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Ron Moore | Fermilab | USA

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Making the Case in Washington, DC

2009 users groups DC trip attendees

DC trip attendees

Every spring a group of high-energy physicists and graduate students trek to Washington, DC to visit the offices of Representatives and Senators to ask for their support in funding research in high-energy physics. As a member of the Fermilab Users’ Executive Committee (UEC), I made my first DC trip in April, along with members of the SLAC and US LHC users’ organizations. Over 40 of us made the trip and visited nearly 200 congressional offices over 2+ days. It’s a great opportunity to have our voices heard!

The DC trip takes quite a bit of organization to be successful. Planning starts several months in advance – when exactly to schedule the trip, who are the key people to visit, what will be our message. Who exactly do we meet? We certainly try to visit with the Members on appropriations committees since that’s where the budget is doled out, but they are only a fraction of our total. Of course, we schedule appointments with our own elected Representatives and Senators – we’re their constituents, so there’s a vested interest. But we also visit other offices where there is some other connection – where we grew up, where we went school, etc. In the end, we meet mainly with congressional staffers, not all of whom have a background or an interest in science, but communicating our message is still the point of the visit. Moreover, establishing and maintaining a relationship is key for making future contacts.

Crafting our message is vital, but it can vary quite a bit year-to-year. After particularly damaging cuts in 2008, our field benefited substantially from the ARRA “Stimulus Package” and the 2009 Omnibus budget bills. So, there were plenty of thank-yous to Congress, but also discussions of how we make a difference to society, directly or indirectly, through our research and education. (Take a look at our “1-pager” summary we brought to the meetings.) It’s also important is to remind the staffers how we get our funding – the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science funds the national laboratories, such as Fermilab, but the DOE and the National Science Foundation (NSF) both support university researcher grants. The America COMPETES Act aims to double federal support of the physical sciences by 2014, so we encourage consistent funding profiles to achieve that goal.

Ron and Congressman Bill Foster (IL-14)

Ron and Fermilab physicist-turned-Congressman Bill Foster (IL-14)

Overall, I found the trip to be very educational and positive. You may only have several minutes to get your message across to someone who may not share your point of view, or even be interested in it, so you need to expect different reactions. Two people from our group, one “primary” and one “secondary”, participate in each visit; the secondary jumps in if the conversation bogs down or to offer a different point of view. Finally, it was certainly interesting to walk up and down the hallways of the House and Senate office buildings between appointments and ponder the history that happened inside those walls. It was right there – government at work.

I am already looking forward to next year’s visit.

Contact your Members of Congress – they are there to serve you. Visit a web site such as congress.org to find out how to contact them.


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