2 September 2014

A Retreat to Plan Our Strategy for Policy Engagement

Debra Elmegreen President, IAU

This guest post is by Committee on Astronomy & Public Policy (CAPP) Chair and past AAS President Prof. Debra Elmegreen, who recently led the committee's second-ever strategic retreat. 

— Josh Shiode

It is never more important to be involved in science policy issues than when budgets are constrained, as they have been particularly in recent years. The AAS, recognizing the need to actively engage, formed the presidentially appointed Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy (CAPP) in 1982 to advise the Society and its Council on policy issues that impact our profession.

On 28-29 August CAPP held its second strategic-planning retreat at AAS headquarters to review and revise the mission statement and guiding principles written at the first retreat in 2007 and the 5-year strategic plan adopted by the Council in 2010. CAPP’s mission is to support and develop policies that advance the astronomical sciences in the United States. Our guiding principles expand on the mission statement to help direct our committee’s and Executive Office policy staff's efforts to further that mission. We will work together to promote federal policies that advance our field, the priorities of the decadal surveys, involvement of our community in advisory processes, broad and diverse participation in our field, and scientific peer review. The principles also guide us on what not to do, such as taking positions that alter established priorities. The updated documents we developed over two intense days now await the Council's approval. 

CAPP’s goals include identifying current events of relevance to our community, sharing important issues, advocating for astronomy, defending the astronomical sciences from adverse government actions, and increasing the influence of the AAS. For each goal we have developed a set of specific actions, as well as metrics for measuring our success. For example, our Bahcall Public Policy Fellow, Josh Shiode, and our Executive Office Director of Public Policy, Joel Parriott, take the lead in identifying relevant and important issues. They work with CAPP and the AAS President and Council to draft Action Alerts asking the community to respond to current issues, or to write letters to Congressional or Executive branch leaders expressing the Society’s response to proposed bills, sometimes in collaboration with coalitions of other advocacy groups.  

CAPP also helps develop policy sessions, panel discussions, and plenaries at AAS meetings that inform our membership about policy issues (one of each is planned for AAS 225 in Seattle this coming January). Congressional Visits Day provides a terrific opportunity to get an in-depth view of the policy process via informational sessions and visits to Congressional and Executive branch offices — as you’ve read in some of the wonderful recent blog posts here. CAPP is working on additional ways to involve the AAS community in science policy issues.

Forty years ago, when I was a newcomer to the field of astronomy, one small part of its appeal to me was that it rose above earthly concerns. But I had little idea that astronomical research depended on political actions. We cannot afford such naïveté among our AAS membership; keeping informed about policy issues is the first step. It is also crucial that government leaders and the public recognize the fundamental importance of the contributions of basic research to our lives, from increasing human knowledge to creating economic advantages and improving our quality of life. As the committee focused on policy matters that matter to our field, CAPP aims to engage constructively with policymakers both directly and by supporting the engagement of AAS members.