices might find APS members to be a valuable resource on science and technology policy issues. The APS Washington office also set up a "Contact Congress" booth at the Baltimore Convention Center, encouraging more than 1100 attendees to sign letters to their representatives on the Hill. Those letters were hand-delivered to Congressional offices later in the week.

Capitol Hill Reception
Ken Cole, American Physical Society

Four APS members, two of them members of Congress, shared the podium at an APS sponsored reception on Capitol Hill, held in conjunction with the Congressional visits on March 15. At the microphone is PhD physicist Rush Holt (NJ-12th). Standing with him is another physicist Representative, Vernon Ehlers (MI-3rd), together with event organizers Charles Clark of NIST and Susan Coppersmith of the University of Wisconsin.