WE CAN NOT STOP HALFWAY! (2000)
Thirty years ago interaction, some might call it lobbying, with legislative groups, was practically unknown in the ACS. There was no need for it since Sputnik created an unprecedented expansion of science.However, after reaching the Moon, the bubble of euphoria suddenly burst and the situation has changed. There were reasons to urge politicians not only to maintain support for research, but also to be concerned with the welfare of its practitioners. At the beginning, there was a reluctance to be involved in such activities for fear that it might endanger our tax-exempt status as a 501(c)(3) organization.
Seeing the reluctance of ACS to take steps in this direction, the California Section in 1970 decided to clarify this point. Using its own assets, it commissioned Prof. Kragen of the University of California, a highly respected and well-known legal expert, to issue a legal opinion whether such danger really exists. His evaluation represented a major milestone in our activities. In his report, he stated that as much as anything absolute can be said when it comes to the interpretation of the tax laws, if an organization spends less than 5% of its annual budget for influencing legislation, its tax-exempt status would not be jeopardized. This amounted to millions of dollars for ACS. Therefore, there was no threatening reason for not following, on a limited scale,the example of other organizations which were trying to sway legislations affecting their interest.
Clarifying the legal issue did not result in immediate action. Many in the ACS leadership still thought that it was unbecoming for a scientific organization, such as ours,to promote issues which affected the chemical profession. However, as the leadership slowly changed, the objection mellowed. Today we have OLGA (Office of Legislative and Government Affairs) with various activities on federal and lately on selected state legislation. The Society has the Federal Policy Agenda pinpointing those areas where legislative activities are followed and opinions are issued to enlighten legislators.Every year we make recommendations on increasing funds for basic research in the federal budget.
We came a long way in establishing legislative interactions, yet this is only the beginning. Our urging to increase research funding should not be limited to legislators.We must include those who control industrial research. We must do a thorough job or we should not have started it. The second hand in poker is always the most expensive holding.
Supporting federal funding of basic research is very important. However, without maintaining industrial research, it is not only insufficient, but it also creates problems. Most of these funds support graduate research and maintain a high supply of chemists in the pipeline. The problem is that during the past decades the reservoir into which the pipelines disgorge the product has shrunk creating a backlog. The pipes are bulging.A recent task force on US doctoral education determined that we have twice as many postdoctoral fellows today as ten years ago with many of them on their second or third shift. How long before the pipes will burst?
Why did the reservoir shrink? The well known answer is downplayed. The overwhelming majority of the jobs for chemists after graduation is in industry. The fact is that while certain segments of the chemical industry, e.g., pharmaceutical are increasing their research, other companies considerably downsized it. The overall demand for chemists is not in balance with the supply. What needs to be done?
We are speaking out very eloquently and forcefully to Congress on the need of basic research for the benefit of our country. Yet we do very little to convince the chemical industry that cutting their research budget and downsizing their research force is foolish. The closest to address this issue was the Vision 2020report describing the type of research needed. Even this was faulty. Why are we lacking a forceful interaction with industry? Our staff keep regular contact with Congress. We organize congressional visits by members of the ACS Governance and noted scientists. Why don't we establish a Universal Research Policy explaining the necessity of long range research by Academe, Industry and Government for the benefit of our country? Why don't we publicize it to the Industry with the same vigor as we try to influence the Congress? We would not even have to worry as much about our tax exempt status.
It is frequently said,right or wrong, that leaders of the chemical industry are only interested in short range profit, the difference in the financial balance between January 1 and December 31, therefore we do not have any way to influence them. However, a similar point is made frequently about politicians, i.e., they are only interested in the number of votes they can not at the next election. The votes of the chemists represent a minuscule percentage for any politician, yet we still interact with them, hoping to convince them to consider the long range value of research. Why are we so pessimistic about the outcome of rational discussions with industrial leaders? In a previous ACS Comment, (Chemistry 2020, C&EN,insert date and page, 1998) I quoted Mr. Gerald Greenwood, the enlightened Chairman and CEO of United Airlines who recognized that there is more to the success of a business than the 12 months difference on the financial balance sheet. We might not succeed with all of them, but if some are willing to listen to reason, we might start a trend. Nothing is really impossible if we collectively set our mind to it.
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