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Despite cuts to many other agencies, scientific research seemed to be largely protected in the recently passed “minibus” bill funding multiple federal agencies in 2012. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation and the science division of NASA all got significant boosts in their budgets. Those who worked with lawmakers on the budget said that input from scientists and scientific organizations was instrumental in getting members of Congress to continue to fund research.
“Throughout the year, APS members played a role in advocating for science budgets,” said Michael Lubell, APS Director of Public Affairs. “It’s not just APS members; it’s cumulative when you look at science, engineering and mathematics across the board.”
Brian Mosley, APS grassroots manager, said that reaching out to Congress is important for scientists if they want congressional support of scientific research to continue. He warned that if scientists remain disengaged from the political process, it’s easy for the needs of scientific research to get overlooked by lawmakers.
“Elected officials won’t go out on a limb on issues that won’t affect a large number of their constituents,” Mosley said. “We’re not the only ones who have to explain why we need to get funding every year.”
Every year, APS works to mobilize its members to act and support federal funding of research. Mosley said that emailed alerts are an effective way of engaging the membership. Usually only a handful are sent out per year, but they often generate significant response from the membership. In 2011, two alerts generated 7,685 messages to Congress.
“These are the emails that we send out to APS members when very important legislation comes up on the Hill,” Mosley said. He highlighted the alert sent out in February after House Resolution 1 called for major cuts to science funding. “We sent that out to members and asked them to voice their concerns about it.”
Similarly, APS operates “Contact Congress” booths at its four biggest meetings. Members attending the meetings can sign a prepared letter in support of science research and address it to their members of Congress. After the end of the meetings, hard copies of the letters are printed and physically delivered to the lawmakers to whom they are addressed. Last year, 2,378 such letters were sent to Capitol Hill.
Opportunities are also provided for APS members to personally visit the offices of their congressional representative. In 2011, the Society organized about 100 such meetings with members of Congress or their staff. This often included members of Congress from states that have large physicist communities, like California, Illinois, New York and Texas, as well as states that aren’t known as much for having large populations of scientists such as Kansas, Idaho and Washington.
Though the budget for 2012 featured increases for federally supported science, advocates are worried about the budget in 2013. After the failure of the so-called Super Committee to reach an agreement on deficit control, the federal non-defense budget is looking at a likely 8 percent cut across the board next year. Many are worried that without an increase in advocacy, science funding may take a major hit.
“If the science community takes a back seat, then the federal budget for science will also take a back seat,” Lubell said.
Both Mosley and Lubell said that while the level of participation from the scientific community has so far been encouraging, they hoped to see more in the upcoming year. Already they’re planning on actions to mobilize researchers in the hopes of insulating scientific research from cuts as much as possible.
“I think we have ample data that shows that scientific discovery and innovation are the things that drive the American economy, and they’re also key for national security, defense and energy security,” Lubell said. “It’s extremely important for the [scientific] community to organize itself and deal with office holders, and tell them it’s not just for us personally; it’s for the good of the country.”
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Editor: Alan Chodos