March 2011

Haven’t advocated? Now’s the time!

By getting involved, you can help shape the future of scientific funding.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed in your lab, but the environment here in Washington, D.C., has become increasingly challenging for the scientific community. For those of you watching the newswires, we’ve heard reports that Congress is looking to cut the budget by as much as $100 billion in the next couple of years. We’ve heard funding levels will be cut to fiscal 2006 levels. We’ve heard the National Science Foundation will be eliminated. We’ve heard Congress is anti-science. And we’ve heard that the National Institutes of Health is proposing a reorganization that – depending on who you listen to – will do everything from advancing the nation’s translational science enterprise to creating a federally controlled drug company. And those are just the issues that have crossed my desk in the past ten days.

"Advocacy – be it science advocacy, human rights advocacy or tax code advocacy – comes down to a pretty simple formula: The squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Our elected representatives on Capitol Hill truly have an unenviable task ahead of them. The nation is facing difficult funding decisions, with federal spending reaching nearly unsustainable levels. Some things will have to be cut. The question being debated among members of Congress is what to cut. The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which funds the NIH, was allocated $157 billion, a 4 percent decrease from fiscal 2010. Much more severe was the cut to the Commerce, Justice and Science subcommittee that funds the NSF, which received a 16 percent overall decrease in allocations relative to fiscal 2010. By contrast, defense spending actually will increase from fiscal 2010, though only by 2 percent. It now will fall to the individual subcommittees to determine which specific agencies and departments will see their budgets cut.

These decisions are not being made in a vacuum. Lawmakers are analyzing spending versus the return on investment to the tax payer. They’re looking at job creation, impact on the economy and how decisions affect their constituents back home. And they’re listening to the folks in their home districts. They will read the letters, hear the phone calls and take the meetings with the voters back home, because it’s the voters who ultimately will decide whether they should get comfy in their Washington, D.C., offices … or consider making plans for a moving truck now.

Advocacy – be it science advocacy, human rights advocacy or tax code advocacy – comes down to a pretty simple formula: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. This basic tenant of a democratic system is where you fit in. As former chief of staff of the White House’s Chief Science Advisor William Wells Jr. has said, “Should scientists and engineers be more involved in working with Congress? The alternative is to leave science and technology policy-making in the hands of other groups and interests. Congress will make decisions on support for science and engineering research and on other science and technology policy issues whether scientists and engineers choose to become involved or not … To ignore Congress or to remain aloof is to forego the chance to influence policy and to abdicate one’s responsibility to the science and engineering communities – and the nation.”

The role of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee and public affairs staff is to help you make an impact on Capitol Hill. We can act as your representatives, your Congressional liaisons and your political concierges. I urge you all – members of ASBMB and interested parties alike – to think about how you can get involved in the process and contact my office. Use the PAAC to ensure that your voice is heard. Together, we can make a positive impact on the future of the nation’s basic science enterprise.

Benjamin W. Corb ( is director of public affairs at ASBMB.

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