By Laura Szymanki, GSA Science Policy Fellow
District visits, visits to members of Congress’ local office, are an opportunity for scientists to integrate themselves in the political process without having to travel to Washington, D.C. Meeting with members of Congress is a great way to become engaged in science policy by building a relationship with the member and their staff so that when a science-related issue comes up they have an existing connection and resource to ask for input on that topic.
Following GSA’s Northeastern Section Meeting in Portland, Maine, Science Policy Fellow Laura Szymanski led a group of GSA members- Don Siegel, Steve Pollock, Ryan Gordon, Mark Jordan, and Andy Reeve – in district visits to the offices of Rep. Pingree (D-ME), Sen. Collins (R-ME), and Sen. King (I-ME).
These meetings occurred when members of Congress were not in session in Washington, D.C. and back in their home state district offices for a district work period. While we unfortunately did not have the opportunity to meet with the members of Congress, we did meet with their staffers, which is the norm, who then relay all information discussed to the member and if appropriate the member’s D.C. office staff.
At these meetings, GSA members discussed their research, including ocean modeling, groundwater hydrology, and geologic mapping, and highlighted the importance of federal funding for scientific research. As these meetings took place shortly after the release of the President’s budget request and two of the members are on Appropriation committees, the main ask was for support of geoscience funding. To support the conversation, the group used GSA’s position statement on Public Investment in Earth Science Research.
Don Siegel, GSA’s President-Elect, has participated in congressional visits on Capitol Hill and in local offices. Says Siegel, “I found visiting Maine congressional offices during NE GSA in Portland very interesting, indeed, and congressional staff appreciated us getting to the “ask” quickly so we could discuss content and science.”
Rep. Pingree’s staffer discussed Pingree’s sustainable agriculture priorities and asked questions concerning water resources related to Maine aquifers. The staffer for Sen. Collins discussed residential wells and upcoming legislation to address state funding and education concerning well contamination.
Following the visits, Andy Reeve said, “Meeting with the congressional staffers was a rewarding experience that underscored the importance of voicing my concerns and offering my expertise to decision makers. The staff for the senators and representatives that we met with seemed open to our concerns and interested in our opinions. Participating in these meetings made me less cynical about political activism and the potential to instill change from within our political system.”
During the meeting, some of the staffers asked specific questions that required attendees to conduct some research prior to providing a response, such as specifics on how much NSF, NOAA, and USDA funding their institutions received and water quality and quantity statistics related to a specific aquifer. Following the meeting and determining the answers to these questions, the GSA members then followed up by emailing the staffers and thanking them for taking the meeting, briefly restated their ask, and answering the staffer’s questions that arose during the meeting.
Science policy updates are available on GSA’s website, as well as further information on how to have successful district visits. The GSA’s Washington, D.C. based policy staff is also available to help coordinate and support district visits and can be reached by email. GSA also participates in an annual event, Geoscience Congressional Visit Day, where scientists travel to D.C. to meet with their members of Congress and advocate for geoscience research.