APS Members Make Case for Science on Capitol Hill

By Michael Lucibella

Sen John Thune and R. Zach Lamberty
Photo by Jodi Lieberman/APS

Each year, APS participates in a Congressional Visit Day, sponsored by the Science, Engineering and Technology Working Group. Scientists travel to Washington from all over the country for a day of visits with their senators and representatives, to make the case for science on the Hill. In the photo, R. Zach Lamberty (right), who is currently a graduate student at Cornell, chats with his state senator, Republican John Thune, of South Dakota, during this year’s CVD on April 25.

APS took a lead role in securing the future of scientific research through its recent Congressional Visits Day in which more than three dozen scientists descended on Capitol Hill.

The day involved influential members of the physics community – including APS President Robert Byer – stressing to their congressional representatives the critical need to support strong funding levels for science agencies.

President Obama submitted his budget for 2013 to Congress in February, which largely protects science research from overall cuts. However, the House of Representatives, which has since passed bills funding the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), cut the DOE Office of Science (DOE-SC) by 3.8 percent below the President’s request and by 1.6% below FY 2012 levels. 

“The president in his State of the Union address made it very clear that science is a priority, and in fact, that is what he followed through on. If you look at the budget request, you will see there are many reductions in programs that are very near the hearts of Democrats. Science escaped the scapel,” said Michael S. Lubell, APS director of public affairs “The administration is certainly behind an overall scientific agenda.” 

However, at the beginning of next year, the future of spending becomes less certain.

Non-defense discretionary spending is facing a 9 percent reduction, and military spending is facing an 11 percent reduction as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act’s automatic reductions known as “sequestrations.”

The reductions would be unprecedented in their breadth and magnitude.

“The proposed cuts are contrary to recommendations of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Debt Commission, which last year identified federal research and development (R&D) as an area of U.S. investment too critical to be cut,” said Jodi Lieberman, senior government relations specialist at APS.

The constrained budget environment has scientists concerned about the future of the research enterprise, which has been a principal driver of the American economy. 

“Science funding is extremely important to the American economy. Basic research has created many jobs, especially indirectly,” said Laura Boon, a graduate student at Perdue University, who was one of the APS members who visited congressional representatives on Capitol Hill.

Added Daniel Cox, professor at the University of California, Davis, “I think it’s a good thing to contact Congress, and my expectation is that you really can make a difference if you make a connection with your representatives. If they don’t hear from us, they will forget about us.”

Jennifer L. Ross, assistant professor of physics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said funding science is critical to the steady pipeline of researchers who solve the nation’s many challenges.

“If we don’t start funding science, we will lose a generation of scientists,” she said.

Ross also explained that she wants to continue to train scientists whose knowledge sparks creativity, leading to innovations and jobs for the economy.

“If I get a grant, I am ready to hire three people. And they aren’t all Ph.D.s. I hire technicians with bachelor’s of science and bachelor’s of arts degrees and train them in the lab,” she said.

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