Political Scene

A Decade in the Game: AGI's Government Affairs Program
David Applegate

Accompanying this monthís column are excerpts from an editorial that appeared in the October 1991 issue of Geotimes about an initiative then being launched by the American Geological Institute (AGI). Written by the instituteís executive director at the time, Charles G. ďChipĒ Groat, the editorial lays out the mission of the new Geoscience Advocacy Program: raise the profile of the geosciences on Capitol Hill and give voice to the policy concerns of AGIís member societies. Read with a decadeís worth of hindsight, the editorial is a testament both to the soundness of the original plan and the challenges that the initiative, now called the Government Affairs Program (still GAP), faces today.

The notion of an AGI role in public policy dates back to the instituteís inception in 1948. Indeed, part of the reason for a Washington location was the proximity to the corridors of power. But it took the leadership of two successive AGI presidents, Frank Harrison in 1990 and Bill Fisher in 1991, to get a full-fledged program going in this area. It fell to Fisher and Groat to convince AGIís member societies that here was an opportunity for the institute to provide a needed service for the community. At the time, none of AGIís member societies had a full-time policy person in Washington, and a majority of them chose to support the new initiative.
Today, serving the member societies remains the cornerstone of the Government Affairs Program. Then and now, a significant percentage of the programís budget comes from voluntary member society contributions, with the largest contribution coming from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and the largest per capita contribution from the Association of American State Geologists. Then and now, an advisory committee of member society representatives oversees the programís activities and sets its priorities. Chaired by Jim Gibbs for its first six years, the committee has been chaired for the last four by Murray Hitzman, a former Geological Society of America (GSA) Congressional Science Fellow now at the Colorado School of Mines.
Ten years ago this month, Craig Schiffries joined AGI as the programís first manager, fresh from his own stint as a GSA congressional fellow. To effectively carry out its mission, the program has grown in staff and scope in its first 10 years. From one person in 1992, the program now consists of the director (the author, who arrived in 1995 fresh from being an American Geophysical Union congressional fellow), program associate Margaret Baker, senior advisor John Dragonetti, and anywhere from one to three geoscience student interns supported by the American Institute of Professional Geologists Foundation and AAPG. Program staff also coordinate AGIís own congressional science fellowship, initiated in 1998 with the support of the AGI Foundation. Please visit our Web site,, to see how all these people have been working on education, energy, environmental, natural hazards, resources and science policy issues.
Although not all 10-year-olds are particularly good at saying thank you, I would like to express gratitude on behalf of GAPís current staff to the folks mentioned above, to AGI Executive Director Marcus Milling (who took the reins in February 1992), and to the many advisory committee representatives, AGI and member society leaders, and past staffers who have helped the program succeed through its first 10 years. Now itís on to the next 10 ó I can hardly wait to see what the teenage years will hold!

The following is a Comment that appeared in the October 1991 issue of Geotimes.
Advocacy for the Geosciences
Charles G. ďChipĒ Groat (then AGIís Executive Director)

With the initiation of its formal Geoscience Advocacy Program this fall, AGI is joining the large group of professional and scientific organizations actively pursuing the interests of their constituents in Washington. The policy issues that concern the geoscience community are as diverse as the characteristics of the societies that represent the technical specialties of geoscientists. Some groups have little or no interest in the matters of Congress and the executive agencies, while the livelihood of others is directly affected by legislation and administrative rules considered every day in Washington.

How can an advocacy program span the range of interests and be all things to all geoscientists? Clearly the answer is that it can't, but the AGI Geoscience Advocacy Program is designed to received the ideas and views of anyone who is interested and to consider all of these in developing the priority list of issues for attention. An advisory committee of representatives from AGI member societies will meet regularly to review the program and set priorities, thus ensuring that the AGI effort reflects the interests and meets the needs of the societies and members AGI represents.

The AGI Geoscience Advocacy Program is designed to be a communications link or liaison between the geoscience community and the federal government. The staff person will track issues, programs, budgets, and legislation of interest to geoscientists and relay information to member societies through designated contact persons and newsletter articles. The staff person will become known to key congressional staff members and agency officials and encourage them to call AGI when they need geoscience information or to be put in contact with an expert in some geoscience specialty. Requests for this type of assistance will be relayed to the appropriate society or individual identified ahead of time as willing to respond quickly to these requests. AGI will also help arrange meetings and briefings on geoscience issues for congressional staff members and work with these people to identify witnesses for committee hearings on issues that involve geosciences. The advocacy program will try to increase sensitivity to the geoscience aspects of resource, environmental, and research issues by pointing them out to staff members who might not be aware that these considerations exist.

Are there any issues that the entire geoscience community can come together on, or are we too fragmented to agree on anything? How about more money for geoscience research? Can we all agree that the AGI advocacy staff person should identify parts of the budgets of the USGS, DOE, and EPA, for example, that contain funding for geoscience programs, and inform societies representing the affected specialties about the status of the appropriations and give them the names of people to contact if they have concerns? If the funding of "big science" projects - like the space station - poses a threat to the budgets of agencies that house the research programs most geoscientists seek funding from, can we all agree that tracking and reporting on this issue should be a high priority activity?

This fall the geoscience advocacy advisory committee will be considering these matters and developing a list of activities and issues for early attention. The committee will have to exercise some judgment as the program begins, but will be seeking input from the geoscience community to complete and modify the advocacy agenda. Geoscientists who belong to an AGI member society can voice their opinions on the priorities for the advocacy program by communicating with the advocacy program contact person from their society. The names are listed in the inset box. Individuals seeking information on specific issues can contact AGI directly after mid-October.

The implementation of the geoscience advocacy program signals the growing awareness by the geoscience community that not all things that affect our profession occur in the field or in the laboratory. As we join the American Geophysical Union, American Institute of Physics, the American Chemical Society, and other professional organizations that have organized advocacy programs in Washington, we increase the potential for geoscientists to exert greater control over the destiny of the programs we depend on. The increased visibility of the geosciences in Washington should also pull us further into the mainstream of science policy issues, which should benefit the nation as well as ourselves. It will take time and patience, but AGI is, at last, in the game.

Applegate directs the American Geological Instituteís Government Affairs Program and is editor of Geotimes. E-mail:

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