Mark Wilson September 18th, 2013
WASHINGTON, DC–Today I was in Washington, DC, with 70 other colleagues for the annual Geosciences Congressional Visits Day organized by the American Geosciences Institute (AGI). I was ostensibly representing the Paleontological Society as its secretary, but I was really a member of the Ohio delegation there to speak to staffers in the offices of Ohio senators and representatives. The weather was strikingly beautiful, and all the more lovely considering how much time I spent looking at it through windows in one office or another.
The AGI organized this set of visits with great precision. We were split into state teams (my partner was Pete MacKenzie of the Ohio Oil and Gas Association), each guided by a coordinator (we had Julie McClure, a science policy fellow). Our Ohio team went to the offices of Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, Congressmen James Renacci and Pat Tiberi, and then we met with a counsel for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. We had a few minutes in each office to make the case for “steady federal investments” in Earth and space sciences. It was a difficult “ask” because of the diversity of agencies and constituents, so I hope our enthusiasm at least left an impression. I am SO grateful to Pete and Julie for their experience and leadership in our little squad.
This is a rotunda in the Russell Senate Office Building, with Pete Mackenzie serving as scale. This is a spot commonly used for television interviews of senators. The statue is of Senator Richard Russell himself.
We saw these clocks throughout the Russell Senate Office Building. The lights indicate the number of buzzers sounded to call senators to various votes and quorum calls. The red light means the Senate is in session.
Yes, here is Country Mouse outside the office of his representative: James Renacci of the Ohio 16th District (“the fighting 16th!”). I felt casually dressed, and one staffer said I must be the professor with “that hair”. While I learned a lot, I can’t say I was comfortable with the process. I’m grateful for all the bright people who enjoy these things!
OK, out of the offices in time for a little sight-seeing on the way back to the airport. Here is one of my favorite statues in the capitol: Nathan Hale. This tragic hero looks so much like a college student to me.
You just have to love democracy in action at the heart of our government! This is just one example of the many temporary and permanent demonstrations going on in the capitol. I’ve resisted showing you the displays of the anti-circumcisionists!
Finally, there must be a little geology here. This was the first time I’ve visited the extraordinary National Museum of the American Indian. Highly recommended, and the food court is to die for. The architecture is intended to resemble southwestern cliffs of sandstone with inset dwellings. I think it is a spectacular success.
Some of the stone is set with the bedding planes facing outwards. Several trace fossils are visible. These were formed by worm-like animals burrowing through muds sandwiched between layers of sand. I wish I knew the age and location of this deposit.
My visit to Washington was an excellent experience and the basis for future such work with science policy issues. It was surprisingly easy to visit congressional offices, so one primary value of our trip was to show other scientists that their elected representatives are anxious to hear our opinions and use our knowledge and skills for crafting legislation. Of course, everyone we talked to was preoccupied by the latest political maneuvers associated with trying to pass a budget for the next fiscal year (good luck with that), but we were always listened to carefully and treated with respect.
You may also notice in the top photo that the flags are at half-staff on the capitol building. This is because on Monday, the first day of our training workshop, there was a mass shooting at the Navy Yard in DC. This tragedy was a shadow over us all, and it was a reminder of how important good governance is in an unpredictable world.