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Johanna Olexy, Public Information Office
Photo: Keith Lindblom (American
Chemical Society Public Affairs)
On November 29, 2010, the ASA welcomed Brad Smith as the new head of the Department of Public Affairs and Public Information at the Executive Office. Formerly in that position, Lee Herring has joined the National Science Foundation as a speechwriter in the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. Brad brings with him 14 years of government and public affairs experience. Prior to joining ASA, Brad worked in the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Office of Public Affairs, where he handled public policy communication and member engagement. I recently spoke with Brad about his vision and plan for the ASA, below is a summary of our "Q &A."
I came to work at the ASA after working on Capitol Hill and for an association that represents chemists and chemistry, but my academic roots come from the social sciences and humanities. So I look forward to representing and working with people and issues that relate to my education and personality. I have always been interested in studying how people work and interact together. This job will allow me to promote a scholarship I have an interest in.
My main vision is to make ASA a leader among the social science societies in the promoting sociology to the media and the public. I would like the department to work to further advance sociology to government officials. Finally, I would love to see ASA members empowered to be effective voices for sociology and the social sciences.
I think it is going to be a difficult year for the social sciences in Washington, DC, especially for federal research funding. Last fall, Congress was unable to approve new spending levels, causing the federal government to operate for the final quarter of last year under a Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the government at the previous year’s level. This CR was extended to cover the first quarter of 2011 and is set to expire on March 4. Congress is now working on a spending plan to cover the remaining six months of the year. It is unclear if Congress will be successful in this endeavor.
The members of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives have called for significant spending cuts. Already the Republican Study Committee has proposed a spending plan that holds FY 2011 non-security discretionary spending at FY 2008 levels, with no allowance for inflation. The committee also called for $330 billion in program cuts and eliminations over the next 10 years including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In the meantime, President Obama is likely to announce his proposed budget for FY 2012 on February 14. Based on the State of the Union Address and other documents released out of the White House, increased investments in STEM education and scientific research could be included in the budget. It is unclear if these increases will include social and behavioral science research. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau may receive a significant funding cut.
Other than budgetary issues, the new Congress may begin enhanced oversight hearings of federally supported grants. Many social science grants have already been identified, by name alone, as "fleece." I fear these hearings could become lightning rods, used to illustrate federal spending waste. Also, there is a GOP-led initiatives urging the public to make their own budget cuts. These initiatives, in addition to oversight hearings, may give Congress the necessary coverage to cut programs important to the social sciences.
Beyond Congress, some conservative commentators, like Glenn Beck, have verbally attacked social scientists. These attacks may serve to stifle researchers as they gather and analyze evidence related to controversial questions.
The Public Affairs Department works regularly with ASA Council to develop official statements and letters that are used when we have discussions with policymakers. ASA tracks issues ranging from human rights to climate change. While the ASA does not lobby, we are expanding activities on Capitol Hill, including briefings and congressional hearings during the upcoming year.
ASA continues to work with our coalition partners to practice social and behavior science funding support. In particular, we are working with an ad-hoc coalition on National Institutes of Health funding, the Coalition for National Science Funding, and the Consortium of Social Science Associations (COSSA) for all behavioral and social science related issues.
Based on my experience managing grassroots programs at ACS, I encourage ASA members to make their views known to elected officials. Members can send letters, make phone calls, and/or meet with elected officials. In a recent Congressional Management Foundation report (www.cmfweb.org/), congressional staff indicates that constituents are more important to a legislator’s decision making than lobbyists. With thousands of interest groups meeting with legislators everyday we cannot be assured that the views of sociologists are being heard unless we make a conscious effort to build a relationship with our elected officials.
In addition, when ASA members talk with the media, please make sure to indicate that you are a sociologist and an American Sociological Association member. This will help build the public’s understanding of the importance of sociology.Back to Top of Page