Legislative action: The next frontier?

domingo, 28 de dezembro de 2014

The editorial in the November 14, 2014 issue of Science (Volume 346; page 791) highlighted the major changes in Congress, with at least 62 new members arriving in January 2015, along with new staff. Few will be expert in science, and most will be consumed by major issues such as immigration, and Middle East, Asia, and Africa issues, etc. None of the new people have declared a major interest in science. Yet, many issues such as Ebola, water and floods, climate changes, hunger, earthquakes and oil spills will be based, in significant part, on science, including Animal Science. Information is empowerment for legislators, and information is the business of scientists. Unfortunately, while elected people are skillful in addressing the public, in an understatement the Science editorial concluded, “Politicians know how to be visible and accountable to the taxpayer, scientists not so much.”

Given the lobbyists in Washington, unless scientists become involved, new people in Congress will be unlikely to focus on issues that affect science and scientists. Aggravating this problem, legislative action at most universities is the domain of the administration, not the faculty. Universities would be well advised to find ways to involve more key faculty in this work, hopefully to improve the ways in which they interact with Congress and state legislatures. Projected 2015 federal funding for science has declined about 16% (adjusted for inflation) from fiscal 2010, and many state legislatures have been no more generous. Unless we change our relationships with the people who enact law in Washington and state capitols, our future underpinnings are not rosy.

The agricultural commodity groups all have Washington offices to address their legislative interests and they can help animal science, but their top priorities must be the well-being of their members. Fortunately, the American Society of Animal Science had a good start. Their Board of Directors had the foresight in 1987 to appoint a full-time Ph.D. animal scientist to represent the Society in Washington. More recently, with the creation of the Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS), no single person in Washington has been dedicated to ASAS alone. Rather, this work has been done by two part-time people employed by FASS, and they have represented all of the FASS societies. ASAS also annually has supported, with the other FASS societies, a year-long Congressional Science Fellow for a Ph.D.-level animal or food scientist, and ASAS alone supports a Science Policy Summer Internship Program for students. Unfortunately, by comparison with the opportunities, these ASAS efforts only begin to tackle the Animal Science needs in Washington, and not at all in most state capitols.

What to do? Scientists have always been creative. For their part, Animal Scientists have been at the frontiers of many new disciplines, quite recently genetic engineering and molecular biology, for example, and they can be equally innovative in creating new ways to provide information for legislators. At universities, while animal scientists will necessarily compete with all of the other disciplinary units, they could take the lead in creating new methods to optimize relationships with our elected representatives.

ASAS is especially well-suited to represent animal scientists, for example, by expanding some of the present activities mentioned above. Even more importantly, through their existing committee structure, ASAS also could advise universities on how new methods might be developed to affect our legislative interests. Every state land grant institution already has ongoing working relationships with their state legislature, but we have not been as effective as most would like. Through their creativity, Animal Scientists expanded the frontiers in other fields. Why not ask them to create new ways to optimize their relationships with state legislatures and Washington? Since education is one of our main businesses, seminars based on current legislative issues/activities may be effective in some states; some contributors chosen from the legislature or Congress. The rewards from this kind of training may even justify an undergraduate-level course so that every graduating animal scientist may have some working understanding of how legislation is created.

With a new Congress made of new committee memberships and leaders, 2015 would be an excellent year to get ourselves better organized to work with legislators, both in Washington and in our state capitols.

Related articles:

Effective science communication with Congress

NAAAS: Voice of advocacy for animal sciences