It began as a quiet Friday on Capitol Hill. May 30 found many members of the Senate back home for a long weekend, meeting with constituents. The House of Representatives had been in session until almost 2:00 am the night before, voting on funding for the departments of Commerce and Justice plus other agencies including the NSF. But then a contingent of ASCB Councilors and leaders arrived. Things soon grew much livelier.
The ASCB leaders came to the Hill after two long days discussing ASCB business at the spring Council meeting. And yet 14 of them stayed on in DC for an extra "Hill Day." The ASCB leaders had more than a few points that they wanted to make with Congressional representatives. Office staffers who expected a quiet Friday opened their doors to small teams of ASCB scientists on a mission. When it was all over, ASCB leaders held sit-down talks in 21 offices of members representing districts and states across the US. They met with staffers representing House and Senate members but also in person with Representative Joe Crowley (D-NY), Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Representative Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Representative Adam Smith (D-WA), and Representative Todd Young (R-IN). On the Hill, this is called "face time" and it's a valuable commodity.
A known name always helps on the Hill and Councilor Marty Chalfie cheerfully allows ASCB policy staffers to use his fame as a Nobel Prize winner as an icebreaker. When Congressman Crowley learned that Chalfie was a Nobelist, he turned to his staffer to announce, "Oh, we're definitely getting a picture with him." Earlier in the day while Chalfie was explaining the impact of GFP on bioscience, another staffer, a recent veterinary medicine graduate serving a year as an AAAS Policy fellow, suddenly put his face in his hands, groaning that he hadn't realized that he was sitting with one of its discoverers.
Everywhere, the ASCB leaders were met with open enthusiasm by members of Congress and staff but also with equally frank acknowledgements that the current federal budget will not allow Congress to match that enthusiasm with money. On their side, the ASCB leaders stressed the exciting research emerging from labs around the country, the difficulties conducting that research because of declining federal funding, and the impact of all this on the next generation of young scientists. On more detailed issues, the ASCB leaders were critical of proposed budget bill amendments aimed at cracking down on wasteful federal travel but which would have had the unintentional effect of banning federal scientists from attending scientific meetings, leaving them professionally isolated.
Along with Chalfie, the ASCB leadership contingent included Executive Director Stefano Bertuzzi, ASCB Secretary Kathy Green, ASCB Councilors Sue Biggins, Malcolm Campbell, Ruth Lehmann, Laura Machesky, Jodi Nunnari, Mark Peifer, and Claire Walczak. Also in the ASCB leadership group on the Hill were Minorities Affairs Committee chair Renato Aquilera, Public Policy Committee chair Connie Lee, the co-chair of COMPASS, the postdoc and graduate student committee, Jessica Polka, and Education Committee chair Sue Wick.