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How to Engage

Science touches lives every day. It drives the innovation and discovery that help us understand and interact with the world around us.

When scientists consider engaging in policymaking the usual branch of government that comes to mind is the U.S. Congress. Many professional societies organize fly-in days for their members to come to Washington, D.C. to speak to their Representatives and/or Senators on the federal research and development budget or authorizing legislation that impact the progress of science.

Engage, educate and be a force for science. Explore the opportunities below and check back to learn about new ways to advocate for science.

Opportunities to Submit Comments on Proposed Rules

But many scientists do not take advantage of a very basic tool that the government utilizes to demonstrate transparency in government and to afford an opportunity for the public to engage — the Federal Register and the rulemaking process.

Federal rulemaking is an important process that allows the White House and federal agencies to implement laws set forth by Congress or to set new policies and rules that can affect the use of science in policy, for example, environmental regulations or policies that can impact the conduct of science, for example, restrictions on student visas. In many of these cases, the government will publish a proposed rule in the Federal Register and solicit public comments over a period typically 30-90 days.

This is an important opportunity for you to give your voice to the federal rulemaking process and while many societies—such as AAAS—do submit comments it is equally important that your individual voice be a part of this democratic process.

 

Commerce Issues Export Control List of Emerging Technologies. On November 19, the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Federal Register of a revised list of emerging technologies subject to export controls. The emerging technologies that the BIS proposes to include fall into fourteen broad categories: biotechnology; artificial intelligence; Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) technology; microprocessor technology; advanced computing technology; data analytics technology; quantum information and sensing technology; logistics technology; additive manufacturing; robotics; brain-computer interfaces; hypersonics; advanced materials; and advanced surveillance technologies. Public comments are due December 19, 2018, giving stakeholders only 30 days to respond.

PAST OPPORTUNITIES

NIH Request for Information on Reporting Standards for New Category of Human Subjects Research. On August 10, the National Institutes of Health issued a Request for Information on standards for categories of research that involve human subjects and is also considered basic, fundamental science. The RFI is part of NIH’s ongoing effort to revise the Common Rule to address a problem of under-reporting of clinical trials and to ensure the protection of human research subjects. According to NIH, the problem of under-reporting is due to research that may involve human subjects but is not conducted in a traditional clinical setting or involves a health-related intervention. As part of their efforts to protect human research subjects, NIH is now considering a new category of research entitled, ‘prospective basic science studies involving human participants,’ that would overlap both the definition of fundamental research and the definition of a clinical trial. It specifically is seeking input on standards to use in registration and reporting results for this new category. Scientists in the social and behavioral science communities are concerned that the new “prospective” definition will create additional regulatory burden in areas of science that have been seen traditionally as basic science. To submit your responses to the NIH RFI, please go here. Responses must be received by November 12, 2018.

Revisions to Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of Interior is proposing modifications to Endangered Species Act regulations that would affect the process used for listing a species as threatened and endangered and for the designation of critical habitat. For example, it proposes to weigh a “threatened” species on a case-by-case basis and would allow the agency to consider economic factors in its decisions. The proposal is controversial in that many believe that the ESA needs to be revised in some fashion and there exist draft bills attempting to do that; while others believe that the administration’s proposed revisions would only serve to destroy natural habitats and speed the extinction of species. The Fish and Wildlife Service welcomes comments from all sectors including the scientific community. Comments are due September 24, 2018.

 

Opportunities to Engage in Federal Advisory Committees

Another way to engage is to serve on federal scientific advisory committees or nominate colleagues to serve as advisors. Most federal agencies publish notices seeking nominations in the Federal Register. In addition, these federal agencies will publish dates for their public meetings in the Federal Register, so you can attend as appropriate. It is a good way to learn what issues scientific advisory committees are discussing. Opportunities are listed below.

 

EPA Seeks Comments on Science Assessment of Particulate Matter. Lost in the news that the EPA had dissolved a scientific review panel on particulate matter was an announcement in the Federal Register that the agency was seeking public comment on the “Integrated Science Assessment for Particulate Matter.” The assessment is prepared by the National Center for Environmental Assessment within EPA’s Office of Research and Development and provides a scientific overview of air quality and its effect on human health and welfare. In past years, the assessment was typically reviewed by the since-dissolved Particulate Matter Review Panel and will now be reviewed by the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. Public comments are due December 11, 2018, and the CASAC will meet December 12-13 to discuss the comments on and peer review of the final assessment at a public meeting. 

PAST OPPORTUNITIES

NOAA Seeks Nominations to Serve on its Science Advisory Board. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Science Advisory Board advises the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans, Atmosphere, and NOAA Administrator on long- and short-range strategies for research, education, and application of science to resource management and environmental assessment and prediction. The SAB assists NOAA in maintaining a complete and accurate understanding of scientific issues critical to the agency's missions. Specific expertise sought include cloud computing, artificial intelligence and data management; weather modeling and data assimilation; remote/autonomous sensing technology; ocean exploration science and technology; and `omics science. Details for submitting nominations can be found here; nominations must be received by October 15, 2018.

Census Bureau Seeks Experts for its Scientific Advisory Committee. The U.S. Census Bureau published a notice in the Federal Register seeking nominations for experts to serve on the Census Scientific Advisory Committee. The committee advises the Director of the U.S. Census Bureau on the uses of scientific developments in statistical data collection, statistical analysis, survey methodology, geospatial analysis, econometrics, cognitive psychology, and computer science as they pertain to the Bureau’s programs and activities. The deadline to submit nominations is September 25, 2018.

Working With Congress

Important forces bring science and government together. Congress makes decisions that directly affect researchers through the allocation of funding and guidelines for its use. Science and engineering also contribute to understanding a host of policy issues at the forefront of congressional debate ranging from perennial topics such as national security and climate change, to emerging issues such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology. 

Communication and understanding differences in how these processes develop is the key to bridging the gap between the mutually dependent cultures of science and government; this guide aims to provide this information for scientists.