Geoscientists Meet with Policy Makers on Capitol Hill

by Karen Paczkowski – GSA Science Policy Fellow

Geoscientists from around the country came to Capitol Hill on September 17-18, for the 7th Annual Geoscience Congressional Visits Day (GeoCVD). This two day event, organized by GSA and other geoscience societies, is designed to increase the visibility of geoscience and engagement of geoscientists in public policy. The event is centered around small-group meetings with Representatives, Senators, Congressional Committees, and their core staff members on Capitol Hill, with this year’s event totaling over 100 congressional office meetings. The event also includes an extensive training session to make each of these meetings impactful.

Geoscientists meet with Rep. Chet Edwards (R-TX, third from right) during the 2008 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

Geoscientists meet with Rep. Chet Edwards (R-TX, third from right) during the 2008 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

During the training participants learn the basics of public policy, the outlook for federal funding of geoscience research and education, and gain first hand advice from a panel of congressional staff on how to conduct effective congressional meetings. Scientists learn to formulate their message to legislators, invoking their own research as an example of the importance of federal investment in the geosciences. The training is designed to make participants comfortable with the policy process and able to engage policy makers about their science. Erin Lecky, a current STEPPE intern with GSA, can attest, “It is such a critical time for geoscientists to become engaged in the policy process, but few of us know where to begin. I am so pleased that I got to participate in GeoCVD. This program not only helped me overcome my nervousness, but even made it enjoyable to begin relationships with my congresspeople.”

Tanya Del Valle, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, participates in the 2009 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

Tanya Del Valle, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, participates in the 2009 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

GeoCVD participants are all invited to the US Geological Survey (USGS) Coalition Reception on Capitol Hill, which recognizes policy makers who are champions for the geosciences. This year, Senators Murkowski (R-AK), Wyden (D-OR), Udall (D-CO), and Heller (R-NV) were honored for their support of USGS programs through their bipartisan work as the lead sponsors of the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013. As Kasey White, the Director for Geoscience Policy at GSA and the Treasurer for the USGS Coalition stated, “Their bipartisan work on the Critical Minerals Policy Act of 2013 has helped increase awareness of the important role the USGS plays in assessing domestic and global mineral resources. The Senators clearly understand that we all benefit every day from USGS science. The agency’s research and information contribute to economic growth, improve public health and safety, and enhance our ability to smartly manage our biological, hydrological and geological resources.

Kasey White presents the 2013 USGS Coalition Leadership Award to Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) for his support of hazard and other USGS research.

Kasey White presents the 2013 USGS Coalition Leadership Award to Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) for his support of hazard and other USGS research.

As these and other geoscience issues increasingly appear in the public and policy spheres, geoscientists need to take an active role in informing the policy process. Congressional visits are a great opportunity for geoscientists to come together and present a unified voice about the importance of federal investment in geoscience research and education, as well as build lasting relationships with their representatives as scientific resources for geoscience relevant policy. GSA Past President John Geissman, also a participant in this year’s GeoCVD, stressed this by saying, “My experience at the 2014 Geosciences CVD was most rewarding and informative, and I very much appreciate the efforts of all of the organizers.  Yes, although the word on the Hill regarding federal support for science and technology is certainly not rosy for the near future, it is clearly important for the geoscience community to continue to interact with, and provide support on numerous issues for our nation’s decision makers.”

GSA Executive Director Jack Hess and UCAR scientist Betsy Weatherhead discuss science funding with Senator Bennet.

GSA Executive Director Jack Hess and UCAR scientist Betsy Weatherhead discuss science funding with Senator Bennet during the 2012 Geosciences Congressional Visits Day.

A consistent presence of scientists on Capitol Hill sends a powerful reminder to policy makers of the need not only to verbally support geoscience programs but to financially invest in them as well. By participating in the GeoCVD geoscientists put a face on and personal story behind scientific investment and advocate for the need of continued, robust support for geoscience research and education. The GeoCVD is held annually and is open to all geoscientists. For further information about GeoCVD and on how to participate check out GSA’s CVD website.

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