Geotimes Logo POLITICAL SCENE  January 1999 

A Fellow on the Hill

by David R. Wunsch

Greetings from Washington! It is a special honor to have been chosen by the American Geological Institute to serve as this year’s Congressional Science Fellow, especially during the institute’s 50th anniversary year. My fellowship represents the first Congressional Fellowship sponsored by AGI since 1982.

A few years back, when I was in graduate school, the only product that I could have associated with AGI was Geotimes. The truth is, like many geoscience Ph.D.s in the early stages of their careers, my association with AGI via Geotimes rarely went farther than the occasional serendipitous glance at the front pages of the magazine en route to what I considered the most important part of the issue: “Classified Ads.” However, my current association with the institute has enlightened me to the important and relevant role that AGI fills in the geoscience community. During the past 50 years, AGI has grown into a scientific organization that represents 34 member societies and professional associations and helps these groups integrate their common interests in earth science and education, as well as in public policy. Since 1992, the Government Affairs Program at AGI has been an important link between these societies and government agencies on state and national levels. Clearly, the institute provides more for the earth-science community than just Geotimes.

I would like to share with you some of the observations I have made during my first few months in Washington, D.C. This is a city rich in culture and architecture, full of energy, and host to an extremely diverse populace. All of these factors coalesce to form a capital truly befitting the United States. And, unless you have been extracting ice cores from Antarctica, you know that the current events taking place in Washington have created a dynamic, political puzzle, perhaps setting the stage for historic developments.

Welcome from AAAS
My first three weeks here were spent attending an orientation for all science fellows, managed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This year’s class contained 75 fellows: some are “diplomacy fellows” assigned to the State Department or U.S. Agency for International Development. Other fellows had previously arranged placements with federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I am one of 28 congressional fellows, the largest subgroup in this year’s class.

The orientation program included a list of speakers and panelists that read like a Who’s Who from the worlds of science, journalism, and public policy. Featured were journalists, political pundits, statesmen, ambassadors, congressmen, and congressional staff. We also attended a healthy dose of meetings with previous fellows, who gave us critical insights and suggestions. Without exception, our predecessors assured us that we were about to embark on one of the most challenging, but exciting, years of our professional lives!

AAAS arranged for our program to be held in different buildings or agencies around Washington. As promptness was expected, this shell game forced us to develop our investigative, as well as track-and-field skills. I suspect that this was their subliminal way to force us to master the transportation network — a crash course in the urban geography of Washington. Being “thrown into the deep end of the pool” also helped us form a bond as a class and to build camaraderie, which was just what our AAAS mentors intended. During our fellowship year, we continue to attend seminars, social events, and retreats as part of our public policy education and to expand our networks.

Congressional Assignment
Immediately after orientation, each congressional fellow has the opportunity to interview with offices on the Hill to find a placement that will be mutually beneficial for both the fellow and the congressional office. I interviewed with the offices of several senators and representatives and also with congressional committees. I decided to work for the House Committee on Resources’ Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, which is chaired by Representative Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.). I chose this assignment because committee staff are usually afforded the opportunity to work on specific issues related to their jurisdictions. Issues likely to be addressed by our committee in the coming Congress are innovative adjustments to mine reclamation practices as allowed by SMCRA (Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977), abandoned-mine land programs related to hardrock and base metal mines in the western United States, and royalty collection and distribution programs for on- and offshore oil and gas leases granted by the U.S. government. Furthermore, the subcommittee oversees programs of the U.S. Geological Survey (except the Water Resources Division), including the National Geologic Mapping Act, which will come up for reauthorization in the 106th Congress.

If these professional adventures appeal to you and you would like the opportunity to contribute scientific information to the public policy arena, I suggest that you apply for the 1999-2000 Congressional Fellowship that will be sponsored by AGI. Application information can be found in recent issues of Geotimes or at the AGI web site, <>. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you would like more insights about life as a congressional fellow on Capitol Hill.

David R. Wunsch
Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, 1626 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515
     Dr. Wunsch is the 1998–99 AGI Congressional Science Fellow. He will spend 1999 working with the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and can be contacted at the above address or via e-mail: <David.>.

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