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What is Science Policy & Differences between Federal vs State Policy: 3 things we learned

The United States and Michigan capitol buildings

MSU SciComm held its second of six science policy lunches today. Jeremy Reuter and Sarah Walter from the MSU Washington office led a science policy session, specifically focusing on how policy works at both the state and federal level.

Here are three things we learned:

1. Congressional Staffers are the go-to contacts.

When discussing Congress, we usually think of the elected members but much of the legislative process occurs with the help of congressional staffers. In fact, congressional staffers outnumber members of Congress by more than a factor of 10. Staffers are split into two categories: committee staff and personal staff. The committee staff is assigned to a specific committee such as the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee while the personal staff are assigned to individual members of Congress. Due to the large amounts of staff compared to members of Congress, you will probably meet with a staffer and not an actual member of Congress. State legislatures have a similar layout. However, as members of the state legislatures typically represent fewer people than a member of Congress, there is a higher chance you will meet with an elected official.

2. Meetings are short so craft your message carefully.

Meetings with elected officials or their staffers are short, typically 15 minutes. Considering your meeting is one of multiple that day, your message needs to be clear and to the point. When crafting your message consider your framing: should you include quantitative or qualitative data to support your argument, should you focus on the short-term or long-term, should you be technical or political? The person you are meeting with is likely not an expert in your field and may not have any background knowledge about the issue or an understanding of why it matters. When talking with staffers, remember that personal staffers are responsible for any issues raised by the representative’s constituents. On the other hand, committee staffers are responsible for issues related to the specific committee and therefore, may be more knowledgeable about a specific issue.

3. Get your message to the right people at the right time.

The legislature works under a committee model were each of the members are assigned to multiple committees. This means that your representative may not be in the best position to address your issue. Instead, identify the committee which addresses your issue and contact the members and staffers of that committee.

Depending on your issue, there may be an ideal time to contact members of the legislature. For example, issues related to higher education such as student loans, college and university accreditation, and completion initiatives are all part of the Higher Education Act, which typically gets updated every few years. Therefore, meeting with members of Congress during the reauthorization process is the ideal time to make sure your concerns can be addressed in the new policies

MSU SciComm’s next policy lunch is October 3rd, 2019 at 12 pm - 1 pm in the Engineering Building, room 3549. It will cover ethics training for scientists. Those interested should RSVP on the MSU SciComm website.There will also be a nuclear policy meta-review on Thursday, September 26th at 12pm in the Engineering Building, room 3405. You can also RSVP on the MSU SciComm website.

Slides from today’s event can be viewed here and a recording of the session can be viewed here.

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