Science Associations’ Letter to Senator Harry Reid Regarding Federal Employee Participation in Conferences

Dozens of scientific societies, including the Entomological Society of America, recently wrote the following letter to Senator Harry Reid and other lawmakers about Office of Management and Budget Memorandum M-12-12, which concerns federal employee participation in conferences.

May 29, 2013

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader, United States Senate
S-221, the United States Capitol Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Reid:

On behalf of the nation’s professional science and technology community, we respectfully request your consideration regarding Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum M-12-12, which concerns federal employee participation in conferences. The science and technology community supports careful oversight of federal employee meeting and travel expenditures, and the need for fiscal responsibility and transparency in the use of public funds. However, we believe that as OMB Memorandum M-12-12 is currently being interpreted and implemented, it is having the unintentional consequence of restricting the open exchange of ideas among scientists, engineers, and technologists, and thereby adversely affecting important national interests by throttling back on the U.S. “innovation engine.”

We ask that you address this issue to prevent Memorandum M-12-12 from being applied in a way that hampers the legitimate and necessary interactions among scientific and technical researchers who work across government, industry, and academia – interactions that drive the advancement of technology that is vital to our economy and our national security.

Specifically, we ask that you affirm Congress’s support of these open exchanges of information, establishing legislative guidance that exempts federal employee travel to conferences, seminars, and meetings where attendance promotes agency interests as well as the professional development and competency of government scientists, engineers, or other specialized experts. (This would be similar in spirit to the exemption from restrictions on federal employee participation in “widely attended gatherings” that is found in 5 CFR 2635.204(g)(2), and to the provision allowing government employees to serve in the governance of nonprofit organizations that is found in 5 CFR 2640.203(m).)

Further, we request that you clarify that Memorandum M-12-12’s definition of meetings does not cover meetings involving Federal Advisory Committees, the National Academies, standards-setting bodies, industry-government workshops and conferences, or official international engagements.

Permitting federal employees to participate in professional meetings allows them to appropriately interact with their colleagues from other agencies, our military science directorates, universities, and industry to help facilitate the intellectual exchanges that are central to their jobs, the technology transition process, and national interests. Each sector – industry, government, and academia – approaches problems from a different perspective. It is the creative synthesis of these various perspectives, methodologies, and motivations that drives American innovation. The absence of one sector in the collaborative process hinders the progress of science and technology on which the American economy and our national security depend.

The purpose of scientific and engineering conferences is to foster and encourage these vital collaborative interactions. They serve as the focal point of scientific and engineering communication across industry, academia, and government. The formal presentation of peer-reviewed research, the casual conversations that occur while attending meetings, and the ability to expand one’s horizons and examine problems in a new light result in unanticipated and important connections being forged, not only in technical arenas, but also in policy and program areas. It is precisely this kind of unanticipated stimulation that led to the commercial use of GPS satellites for telecommunications, automotive and maritime location assistance, and a myriad of other commercial applications of a technology originally developed for military purposes.

In addition, conferences allow young professionals to meet, interact with, and be mentored by senior researchers in their field. This gives them access to the wealth of knowledge and experience of veteran researchers, allows them to capitalize on “lessons learned” from the trial and error of previous programs, and provides continuity in the transfer of crucial institutional knowledge. Young engineers are able to build a support network that provides insight and counsel as they look to overcome challenges in their own work. Students, both undergraduate and graduate, also benefit from attending conferences with professionals from academia, government, and industry. They are introduced to new ideas and diverse methods they may not otherwise experience, giving them a broader perspective from which to pursue not only their studies but also their careers. Professional pipeline development like this also saves taxpayer money, since new programs do not have to relearn old lessons and reinvent successful processes.

As written and as currently implemented, the directives in M-12-12 stand in stark contrast with the December 17, 2010 memorandum on “Scientific Integrity” by the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Dr. John P. Holdren. Under Part IV, “Professional Development of Government Scientists and Engineers,” the OSTP memorandum calls for agencies to “[e]ncourage presentation of research findings at professional meetings” and “[a]llow full participation in professional or scholarly societies, committees, task forces, and other specialized bodies of professional societies….” This reflects the important role these meetings and organizations play in the professional development of the individual scientist or engineer and in the advancement of the state of a given discipline and of technology in general. Further, Dr. Holdren’s memorandum endorses the notion that scientific integrity and progress are aided when data and research are subjected to appropriate “independent peer review by qualified experts” – which is the very foundation of the existence of professional societies and of presentations at professional technical conferences and symposia.

Since both Congress and the Administration have demonstrated a high-priority emphasis on scientific research and engineering advancement as critical functions of the federal government, we encourage you to consider not only how Administration policies and directives (as well as proposed legislative restrictions such as those contained in HR 313, the “Government Spending Accountability Act of 2013,” the proposed S.AMDT. 67 to HR 933, the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013”) can ensure appropriate oversight, but also how to minimize any negative impact on the U.S. scientific and engineering enterprise, so as to exercise appropriate oversight and responsibility without inadvertently jeopardizing our technological advantages and the vitality of the American “innovation engine” and of the technical workforce that drives it forward.

If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Steve Howell at 703.264.7625 or steveh@aiaa.org. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Sandra Magnus, Executive Director
American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics

H. Frederick Dylla, Executive Director & CEO
American Institute of Physics

Keith Seitter, Executive Director
American Meteorological Society

Thomas G. Loughlin, Executive Director
American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Alan Leshner, Chief Executive Officer
American Association for the Advancement of Sciences

Marc T. Apter, President
Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering-USA (IEEE-USA)

Michael Hirschberg, Executive Director
AHS International- The Vertical Flight Technical Society

Kevin B. Marvel, PhD., Executive Officer
American Astronomical Society

Christine McEntee, Executive Director & CEO
American Geophysical Union

Norman Fortenberry, Executive Director
American Society for Engineering Education

Ellen Bergfeld, Chief Executive Officer
Alliance of Crops, Soil, & Environmental Scientific Societies

Ian C. Harding, PhD, President
American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists – The Palynological Society

Beth A. Cunningham, Executive Officer
American Association of Physics Teachers

Ronald Burg, Executive Vice President
American Concrete Institute

P. Patrick Leahy, Executive Director,
American Geosciences Institute

Peter O’Neil, Executive Director
American Industrial Hygiene Association

Joseph Travis, President
American Institute of Biological Sciences

Robert C. Fine, Executive Director
American Nuclear Society

Darrin Drollinger, Executive Director
American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers

Ellen Bergfeld, Chief Executive Officer
American Society of Agronomy

Jeff Littleton, Executive Vice President
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating & Air Conditioning Engineers

Jeffery Miller, PhD, President
American Society for Microbiology

James Plasker, Executive Director
American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing – The Imaging & Geospatial Information Society

Kenneth D Reid, Executive Vice President
American Water Resources Association

John A. Downing, PhD, President
Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography

Douglas Richardson, Executive Director
Association of American Geographers

Susan B. Sinnott, President
AVS: Science and Technology of Materials, Interfaces, and Processing

Elizabeth A. Kellogg, President
Botanical Society of America

Eric Anderson, Executive Director
Cartography and Geographic Information Society

Stephanie Flores, Executive Director
CASSS, an International Separation Science Society

Peter Komadel, President
Clay Minerals Society

Paul Mendez, Executive Director
Council for Chemical Research

Elizabeth Ambos, Executive Officer
Council of Undergraduate Research

Ellen Bergfeld, Chief Executive Officer
Crop Science Society of America

Mark W. Neice, Executive Director
Directed Energy Professional Society

Katherine McCarter, Executive Director
Ecological Society of America

Scott Hunt, Executive Director & CEO
Endocrine Society

C. David Gammel, Executive Director
Entomological Society of America

Lynn Strother, Executive Director
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

Edward Bernstein, President
Industrial Research Institute

Roberta Burrows, Executive Director
Institute of Environmental Sciences and Technology

Barbara Byrd Keenan, Executive Vice President
Institute of Food Technologist

Olle Selinus, PhD, Co-Chair
International Medical Geology Association

Janet S. Herman, PhD, President
Karst Waters Institute

Peter Baker, Executive Director
Laser Institute of America

Alyson Reed, Executive Director
Linguistic Society of America

Scott Collins, Chair, Executive Board and Science Council
Long Term Ecological Research Network

Todd M. Osman, Executive Director
Materials Research Society

Cathy Manduca, Executive Director
National Association of Geoscience Teachers

George Veni, Executive Director
National Cave and Karst Research Institute

Ellen Paul, Executive Director
Ornithological Council

David Schutt, Chief Executive Officer
SAE International

Susan Newman, Executive Director
Seismological Society of America

David Kanagy, Executive Director
Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration

Barbara Lange, Executive Director
Society for Motion Picture and Television Engineers

Gregg Balko, Executive Director
Society for the Advancement of Material and Process Engineers

Brian Hoal, Executive Director
Society of Economic Geologists

Shawn Lamb, Executive Director
Society of Toxicology

Ellen Bergfeld, Chief Executive Officer
Soil Science Society of America

Jim Robinson, Executive Director
The Minerals, Metals, & Materials Society

Sandy Carlson, President
The Paleontological Society

Winifred Kessler, President
The Wildlife Society

Jeff A. Eger, Executive Director
Water Environment Federation

Cc:

Senator Mitch McConnell
Congressman John Boehner
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi
Senator Barbara Mikulski
Senator Richard Shelby
Senator Carl Levin
Senator James Inhofe
Senator John Rockefeller
Senator John Thune
Senator Thomas Carper
Senator Tom Coburn
Senator Richard Durbin
Senator Thad Cochran
Senator Kay Hagan
Senator Deb Fischer
Senator Bill Nelson
Senator Ted Cruz
Senator Jon Tester
Senator Robert Portman
Congressman Harold Rogers
Congressman Nita Lowey
Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon
Congressman Adam Smith
Congressman Darrell Issa
Congressman Elijah Cummings
Congressman Lamar Smith
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson
Congressman Frank Wolf
Congressman Chaka Fattah
Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young
Congressman Peter Visclosky
Congressman Mac Thornberry
Congressman James Langevin
Congressman Paul Broun
Congressman Dan Maffei

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