Washington DC, 2007

As you can read in an Update on my website from this time in 2006, I participated in a lobbying trip to Washington, DC on behalf of basic research in the physical sciences. On that trip, I was one of about 25 scientists representing two laboratories. On the 2007 trip (Mar. 20-23), I was one of 40 scientists representing three laboratories (SLAC, Fermilab, and the US LHC users); most of us are shown in the photograph above. Via these numbers, the strong efforts of the participants, and the cumulative effects of our past trips, this trip broke every record kept, including organizer exhaustion.

As with the trip last year, we had prepared for months before the trip with reading, lectures and role-playing that prepared us for most situations we encountered during the real trip. Since I had moved back to Ohio, I could only virtually attend these meetings by phone; this obviously reduced the amount of role-playing in which I could participate.

Our time in DC was quite busy, so I did not have time to take many photographs, but I have included a few of those that I was able to take at the end of this entry. I arrived early on Tuesday afternoon. Since our lobbying trip agenda did not begin until dinner that evening this arrival time, so I had some time to relax and explore the neighborhood around the hotel before dinner. I ate lunch from one of the ubiquitous hot dog stands near the hotel.

Those of us who arrived early were asked to go to the headquarters of the University Research Associates (URA), which is a consortium of Universities that manages Fermilab, where we would help assemble the packets of material for distribution to the Congressional office. After several wrong turns and multiple consultations with the map, I managed to find the place. Once there, I became part of an assembly line that assembled approximately 270 packets in a few hours. We still did not have enough for all of the offices we visited.

Unlike last year, dinner on the first night was well planned. Early in the evening, after we had all gathered in the lobby, we set out for the restaurant. We had a little trouble finding it since it was inside a hotel, but we did not realize that until we had passed it. The meal was excellent, and it was a good opportunity to become acquainted with new team members and reunite with people I had not seen since the previous trip.

The next morning (Wed.) was our briefing at URA headquarters. There, we were introduced to the URA leadership and given a final preparatory talk and equipped with the packets to give to those with whom we would be meeting that afternoon, the next day, and on Friday morning.

Most of our meetings were in the House and Senate office buildings around the capitol, such as the Cannon House Office Building shown above. Few of us met with members of Congress in person; I did not meet with any. Usually, we met with Legislative Assistants, who form a specialized staff for each member that collects and distills information on various issues. We were assigned meetings in pairs; usually the members of the pairs were from two different laboratories. Each pair consisted of a “primary,” who had made the appointment with the member’s office, and a “secondary.”

I was the primary for 11 appointments and the secondary for 3. I had been assigned 13 offices to contact and ask for an appointment. So, I had a reasonable success rate. I met with legislators from Wisconsin, Ohio, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. My feet were sore after walking among so many offices!

Though I was nervous before and during my appointments, especially where I was the primary. I made a few minor blunders, but most of the meetings went well, and I do not think any of my mistakes cost anyone their funding. The majority of the meetings were short but productive. The most enjoyable meetings were those in which the staff member seemed genuinely curious about and interested in our field. In those meetings, we had the opportunity to share our excitement for this research and some of the big questions we hope to answer in the next generation. The overall impression we obtained from the trip was that of strong support for basic research in the physical sciences. In my more optimistic moments, I think that Congressional support is the strongest it has been since the end of the Cold War.

The situation is not perfect for us, and continued support is not guaranteed. For example, the next major project that the particle physics community has planned is the International Linear Collider (ILC). By “major” I mean that the first phase is 20 miles long. It could answer many of the currently most pressing questions about the fundamental constituents and laws of physical reality. However, we do not know if it will ever be built; only continued interaction between physicists and lawmakers, combined with support from the voters of the US, will turn the ILC from a grand plan into a grand reality.

In addition to visiting offices of Congress, I was able to have meals with two friends who life their. Jenny was a member of my InterVarsity small group at Stanford. We had dinner together on Thursday night. Markus, who I had seen only a few weeks before in Columbus, had lunch with me on Friday before I returned to the airport for the flight back to Columbus.

The only sight-seeing I had time to do was at the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. I was able to spend a few minutes at one of the exhibits, which included the only surviving copy of the first map published with the name “America” printed on it. The gallery had a novel audio tour feature. Instead of renting headsets, visitors could dial a special number on their cell phones to get recorded information about certain exhibits and artwork.

This is the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

This is Neptune’s Fountain at the front of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
Here I am posing before Neptune’s Fountain at the front of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Thank you Sasha for taking this photograph.

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