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  • Calling Congress should not be a full-time job- new resource for ornithologists

    Fern Davies
    • Not enough hours in the day as it is, and now you need to call your members of Congress ... again and again and again. If only there was some way to know when those calls are most urgently needed....


      UPDATE 31 March: Database is up-and-running...and we are running as fast as we can to catch up with the Congress.

    This news and analysis are provided by the Ornithological Council, a consortium supported by 11 ornithological societies. Join or renew your membership in your ornithological society if you value the services these societies provide to you, including Ornithology Exchange and the Ornithological Council!


    Just under three months into this new Administration and this new Congress, there’s been a deluge of troubling policies and policy proposals on a number of issues of concern to ornithologists. The travel ban threatens colleagues who might want to travel to the United States to work or for school or a conference. The avalanche of proposed legislation that threatens the environment, public lands, and various aspects of wildlife conservation is daunting. Now we have an initial budget proposal from the Administration that, if enacted, will destroy decades of progress in all these areas and do away with an enormous amount of funding for scientific research.


    You could spend all day on the phone, calling your elected officials in Washington but few of us have that kind of time or energy.


    What you need, then, is a triage system to help you determine what issues you want to address, when to address them, and how to communicate effectively with your elected officials.


    The Ornithological Council has posted a database on Ornithology Exchange that will list and track bills of interest.


    Each listing will also include an "alert status" based on the probability of the bill succeeding at each level which in turn is a function of many factors including the number of co-sponsors, the number of committees, the substance of the bill, and the actual progress of the bill. This assessment relies on experience and is somewhat objective. However, because we know that people simply don't have the time to call/write on every piece of legislation that may be of concern, we hope that these alert levels will help people to determine how to best use their limited time.


    We are covering topics of interest to ornithologists, including legislation pertaining to the EPA and the various statutes it implements/oversees, the Department of the Interior and its component agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Agriculture and its agencies, including the Forest Service and the various Farm Bill conservation programs, the National Science Foundation, and so on. The structure is already in place but populating it will take a few days because there has already been so much legislation introduced. Sorting through it will take some time.


    We will focus on legislation that has nation-wide application. When a bill warrants special attention and more in-depth analysis, we will publish a separate article on OrnithologyExchange. Watch the Ornithological Council forum!


    Here is some general guidance:


    Most bills have very little chance of passage. In the 114th Congress only 2.1% of the bills that were introduced became law:
    Introduced: 10,396 bills
    Committee consideration: 5,595
    Floor consideration: 1,445
    Passed one chamber: 1,398
    Sent to President: 228
    Vetoed: 7
    Became law: 219


    Many members of Congress introduce bills that they do not actively promote, just to show their constitutions that they are “doing something” that their supporters expect them to do.


    Leadership generally crafts the bills that they will promote and these bills tend to be pre-negotiated (within the party) and comprehensive. They may incorporate some of the bills, or parts of the bills, that other members have introduced.


    Here’s a great example of a bill that has received a great deal of press but has little chance of moving. One of at least 35 bills pending that pertain to EPA, H.R. 861 seeks to terminate the EPA by 31 December 2018. The bill text is exactly one sentence long: “The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” It has been referred to five committees and has only six co-sponsors. The odds of a bill getting through five committees are essentially nil. And the bill doesn’t address the myriad questions that would have to be addressed if the EPA were to be terminated. Congress has tasked that agency with implementing numerous laws, including the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and many others. Congress would need to re-delegate that work to other agencies (unless, of course, they were to also repeal all those laws!). By contrast, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act (H.R. 1431) is very detailed, has 28 co-sponsors, and has already been reported out of the one committee to which is was referred.


    How do you communicate with members of Congress?


    You can call.
    House phone numbers: http://www.house.gov/representatives/
    Senate phone numbers: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/


    It can be hard to get through. You could call the home district offices. These offices typically handle constituent service requests and not political issues, but they will take the information and forward it to the political staff in D.C.


    Use the contact webforms provided by each member of Congress. Phone lines get tied up and it can be hard to get through by phone.


    Send a paper letter through the U.S. mail.


    Consider meeting with the member in person, at a town hall or during a home district visit. You can join with others for home district visits or for a visit at the U.S. Capitol, those these visits are typically with staffers (not a bad thing! they generally have a more detailed understanding of the issue than does the member!). The OC can help you with home district visits and visits to Capitol Hill. Another article with details about longer-term strategies will be posted soon.


    What do you say?


    First, call only your own members of Congress. Members care only about those who give a significant amount of money and about constituents. Unless you are in the first category, you should make clear you are a constituent and give your full address, including zip code.


    Second, call even if your member ordinarily supports the things you care about and opposes the things you oppose. They are facing the same avalanche of legislation and they need to hear from constituents so they can allocate their time, too. If they don’t hear from constituents about a particular piece of legislation, they may not spend much time or effort on that particular bill.


    Third, call even if your member ordinarily votes for the things you oppose and votes against the things you support. They have to worry about re-election.


    Fourth, state the bill number and what you hope that your representative will do (support, oppose). There is no need to say anything more than that. The staff don’t have the time to record the reasons; they are often flooded with calls and they simply record the issue and the request.


    BE POLITE. Your anger and concern are justified but don’t direct that at the poor staffer who has to answer the phone all day long.
    Please contact me the OC you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions.

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