Urgent: Amendment to restrict government employee participation in scientific conferences

The following disturbing message from the American Geophysical Union, a major professional organization, was passed on to S&W.   If you value the participation of government scientists in the broader scientific community and, especially, in scientific conferences, then you should not only read this message, you should contact your representatives in the Senate to make your opinion known, as government employees do not have the freedom to do so themselves.  (Links to the actual amendment language will be posted if and when they are made known to us.)

To put these restrictions into perspective, some of the most visible and respected scientists in the area of global climate change are NASA employees, and they could be limited in their ability to continue participating in important non-governmental scientific conferences related to this subject matter.  Similar things can undoubtedly be said about scientists from other government organizations involved in health, environmental science, or technology.

Note that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is one of the co-sponsors of the amendment in question.  – Editor

From: “AGU Public Affairs Team” <sciencepolicy@agu.org>
Subject: Promote Government Participation in Scientific Conferences – Reject S.AMDT. 2060
Date: June 21, 2012 1:36:40 PM CDT
To: <redacted>

Dear AGU Member,

A recent amendment to the 21st Century Postal Services Act (S.1789), being reviewed by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, strives to provide transparency, accountability, and limitations of government-sponsored conferences.  However, the amendment (S.AMDT. 2060) would severely restrict the participation of Federal government scientists in scientific meetings and conferences.  Because your fellow government colleagues cannot speak out on this issue, we are encouraging you to be their voice and explain the benefits of scientific collaboration at conferences and meetings to Congress.

A very important means by which progress is made in scientific research is in the exchange of ideas that takes place at scientific meetings and conferences.  At these events, scientists from academia, industry, and government, as well as students studying to become scientists, come together to formally present and discuss their research and learn about research by others that may have implications for their work.

The language in S.AMDT. 2060 threatens to damage essential communication among scientists.  Government attendance at scientific meetings not only fosters collaboration and future partnerships between government scientists and academia and industry, but the collaboration and exchange of ideas also avoids duplicative scientific efforts and stimulates new concepts.  While it is extremely important to eliminate wasteful government spending, Congress should consider ways to avoid excesses that will not also inadvertently damage the United States’ scientific enterprise.

Your help is urgently needed as Congress reviews the 21st Century Postal Services Act.  The proponents of limiting government participation at conferences are looking to pass the language in S.AMDT. 2060 by including to any bill that will likely pass.  Please consider taking a moment to send an email to your Senator, who is on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs (list of Members below), and ask him/her to reject S.AMDT. 2060 and modify the legislation to allow Federal employees to continue to participate in non-governmental scientific conferences.  Please click Take Action to write to your Senator, where you will also find “Speaking Points” you may wish to include in your email.  You may also include an example of societally-relevant scientific work resulting from collaboration between you and government employees at a scientific meeting.

Please note that Federal employees are not permitted to contact their Representative or Senators regarding this issue but are encouraged to share this information with their colleagues outside government. Please contact AGU Public Affairs staff if you have any questions.

Best regards,

AGU Public Affairs Team

Speaking points:

  • As a scientist and constituent of your state, I strongly encourage you to support Federal employees’ participation in non-governmental scientific conferences.
  • The language in Senate Amendment 2060 of the 21st Century Postal Services Act (S.1789) threatens to damage essential communication among scientists.
  • The exchange of ideas and peer review of the results is integral to scientific integrity and the scientific process.
  • At scientific conferences, scientists from academia, industry, and government, as well as students studying to become scientists, come together to formally present and discuss each other’s  research, share concepts, and potentially solve the complex problems facing our nation.
  • Government attendance at scientific meetings not only fosters collaboration and future partnerships between government scientists and academia and industry, but the collaboration and exchange of ideas also avoids duplicative scientific efforts.
  • Non-governmental scientific conferences, like the AGU Fall Meeting, are largely renowned for the quality and depth of their educational programs.

Senators Reviewing the Legislation:

Alaska – Mark Begich

Arizona – John McCain (Co-Sponsor of S.AMDT. 2060)

Arkansas – Mark Pryor

Connecticut – Joseph Lieberman

Delaware – Thomas Carper

Hawaii – Daniel Akaka

Kansas – Jerry Moran (Co-Sponsor of S.AMDT. 2060)

Kentucky – Rand Paul

Louisiana – Mary Landrieu

Massachusetts – Scott Brown

Maine – Susan Collins (Co-Sponsor of S.AMDT. 2060)

Michigan – Carl Levin

Missouri – Claire McCaskill

Montana – Jon Tester

Ohio – Rob Portman

Oklahoma – Tom Coburn (Sponsor of S.AMDT. 2060)

Wisconsin – Ron Johnson (Co-Sponsor of S.AMDT. 2060)

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One Response to Urgent: Amendment to restrict government employee participation in scientific conferences

  1. GP says:

    It appears that the gist of the restrictions in question are the following:

    1) No more than 50 employees of any government agency may attend an international conference on foreign soil unless deemed in the national interest by the Secretary of State;

    2) Total conference travel expenses paid by any agency in each of the fiscal years 2012-2016 may not exceed 80% of that paid in fiscal year 2010.

    3) All conference materials, recordings, etc., presented by government conference-goers must be posted online in searchable form.

    Here’s a link to the amendment: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?r112:1:./temp/~r112Q7qMxG:e86309:

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