One issue that resonated loudly through the survey responses was membership’s expectation of the importance of advocacy for ASCI. Specifically, more than 85% of membership agreed that advocacy with federal funding agencies was an important role for the ASCI. With the Washington mantra to reduce federal spending and its impact on our lifeline, the NIH budget, it is not surprising that advocacy is now front and center. The research community is not alone in suffering from the federal squeeze, and we need to position ourselves with our funders, the taxpayers, so that science remains a priority for our elected officials who appropriate the budget. I hope to convince you that advocacy is not only the mission of the ASCI, but it should be a mission for each and every one of us.
When I joined the ASCI Council five years ago, I took on a responsibility for our advocacy missions. The Society participates in multiple advocacy organizations with the recognition that we are a comparatively small organization and that there is strength in numbers. We are one of the 26 members societies of FASEB, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, an organization that this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary. FASEB, through this conglomeration, represents 100,000 scientists and is the largest organization of biological scientists. FASEB’s missions are many, but they center on the dissemination of scientific information through publications, educational programs, and meetings.
FASEB’s Office of Public Affairs is an active group that is an excellent source of information on federal policy related to research, including funding (1
). Last spring, FASEB cohosted a conference on engaging basic researchers in translational science. Representatives from FASEB’s member organizations, NIH leadership, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, and others worked together to outline strategies to improve translational research focus on multiple aspects from training to technology transfer and to examine approaches used throughout academia and those newer approaches now beginning at the NIH. FASEB’s size and staffing allows it to be a ready source of information on research trends, including funding information. FASEB stays abreast of federal budget planning and taps into membership at critical points during the long process of determining the federal budget for research. FASEB regularly communicates with NIH, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and congressional leadership. Because of FASEB’s size and organization, its opinion matters.
The ASCI also advocates through its participation in the Coalition for Life Sciences, or CLS (2
). CLS is a smaller and more focused organization devoted to congressional outreach, education, and advocacy. In the last several years, CLS has been nearly singular with its focus on identifying the benefits of and promoting federal funding for research. CLS hosts a series of educational seminars throughout the year for the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus. This caucus, established in 1989, is notable in that it is bipartisan, with 75 House members and 8 Senate members, and its leadership derives from both political parties. The Coalition for Life Sciences advises the caucus and hosts seminars throughout the year. Recent topics covered in these sessions included new therapies for melanoma, the biological basis of obesity, and strategies for cardiac repair. These sessions are attended by congressional members and staff, and they provide a unique opportunity for scientists to talk directly to Congress about advances in science. In a given calendar year, this may be one of the only opportunities for a member of Congress to hear about science directly from scientists. The ASCI strongly supports the CLS and the caucus.
The ASCI is also a member of Research!America, a broad coalition of academic institutions, hospitals, independent research organizations, professional societies, voluntary health organizations, foundations, businesses, and industry. Research!America was organized in 1989 by Senator Lowell Weicker; Jack Whitehead; Theodore Cooper, then chairman of Upjohn; and Mary Lasker. In 1990, Research!America began to float and endorse the concept of doubling of the NIH budget. In 1995, in a fiscal era not dissimilar to now, the nation faced significant budgetary shortfalls. During this tight budget crunch, it was proposed that the NIH receive a 10% budget reduction. It was this threat that led Senator Mark Hatfield (Republican, Oregon) to observe that only 3 cents of every health care dollar goes toward research. An amendment to block this proposed cut was successful. From this began a serious discussion and recognition of the importance of NIH funding, not only as a health care investment, but also as a broader technology economic stimulus. It is fair to conclude that with the increase in health care costs, the NIH investment is far less than 3 cents per today’s health care dollar.