eye on Washington
The Office of Government Affairs is spreading the word
on Capitol Hill about the importance of funding for atmospheric
research. But it’s facing a stiff headwind in the form
of tight federal budgets.
Laura Curtis (left), Cindy Schmidt, and Gloria Kelly
Like so many of the organization’s
scientists, Cindy Schmidt spends much of her working time
examining numbers. In her case, however, a lot of the numbers
are preceded by dollar signs, and they’re not adding
up to her liking.
Cindy, as director of the UCAR Office of Government Affairs
(OGA), focuses on educating members of Congress about the
importance of atmospheric science. She also tries to maximize
the institution’s funding.
That’s no easy task these days. Because of tax cuts,
the war in Iraq,
and the federal deficit, Cindy predicts that budgets for
science are likely to
be tight for a while. “I think we are in for a number
of very difficult years,”
NCAR’s primary sponsor, NSF, took a slight budget cut
this fiscal year, and NCAR itself announced several layoffs
this month. “We have all tried our best to protect
jobs and preserve the highest priority components of our
programs – but there is just no getting away from the
negative effects of this budget situation,” NCAR director
Tim Killeen explained in an all-staff email. He added that
no additional cuts are expected this fiscal year. “The
budget constraints in no way reflect negatively on the expertise
or productivity of our staff at NCAR,” he emphasized.
In the OGA offices in FL 4, Cindy works with two colleagues—government
affairs specialist Laura Curtis and office manager Gloria
Kelly—on strategies to boost funding for NCAR, UCAR,
and the UCAR community. They hold briefings on Capitol
Hill about priorities in the atmospheric sciences, prepare
testimony for congressional hearings, work with allies in
the scientific community, and employ a veteran Washington
lobbying firm, Lewis-Burke Associates.
OGA also recently redesigned its Web site, which contains
a wealth of information about the federal funding situation
(see On the Web, below). Readers can find budget information
about NSF and other science agencies, obtain legislative
updates about relevant science issues, read testimony,
and learn more about congressional procedures.
OGA’s efforts are seen as vital for the organization
to remain visible in Washington. “It’s essential
that we explain the importance of our
science,” Tim explains. “We need to have a voice.”
UCAR and NCAR enjoy an enviable physical setting in Boulder,
but their setting in the appropriations process is another
Funding sources, in addition to NSF, include NASA, NOAA,
the energy and defense departments, and the Federal Aviation
Administration. The funding can be vulnerable because it
falls in the discretionary portion of the budget. That’s
the area most targeted when policy makers need to cut spending,
instead of entitlement programs such as Medicare.
As Congress appropriates limited science dollars, NSF also
may find itself competing with NASA. The space agency is
trying to obtain money for a White House priority: sending
astronauts to the Moon and ultimately to Mars.
“The Moon-Mars project is putting pressure on other priorities,” explains
Cindy, who goes to Washington about 10 times a year.
Still, she says, policy makers appreciate the contributions
of the atmospheric sciences, and majorities in both political
parties would like to increase funding for NSF if they could
find the money. Just four years ago, President Bush signed
a bill authorizing a doubling
in funding for NSF, contingent on available money.
“Many members of Congress understand the importance of
science,” Cindy says. “I really do think if we
were in a time of plenty, science would be a higher priority
than it is now.”
Indeed, Tim is working closely with OGA to inform agencies
and lawmakers of the vitality and importance of the NCAR
program. He notes that NCAR has weathered difficult budget
times before, such as in the early 1990s.
“I think there is an inherent bipartisan support for
science that will be a countervailing force when it comes to
budget cuts,” he says. “There will be some painful
decisions this year, no doubt about it. But we’re going
to maintain our standards of excellence.”
Each year Cindy, Laura, and Gloria plan several briefings
on Capitol Hill on climate and weather topics. Scientists
from NCAR and the community stress how research results are
helping to save lives, strengthen the economy, and enhance
homeland security. Briefing speakers are recruited from
all sectors of the community.
Scientists may describe the societal importance of such products
as the Community Climate System Model (CCSM), which researchers
use to study climate change, and the Weather Forecasting
and Research (WRF) model, which will generate highly detailed
forecasts and improve our understanding of mesoscale weather.
Discussions with policy makers cover a range of atmospheric
science topics, from the impacts of the Sun on space weather
to the need for faster supercomputers.
OGA staffers make sure to work with UCAR’s member universities
on particular funding issues. As Cindy points out, NCAR has
special access to just the Colorado delegation, whereas the
university community has ties to most members of Congress.
Through UCAR member representatives, the community makes
contact with congressional members with influence over science
funding and policy, such as Senators Judd Gregg of New Hampshire,
John McCain of Arizona, and Ted Stevens of Alaska.
“We have to continue as a community to keep in front
of Congress and the public the importance of our science in
terms of the societal benefits,” says Cindy.
Cindy came to UCAR in 1990 from the CU Foundation, where
she worked as a director of development. Active in the local
community, she serves on the board of the Boulder Chamber
of Commerce. At UCAR, she started as the director of the
former Office of Development, then took the helm of OGA about
10 years ago.
She finds it somewhat ironic that she’s landed in a
scientific institution—in fact, the last time she wanted
to do research was back in the fourth grade, long before
she went to college and majored in English. “I liked
to picture myself in a lab coat with a pocket protector,
working with exploding test tubes,” she recalls.
But, as she says of her work in OGA, “It’s a
very rewarding job. I’m not a researcher, but I appreciate
the opportunity to communicate the importance of the atmospheric psciences
to our nation.”
On the Web
UCAR Office of Government Affairs
Last year, the Office of Government Affairs helped
create an important new advocacy organization in the
atmospheric sciences. The Weather Coalition, comprised
of leaders in research, academia, and business, enables
the academic community to work closely with corporations
such as The Weather Channel, Boeing, Raytheon, and
others to advance weather research and its applications.
It urges Congress and the execazutive branch to enhance
funding for major research collaborations among government
agencies, universities, and private companies.
“Every year, severe weather costs the United States
billions of dollars,” explains Cindy Schmidt, a
staff member of the coalition. “Weather research
can pay back its initial cost many times over by
helping society to be safer and more productive.”
The goal of the Weather Coalition is to improve
the country’s weather prediction and warning
capabilities. This could provide an important boost
for the U.S. economy while better protecting society
from severe weather.
On the Web
Also in this issue...
on the tsunami
Shu-Peng “Ben” Ho
to survey scientists, engineers
Staff Notes home page | UCAR News Center