February Issue • Volume 44 • Issue 2

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Vantage Point: From the Executive Officer

A Cautionary Success Story in Congress: ASA Members Did their Part!

Sally T. Hillsman, ASA Executive Officer

Sally T. Hillsman,
ASA Executive

Prior to Christmas, the House and Senate approved and the President signed the final fiscal year (FY) 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2015 (H.R. 2029), which includes all 12 of the individual appropriations bills and totals $1.15 trillion.

This final omnibus appropriations bill is an outstanding final result for the social and behavioral sciences, if you compare it to where we were earlier in 2015. This outcome can be largely attributed to the bipartisan budget deal that was brokered earlier in the fall, which provided much needed relief from sequestration and the tight discretionary spending caps. In addition, social science champions on and off the Hill—including numerous ASA members following our request for their letters to Congress—worked tirelessly during these final negotiations to stave off devastating cuts to many of our programs. The cards were stacked against us this year but we beat the odds.

Some highlights of the bill include:

All in all, this is a positive final outcome for social science funding. I am proud of the social and behavioral science community, and especially grateful to ASA members, for their work on achieving such a positive result. For instance, last year, in response to an e-mail from ASA President Paula England, ASA members sent more than 2,000 letters to the House of Representatives in support of the National Science Foundation SBE Directorate. As far as we have been able to determine, ASA members sent more letters than members of any other COSSA association.

Additionally, multiple meetings were held on Capitol Hill between members of Congress and scientists regarding the importance of the social and behavioral sciences, including sociologist Laurel Smith-Doerr’s Hill activities (see May/June Footnotes) and ASA members’ participation in the COSSA-sponsored Capitol Hill visits day (see March/April 2015 Footnotes).

FY 2017 Budget debate already beginning

Our celebration must be short, however, as we get back to work.  The House and Senate have returned to Washington for the start of the second session of the 114th Congress and attention now turns to FY 2017 spending bills. The President unveils his final budget request this month, which will officially kick off the FY 2017 appropriations season. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) indicated in recent weeks that he would like to see the individual spending bills reach the House floor as early as March, much earlier than has been common practice. However, with the 2016 elections now less than 10 months away, it is hard to see Congress finding the political will to pass all 12 of the appropriations bills before members of Congress hit the campaign trails in the summer and fall. The problem is compounded by the fact that the House has scheduled only 110 working days in 2016 and the Senate has 149 working days. Regardless, the next few months will be busy for advocates in Washington as Congress hurries to get as much work done as it can before the process shuts down to make way for the party conventions in July.

The social science community is not planning on resting on last year’s successes. Plans have been made and registration is now open for a COSSA-sponsored two days of advocacy on Capitol Hill this spring.

Advocacy on the Hill

The 2016 COSSA Annual Meeting and 2nd Annual Social and Behavioral Science Advocacy Day scheduled for March 15-16, 2016. The COSSA Annual Meeting will occur on March 15, which brings together representatives throughout the social and behavioral science community for a day of discussion on the social sciences and especially federal issues impacting social and behavioral science research. It provides an opportunity for COSSA members such as ASA and attendees at the COSSA Annual Meeting (you?!) to engage directly with leaders of federal science agencies, congressional staff, and colleagues from other associations and institutions. This year, discussions will highlight the ways social and behavioral science research serves the national interest.

COSSA’s 2nd Annual Social and Behavioral Science Advocacy Day, which ASA sponsors, will take place on March 16. This event provides COSSA members and attendees with an opportunity to meet with their congressional delegations to discuss the value and importance of social and behavioral science research (see www.cossa.org ). Representatives from all COSSA member organizations, including ASA members and other sociologists, are encouraged to participate. Training and all materials will be provided. Contact Brad Smith at bsmith@asanet.org for additional details.

In advance of COSSA’s meeting, on March 14-15, the National Humanities Alliance, of which ASA is also a member, will also hold its Annual Meeting and Advocacy Day, which ASA also sponsors  (see www.nhalliance.org ). This event, like the COSSA event, provides opportunities for participants including social scientists in sociology, political science, and history to connect with a growing network of humanities leaders from around the country; communicate the value of humanities research, education, programming, and preservation to Members of Congress; explore national humanities policy; and become year-round advocates for the humanities. Contact Brad Smith at bsmith@asanet.org for additional details.

What can ASA members do?

While the ASA leadership will be working in Washington to advance the social and behavioral sciences, individual ASA members can also make their views known to elected officials.  We know from our experience in 2015 that ASA members’ letters have an impact when sent in large numbers to members of congress who represent you. ASA members can send letters, make phone calls, participate in Advocacy Days and meet with elected officials to convey a clear picture of what social scientists care about.

Most members of Congress do not have the scientific or social science background necessary to be fully informed about all the complex social science data relevant to their decisions. But many do want to be more informed, and they certainly want to know their constituents’ opinions.

As sociologists, we work every day to improve the understanding of the world around us and enhance our nation’s quality of life. This is a professional responsibility. We also have a civic responsibility—to share our knowledge to influence policies and programs that profoundly impact the public and our profession. ASA can help its members fulfill this responsibility. 

Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA. She can be reached by email at executive.office@asanet.org.

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