My Day on the Hill

My Day on the Hill

This week, several hundred scientists – astronomers, chemists, biologists and engineers from across the nation, descended on Capitol Hill to lobby for science. We asked for sustained and predictable federal funds for scientific research. We voiced our worry that deep cuts in grants would destroy a generation of scientists: that research is not a faucet that can be turned on and off, because the well at the source dries up. We brought a personal face to the projects we were working on.

What did I learn? Our visit began with a briefing at the AAAS auditorium in Washington, DC. The Office of Science and Technology from the White House gave us the executive branch perspective by breaking down the budget into entitlements and discretionary spending, and showing us the thin slice of pie that went to Federal R&D. Then we got a Congressional perspective from both the House and Senate committees on Science, Space and Technology. These career administrators were scientists themselves, very much “on our side”. The next day was a blur of individual visits to offices of senators and congressmen from our states, efficiently organized by the Biophysical Society whom I was representing. The deal was that we spoke to staffers, and the staffers spoke to the elected members of Congress. We handed out folders full of statistics, talking points and projections. We shook hands, took pictures and exchanged cards.

Was it worth it? In the long run, yes. Maybe. Like the democratic process, visiting Congress is both our right and responsibility. I left with a better understanding of how Congress runs, and hopefully, made some contacts. It’s going to be easier to write to my elected representative the next time I’m called upon to lobby for science.

Was it fun? Definitely, this was an unforgettable experience. Senate offices are posh! Marbled halls, deep carpeting, brass-studded heavy doors. The House? Not so much. Congress is run by 20-30 somethings: smart but poorly paid, staffers put in long hours and typically don’t last more than a year. It was fun to spot faces: there was Sen. Barbara Boxer rushing past us, Rep. John Dingell leaning heavily on his cane, while another senator saw off some fund raisers at his door. 


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76 Responses to My Day on the Hill

  1. Brava!  Way to take ’em on!  Good luck in your cause!

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    Worth trying, thanks!

  3. Dryade Geo says:

    Looks fab! Great pic also 😀

    Capitol Hill is a pretty cool place to wander around also if you get chance

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Dryade Geo , interestingly different from my usual surroundings. I was struck by how conservatively everyone dressed. All men wore suits. No exceptions.

  5. Yet another reason why I was glad to escape to NIH, where dress styles are more “academic” in tone.

  6. E.E. Giorgi says:

    yay you, thank you for doing this and sharing it, Rajini Rao , you’re my hero! 🙂

  7. Dryade Geo says:

    Also – around the corner is GOOD STUFF – amazing amazing burgers. Aaaa – I want proper burgers!

    DC is pretty conservative, but also full of museums ❤

  8. Congrats Rajini Rao hopefully those guys will listen to you all soon.

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    Roelf Renkema , no, that was in some individual “hippie” states (like Colorado) 🙂

  10. Rajini Rao says:

    As Grant Burke said, Washington State, not DC 🙂

  11. Ward Plunet says:

    Thanks for your report.

  12. Bill Collins says:

    I’m impressed, delighted and thankful that you went. I’m also a bit down (again) about the “thin” bit. We really could stand to build a few less hypersonic jets and spend that money on real stuff that matters. 

    Nice photos!

  13. Rajini Rao says:

    Very much agree, Bill Collins . In fact, I heard on the news today, that a billion dollars will be spent on more anti-ballistic missiles to counter potential strikes by N. Korea. That’s thousands of research grants right there.

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    We already have that, Jeff Brown ! O_o

  15. Tom Lee says:

    Rajini Rao Science and politics don’t have the same genes. However with patience, persistence , the squeaky wheel might get some grease. Your efforts are commendable. It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it !

  16. david warner says:

    Hey are you available in on line

  17. Gretchen S. says:

    Wow, thanks for doing this!

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Tom Lee , what is worse is that because the House side turns over so often, from elections, apparently one has to repeat the same message over and over again. It’s not uncommon for 50% of Congress to have changed by the time an appropriations bill that had no trouble passing the first time, seriously flounders with newly elected representatives.

  19. Tom Lee says:

    Rajini Rao   That’s an adversed side effect of our less than perfect political system. It’s not gonna be fixed soon in our lifetime.

  20. Léa Jay says:

    you are the best!!! :))

  21. Gaythia Weis says:

    Thank you for doing this!!!

    We need to get the science message out there.

  22. Chad Haney says:

    Thanks for speaking out and representing us!

  23. Rajini Rao says:

    Thank you, Rashid Moore , for your rhyme

    I hope my grants are renewed, just in time.

    If not, I’ll rant and rage, make a fuss

    Then spend my free time on Google Plus.

  24. Rajini Rao says:

    Oh, I don’t know it..or perhaps, forgotten it. I’ll check it out 🙂

  25. wish you good luck unfortunate moment whn reps think(do they think) they knowwhat is best for the economy or better for them

  26. keith floyd says:

    I wish you luck. But when our own Gov’t has been hampering the progress of Science and Medicine since 1974 when they found the cure for Cancer and covered it up!

  27. Well, it had to happen… Dr Rao goes to Washington.  🙂  Glad you were able to make such good points Rajini Rao   .. research not like a faucet… the well dries up (stretched metaphors are so memorable)…  Glad you had fun while bringing a pretty personal face to the projects.  (You were working on)  Thanks for the update and more (political) power to you  🙂

  28. Kapil Ranade says:

    A worthy crusade Dr Rajini Rao !! Hope it succeeds in the long run.

  29. Bill Brown says:

    Wow very good stuff and a great picture also!

  30. Wow very good stuff and a great picture also! 

  31. federal funds is such things is in India? good work great effort

  32. Nice post (as usual) Rajini Rao … 🙂

    Great that you had fun and I really hope this visit pays off in the future !!!

    Enjoy your weekend the best my friend … 🙂

  33. Wow… that’s great!  Thanks for watching out for us humans!

  34. Dan Bowkley says:

    Please smack some sense into them…

  35. Rajini Rao says:

    Virginia Harlow , that would be ideal. Other than tax payer dollars, there is private industry and non-profit foundations. Private companies or donors don’t contribute significant or predictable amounts, although that is a potentially huge source. Grass root foundations (American Heart Association, for example), that raise money from the public for specific diseases, are very much appreciated although again these funds are limited in comparison with federal funding.

  36. george m. says:


    cant turn it off and expect smart people to wait.

  37. How about more tax write offs for research?  

  38. Rajini Rao says:

    Jagu Barot , good idea. Company donations to non-profit organizations are tax exempt. We can get contributions to fund conferences this way. Also, why not have direct contributions in tax returns, like the penny for NASA campaign?  

  39. Pamela MF says:

    Roelf Renkema Washington DC is on the East Coast, Washington State is on the West Coast. Check out Google Earth to see the difference 🙂

  40. Pamela MF says:

    If they cut scientific funding from the budget it will be one more nail in the coffin of this countries ability to remain a thought leader in science and technology.

  41. Rajini Rao says:

    Very good points, Virginia Harlow .

  42. Chad Haney says:

    The caveat is that some of the “other” funding sources don’t care about basic science. They don’t want to know how things work, only can a profit be made.

  43. Rajini Rao says:

    I was surprised to learn that 73% of commercial patents cite federally funded studies (usually from academic institutions) as source. The early studies are non-profit before they get picked up by for-profit applications. Someone needs to support that critical basic research.

  44. Chad Haney says:

    Exactly. Prof. Silverman spent 8-12 yrs working on the chemical that became Lyrica before Pfizer bought the IP from Northwestern.

  45. Chad Haney says:

    Doesn’t NSF stand for Not Sufficient Funds? 😉

  46. Chad Haney says:

    At UChicago I interacted with people mostly in clinical departments since I worked in the hospital. Now, at Northwestern, I notice the difference in funding more, e.g., colleagues in material science vs. radiology.

  47. Gaythia Weis says:

    Virginia Harlow Quite a bit of academic science is funded by private interests.  If broadly based and carefully regulated this can be a complement to governmental funding sources.  Care needs to be taken not to leave researchers beholden to the perspectives of one funding source.  C orporations have different time frames and different objectives than our governments or the citizens.  As Rajini Rao points out above, governmental funded research often provides the underpinnings for  corporate efforts.  That can be because corporations have short term profit driven objectives.  This precludes work on much science for which the profit center has yet to be identified.  It is nice, for example, that we are now to the stage where space exploration by private corporations seems feasible.  But  such efforts could not have been started without years and years of previous work by NASA.

    More concerningly, corporations may have vested interest in maintaining blind spots.   If we want to find out more about the long term impact of oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, I’d hate to totally rely on funding from the oil industry itself.

    And even non profit groups, like the American Heart Association, have narrow objectives.  They also depend on public appeal for fundraising.  Much of our progress in health comes not only from such focussed efforts but also efforts that have no direct linkage to such an application at the time they are made.  Governmental funding is the mechanism by which we can advance the frontiers of science to the point at which more targeted studies can be done.

  48. Chad Haney says:

    We certainly need both public and private funds and both basic science and applied science based research. I guess the overall message is that we need to convince the general populace that more research funding is needed.

  49. Fantastic Rajini! Thank you for representing our interests.

  50. Robby Bowles says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time out of your certainly busy schedule to do this Rajini Rao. 

  51. Venu Acharya says:

    Nice Rajini……!!!!!!

  52. Susan LaDuke says:

    Thanks for your efforts on behalf of the science/medical communities everywhere. It helps to have faces attached to the voices. I am so very concerned about the cuts in research funding and the outlook for grad students, among many other issues.

  53. Moin Bm says:

    very nice pic,,…

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