This past week I traveled to Washington D.C. as part of ASBMB’s Hill Day. ASBMB (American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) is a nonprofit organization of basic biomedical science researchers with over 12,000 members. ASBMB publishes scientific and educational journals, organizes conferences, and advocates for science and educational funding. Since 1985 ASBMB has included a public affairs program managed by the Public Affairs Advisory Committee (PAAC). Each year the PAAC sponsors a “Hill Day.” Students, postdoctoral fellows, and PAAC members convene in Washington D.C. to learn about science policy and meet with their congressional representatives to advocate for basic science research funding.
This year’s Hill Day began on Monday night with a meet and greet followed by a “policy 101” training session. During the training session we first learned about what to do and not to do when meeting with a public official. Do bring leave behind materials and business cards, keep it short, arrive early, and be prepared to give a brief non-technical description of your research. Don’t patronize or complain, suggests programs that can be cut in order to increase your program of interest’s funding, and avoid partisanship. We next were given a short presentation regarding the current state of NIH funding. We learned that although NIH has received essentially flat funding for the past decade, when adjusted for inflation NIH has been cut by 18% since the end of the NIH doubling in 2003. Finally we learned about the major science related legislation going through congress such as the STAPLE Act, the Life Sciences Jobs and Investment Act of 2011, and the GAPCSA Act (note ASBMB supports the first two acts and opposes the third).
On Tuesday morning we traveled to D.C. for Hill Day. For this we were all split into small groups. My group consisted of 2 PAAC members, 1 postdoc, and 2 students and were from California, Washington, Montana, and Minnesota. Throughout the day we met with congressional staffers from each of these states. From Washington we spoke with staffers for Representative McDermott (7th district), Senator Cantwell, Senator Murray, and Representative Herrera Beutler (3rd district). Each meeting started with a short description of ASBMB and introductions by each member of the group. We then explained our ‘ask,’ an increase in NIH funding for FY2013 from 30.6 billion to 32.0 billion. This increase represents a 4.5% increase over FY2012 and accounts for inflation and a modest 1% growth. We also advocated for a future of predictable growth by asking for an increase in NIH funding by FY2015 to 35 billion. The majority of the offices we met with were very supportive of basic biomedical research and were proponents of increased NIH funding for FY2013, while a few offices told us just to be happy the NIH budget has not been getting cut. The day ended with a reception in the Russell Senate Building and the presentation of the Public Service Award.
Overall I very much enjoyed my trip to D.C. as part of ASBMB’s Hill Day. Being on Capitol Hill and meeting with congressional staffers was very exciting. I also learned a lot about the funding problems NIH is facing and about current major science policy issues. I highly recommend people interested in science outreach and advocacy to apply for ASBMB’s Hill Day in 2013.