It Was ‘Raining Science’ in Capitol

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

Early in the morning of March 5, a group of professionals gathered in the lobby of the historic Army and Navy Club on Farragut Square in Washington, D.C., two blocks from the White House. Exiting the building on this gray day left damp after overnight rain, they hailed cabs to take them to their first appointment of the day – breakfast in the U.S. Senate.

Hopping out at the Russell Senate Office Building they passed through security and into the Caucus Room. This richly ornamented room served as backdrop for many significant events in U.S. history – including the Watergate inquiry and the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Today, it will be the site of breakfast for these professionals.

Who are these people, eating breakfast in such grand surroundings? Perhaps they are those power-brokers you hear about, walking the halls of authority, rubbing shoulders with lawmakers.

In fact, that is precisely who they are: They are U.S. citizens engaged in participatory democracy.

They also happen to be AAPG members.

They are in Washington, D.C., together with 250 other scientists and engineers from a host of disciplines and professions, to tell their elected leaders about the importance of science, engineering and technology to the nation. They are here for 2008 Congressional Visits Day (CVD).

Events began two days earlier, on Monday evening, over crab cakes and salad at the Army and Navy Club’s Eagle Grill, allowing participants to get acquainted.

Tuesday morning involved a briefing on federal geoscience programs and budgets at the American Geophysical Union, followed by an afternoon briefing on the federal budget and science activities at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

That evening we gathered for a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building. In attendance were several members of the U.S. House of Representatives, including Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), both Ph.D. scientists, and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chair of the House Science and Technology Committee, who at the reception received the George E. Brown Jr. Award for Science-Engineering-Technology Leadership.

We then hustled back to the Army and Navy Club for dinner in the club’s wood paneled main dining room. It was a delicious meal enjoyed with good company.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas (center) met with AAPG members (from left) Allen Balla, Larry Jones, Dan Smith and Valary Schulz.
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas (center) met with AAPG members (from left) Allen Balla, Larry Jones, Dan Smith and Valary Schulz.
On Wednesday morning, after our breakfast at the Russell building, we fanned out across Capitol Hill to meet with elected officials:

  • Jim Hill represented California with visits with staffers of U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Elton Gallegly.
  • G. Warfield “Skip” Hobbs met with members of the Connecticut delegation, including the staff of Senators Chris Dodd and Joseph Lieberman, and a personal meeting with Rep. Chris Shays.
  • Peter MacKenzie and Jeff Daniels of Ohio visited with staffers for Senators George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown, and Rep. Deborah Pryce.
  • We had a large Texas contingent at CVD, and those participants met with staff for Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and Jon Cornyn. Several participants were able to chat and take a photo with Hutchison in the Russell building.

In addition, Texans Pat Gratton and Valary Schulz met with staff for Rep. Pete Sessions; Dan Smith met with staff for Rep. Al Green; and Larry Jones and Allen Balla met with staff for Rep. Mike Culberson, then stopped the congressman in the hallway for a brief chat.

  • Finally, AAPG participants met with staff members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Minerals Subcommittee.

In all, we held 16 meetings across Capitol Hill, and at each we communicated the importance of dealing with the work force crisis facing the energy and minerals industries, the need to support the preservation of geoscience data and samples, and the proper federal role in oil and gas research and development.

We also indicated our willingness to help them tackle these problems.

What did we accomplish? Well, the sun shone on Washington, D.C., during CVD, but it was raining science on Capitol Hill. And that’s important.

As geoscientists we understand that an individual drop of water has little effect on a landscape. But multiple drops form rivulets that form streams that collectively can be transformative.

Sometimes change occurs quickly; sometimes it occurs drop by drop, moving grain by grain, with patience and persistence. Either way, it starts with that individual drop followed by another, and another – it’s up to you and me. We must engage policy makers at CVD and back at home.

Here is another opportunity: Mark your calendars for Sept. 9-10. The American Geological Institute and its member societies are planning a first-ever GeoCVD. We’ll provide more details as they become available.

Washington, D.C., could use more rain. At GEO-DC we’re scanning the clouds, umbrellas at the ready.

In early February the AAPG Executive Committee approved the addition of three new members to serve three-year terms on the GEO-DC Governance Board, which provides oversight and guidance to GEO-DC. They are AAPG members Alfredo Guzman and Peter MacKenzie, and past AAPG president Dan Smith, who was also named the board’s vice chair.

Patrick J.F. Gratton, another AAPG past president, chairs the Governance Board.

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Washington Watch

Washington Watch - David Curtiss

David Curtiss served as the Director of AAPG’s Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. from 2008-11.

Policy Watch

Policy Watch is a monthly column of the EXPLORER written by the director of AAPG's  Geoscience and Energy Office in Washington, D.C. *The first article appeared in February 2006 under the name "Washington Watch" and the column name was changed to "Policy Watch" in January 2013 to broaden the subject matter to a more global view.

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