APS Congressional Visit Day 2020
This week, I am in Washington DC for the APS Congressional Visit Day and Annual Leadership Meeting. We started on Wednesday with the Congressional Visit. APS broke us up into teams by region. I’m a Massachusetts voter, so I joined a team of people from Massachusetts and Connecticut. We had six meetings with the offices of Massachusetts Senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Connecticut Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal along with House Representatives James Himes and Rosa DeLauro.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the impeachment trial, the Senate and House office buildings were very quiet. We discussed five different issues (APS policy memos linked below). The top-billed issue was science funding . We also discussed the Keep STEM Talent Act of 2019 (addressing student visas and a path to residency for advanced STEM grads in the US) , a bill to address sexual harassment in science , fugitive methane emissions , and the crisis of liquid helium .
From reading the news, it’s easy to get the idea that policy is irreparably frozen in partisan gridlock. That is certainly true for a lot of issues, but there are also many issues where there is broad bipartisan support (science funding, for example) and other issues where members simply don’t have the information they need to make the best policy decisions. In these cases, constituent visits can make a really big difference.
There is so much I could say about this experience, but I will highlight the helium crisis because it is a good example of how visits can make a difference. Liquid helium is a critical resource for medicine, science and industry; it’s essential for cooling the magnets at the heart of MRIs. And it’s a nonrenewable resource: as it is used, it evaporates and escapes into the atmosphere, and then into space. The US Federal Helium Reserve has a roughly 10-year supply of liquid helium, but it is slated to close in September 2021. We are asking congress to keep the helium reserve open and to also extend the life of the existing helium supply by funding the deployment of recycling equipment to recapture and reuse helium. This is an important issue for science and medicine, but it’s obscure. All of the offices we spoke to were supportive, but many of them had never heard of it, or they had heard of it, but were unable to find the information they needed to develop policy. We were able to provide that information.
Thanks to the APS Office of Government Affairs staff for their hard work organizing the congressional visits, scheduling nearly 100 meetings and preparing the excellent briefing materials. Also thanks so much to my wonderful delegation: Mohammad Soltanieh-ha, Mark Shattuck, Grant O’Rielly, Nimmi Sharma and LaNell Williams!
If you’re interested in getting involved in this sort of advocacy, check out the APS Office of Government Affairs website where they describe these issues and provide very helpful links and form letters for contacting your elected officials. You can also sign up for their mailing list or check out Signal Boost, short monthly videos with science policy updates.