Our day on the Hill

Published May 01 2018

2018 ASBMB Hill Day video


Thanks to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 and the accompanying omnibus appropriations bill, fiscal 2018 will see a significant boost in federal funding for science research. This includes increases of $295 million for the National Science Foundation and $3 billion for the National Institutes of Health. At the NIH, nearly every institute will receive a hike of 5 percent or more. Already, there are signs that this will result in more funding for the investigator-initiated research project grants on which many of our members depend.

This welcome trend did not occur without sustained activity by scientists advocating for the support of research and infrastructure. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Public Affairs Advisory Committee is one of the most active groups in this effort.

When scientists make personal visits to their congressional leaders, their voices are heard. Thus, each April, the PAAC organizes Capitol Hill Day, putting scientists face to face with elected representatives. This year, 16 faculty members and industry scientists and 20 students and postdocs spent a full day on the Hill, making a total of 85 visits to the offices of legislators from 25 states.

I teamed up with Mallory Smith, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, and Matt Gentry, a professor at the University of Kentucky and chair of the PAAC. Together, we visited our respective House members and all six senators from Colorado, Kansas and Kentucky.

Our message to each senator and representative emphasized three points.

First, on behalf of all of us in the research enterprise, we thanked our legislators for their support of science. We explained how federal research dollars support industry, jobs, education and health for their states. And we reminded them that even with recent budget increases, funding for research still has not kept pace with inflation. Spending caps and sequestration have weakened research and development, and these trends must be reversed. We need sustainable, predictable investments in science to ameliorate the damage from boom and bust cycles.

Second, we conveyed the ASBMB’s opposition to directing research funding toward specific diseases or conditions. While we appreciate this support, we believe that discovery and innovation are best served when scientists determine the course of their research. And the greatest outcomes are achieved when scientists win grants based on exemplary, peer-reviewed applications.

Third, we underscored the need for policies that strengthen the nation’s scientific workforce. This requires support for bills that enhance education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The ASBMB also supports passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill and expansion of the pool of visas available for foreign scientists to study and work in the U.S.

The responses we received were heartening. All of us heard support and agreement on the need for further increases in research funding. We found uniform support for STEM education. And we saw recognition of the contributions from foreign-born scientists and of the need to retain them to keep research strong in America.

Our day on the Hill showed that bipartisan support for science research and education is strong in both legislative chambers. You can read about Hill Day in the recap at policy.asbmb.org and learn about the activities of the PAAC. The ASBMB will continue to advocate for you at the highest levels of Congress. Want to get involved in advocacy? It’s an experience that will expand you. Join the Grassroots Advocacy Network, or, to learn more, email Public Affairs Director Ben Corb.

Finally, to continue this fight for your teaching and research, we need your support and participation. If you’re not a member of the ASBMB, now’s the time to join. If you’re a member, invite a colleague to join. Help us amplify our message about the value of your work and strengthen our collective voice in U.S. science policy.

Natalie Ahn Natalie Ahn a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is president of the ASBMB.