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I just received an email from the American Geophysical Union asking scientists and all other concerned citizens to reach out to their House Representatives to remove restrictions on conference travel and funding from the 21st Century Postal Service Act (S. 1789).  A Senate amendment (Sec. 501), originally from Sen Tom Coburn, will make funding travel and conferences extremely difficult and cut travel budgets from 2012-2016 to 80% of 2010 levels.  More below....

As you are aware, having government scientists attend meetings is critical for not only the communication of ideas but also for training and career advancement for junior staff.  This restriction would greatly harm the ability to attract and retain top talent at major US research institutions (like the National Institutes of Health).  It also greatly limits the ability of the US agencies to sponsor scientific meetings and conferences which are a cornerstone of active research programs.  Here is the text of the alert from the AGU:

The 21st Century Postal Service Act (S.1789), passed by the Senate in April of 2012, strives to improve the U.S. Postal Service. However, a Senate Amendment (S.AMDT. 2060), now section 501 in the bill, would severely restrict the participation of Federal government scientists in scientific meetings and conferences. This legislation will likely move quickly in the House during the lame duck session because of serious financial issues addressed in the bill.  Because your fellow government colleagues cannot speak out on this issue, we are encouraging you to be their voice and explain the benefits of scientific collaboration at conferences and meeting.

A very important means by which progress is made in scientific research is in the exchange of ideas that takes place at scientific meetings and conferences.  At these events, scientists from academia, industry, and government, as well as students studying to become scientists, come together to formally present and discuss their research and learn about research by others that may have implications for their work.

The language in section 501 threatens to damage essential communication among scientists.  Government attendance at scientific meetings not only fosters collaboration and future partnerships between government scientists and academia and industry, but the collaboration and exchange of ideas also avoids duplicative scientific efforts and stimulates new concepts. While it is extremely important to eliminate wasteful government spending, Congress should consider ways to avoid excesses that will not also inadvertently damage the United States’ scientific enterprise.

Your help is urgently needed as Congress reviews the 21st Century Postal Service Act. The proponents of limiting government participation at conferences are looking to pass the language from S. AMDT. 2060 when the Postal Service Act (S. 1789) is reviewed in the House, which will likely move quickly with the rushed nature of postal reform. Please consider taking a moment to send an email to your legislators, and ask him/her to amend or remove section 501 from the Postal Service Act and allow Federal employees to continue to participate in non-governmental scientific conferences.  Please click Take Action to write to your Senator, where you will also find "Speaking Points" you may wish to include in your email. You may also include an example of societally-relevant scientific work resulting from collaboration between you and government employees at a scientific meeting.

The required QUARTERLY reporting requirements alone will cause many problems for many agencies.  As you are aware, Republicans have long sought to limit federal scientist travel and conference participation as a way to limit influence and hinder scientific progress.  They are now using the GSA conference controversy to pass these restrictive rules.  

Here are the talking points provided by the AGU.

So please reach out to your CongressCritter and ask him or her to fight back against Sec 501.  This scientist thanks you!

Your Email has been sent.
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