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ACS News

August 28, 2006
Volume 84, Number 35
p. 47

COMMENT

Helping Congress Understand Science

Diane Grob Schmidt, ACS District II Director

Did you know that the American Chemical Society is regularly conducting high-quality scientific briefings on Capitol Hill to educate members of Congress and their staff about a wide variety of scientific topics and issues? The fact is, the ACS Science & the Congress program has become a respected and admired icon on Capitol Hill, and I want to take this opportunity to describe this exciting program to you.

The society frequently receives requests from Capitol Hill to plan and organize briefings on a wide variety of emerging issues and topics. The program was started in 1995, soon after the abolishment of the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, which was a nonpartisan analytical agency that assisted Congress with the complex and highly technical issues that increasingly affect our society.

It seemed quite natural for ACS to become involved in this area:

  • ACS has a unique federal charter that was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937. It broadly calls upon ACS to share scientific knowledge with a broad constituency, including Congress and the executive branch.
  • As the world's largest scientific organization, ACS through its members has access to a tremendous reservoir of scientific expertise that is applied on a daily basis in our workplaces, classrooms, and laboratories, and that expertise has great value in the halls of Congress.
  • The program addresses a real need. Fewer than 10% of our 435 elected representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives and 100 senators have any type of science or technical training or education. Yet, on a regular basis, they are asked to vote on educational, research, innovation, and environmental initiatives that are critical to our nation's economy and to the health and well-being of our citizens.

Since 1995, the Science & the Congress project has conducted 107 briefings to increase the level of awareness and knowledge about science and technology and how they related to policy issues. While the main audiences for the briefings are members of Congress and their staff, the media and federal agency officials, as well as representatives from other sister scientific societies, trade associations, and the private sector, are typically in attendance.

A good example of how ACS partners with Congress is a Science & the Congress briefing we were requested to sponsor by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) soon after the October 2005 release of the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) blockbuster report "Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future."

Both senators recognized that America's global competitive edge was waning, and they asked the National Academy of Sciences to examine this problem and make recommendations on how to address this increasingly critical issue. ACS arranged a briefing entitled "Maintaining Our Competitive Edge in Science Education and Research" and assembled a distinguished group of panelists to discuss the report's findings and recommendations. James Burke, chair of the ACS Board of Directors, opened and closed the session, which proved to be one of the largest and most successful briefings ever held. Soon after the briefing, numerous bills were introduced in the Senate and later in the House of Representatives seeking to implement the NAS report's recommendations. I'm proud to say that ACS played a large role in this legislative development process and continues to do so as you read this article.

It would be impossible to address all of the topics that the Science & the Congress program has covered in this comment. I hope I've sparked your interest to seek additional information and peruse those topics online at the Science & the Congress website and even watch or listen to some of the briefings at chemistry.org/government/scproject/index.html.

In closing, I'd like to encourage readers to share with me at science_congress@acs.org any ideas you may have for future Science & the Congress briefings and speakers to improve Congress' understanding of science in support of better policy.

Thanks for reading, and thanks in advance for your ideas for future briefings!


Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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