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Informational Email 2011-10

JWST: What Can We Do Now?

Debra Elmegreen, AAS President
Jack Burns, Chair of the Committee on Astronomy & Public Policy

Many AAS members appropriately asked, "What can we do now?" following the shocking and disappointing recommendation by U.S. House's Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee to zero out funding for the JWST in the FY 2012 budget. The answer is, "A lot"--using a well-conceived plan with community input and public support to counter the House's action. The AAS has been pursuing an active strategic course, but we continue to need your help and advice as we navigate the long road ahead towards reinstating funding for the JWST.

What can you do?
We need to sustain a grass-roots effort of education and advocacy for JWST by reaching out to the general public. During our visit to Capitol Hill, all the House staffers reiterated that they accept the message from astronomers on the science merit of the JWST. They welcome letters about what JWST will do for local communities, and they especially need to hear from non-astronomers about the public desire for JWST.

Here are some things you can do to support JWST:
- Write a letter to your member of Congress about what JWST will do for your local community including jobs and the impact on STEM education and training.
- Write a letter to the President, with a copy to your Congressmen, in support of JWST.
- Encourage friends, neighbors, and colleagues to write to their member of Congress to support the JWST.
- Consider writing an Op-Ed piece for your local paper on the importance of supporting the JWST.
- Get the word out to support the JWST:
- get on a radio talk show or local news spot
- talk to school groups about JWST
- talk to community service groups such as the Kiwanis, Zonta, or Lion's Club about JWST and ask them to talk to and write their members of Congress.
- Continue to be active in social media, such as Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SaveJWST?sk=wall and http://savethistelescope.blogspot.com/) and Twitter (http://twitter.com/#!/SaveJWST).
- Sign a petition, such as http://www.change.org/petitions/do-not-cancel-funding-for-the-james-webb....

Helpful material is available on the AURA site, which has compiled a list of background information, recent articles, and related support letters from international astronomical organizations: http://www.aura-astronomy.org/news/news.asp?newsID=264.

What is AAS doing for the JWST?
We traveled to Capitol Hill this past week to continue the work of the AAS Executive Officer, Kevin Marvel, and the AAS John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow, Bethany Johns, to resume discussions about the JWST during the August Congressional recess; it was a time of reduced tension from the absence of television cameras and Congressional members on the Hill, and a pleasantly reduced humidity in Washington. By the end of our conversations, we were encouraged that (1) our community has done an outstanding job of making the science case to the Congress and the Administration, (2) that NASA has made major efforts to re-tool the management of JWST with attention now focused at the highest levels of the Agency, and (3) that a thorough rebaselining plan has been completed to put the project on a solid funding foundation toward launch in 2018.

We began our discussions with Rick Howard and Eric Smith, who are leading the efforts to revamp the management and funding plans for JWST at NASA headquarters. We learned that the rebaselining plan, called for in the Casani report, has been completed, reviewed, and accepted at all levels of the NASA administration. Most importantly, NASA accepts the premise that JWST is now an agency priority, and thus would be managed and funded as such if approved. This is a key change.

Next, we went to the Capitol to visit with staff from the House CJS Appropriations Subcommittee and from office of the Chairman, Rep. Wolf (R-VA). We had a frank and honest conversation with the staff about JWST's recent cost overruns and mismanagement, as outlined in the Casani report. The staff expressed Rep. Wolf's belief that JWST has an extremely strong science merit and that this has been well articulated by members of the AAS. The staff commented that they have been inundated by social media correspondence about JWST and have made note of recent editorials in the NY Times and Washington Post. They were also pleased to learn about NASA's new management plan for JWST and the attention being paid by the upper management of the Agency. Part of the motivation for the subcommittee's action was to "get NASA's attention on these broader, Agency-wide management issues at the highest levels." Now, the problem remains getting the rebaselined budget out of the Executive Branch's Office of Management and Budget (OMB) so that members of the House and Senate can use those numbers in developing next year's FY2012 federal budget. Time is of the essence. Our efforts need to be focused next on making the case to the Administration to have the OMB approve the rebaselined plan, and make it publicly available as soon as possible.

We also visited the staff from Ranking Minority member of the CJS subcommittee, Rep. Fattah (D-PA). His staff along with several other staff members from influential Democratic members of the House, including Rep. Schiff from southern California, pledged for their Congressmen to contact the White House to plead for the release of the rebaselined plan from OMB.

What happens next?
The Debt Limit Deal practically stalled all remaining appropriations bills from reaching the House floor for a vote. The real action will be in the House-Senate conference committee to hash out a final budget for NASA. After Congress returns in September, the action will move toward the Senate where Senator Mikulski's (D-Maryland) CJS subcommittee will mark up the NASA bill. We are encouraged by Senator Mikulski's public support for JWST. We are hopeful that the House and Senate will be able to work out an agreement to support continued funding for JWST using the rebaselined budget for NASA.

Continued vigilance, communication with staffers on the Hill, and public pressure throughout the Fall will be essential if we are to be successful. This week Roger Blandford will lead another delegation to NASA and the Hill to continue conversations. We are only in the first battle of this fight, with months of effort still needed. It will require a concerted community effort.

We will continue to send regular updates via this e-mail exploder to seek feedback and to keep you informed. Thank you for all that you've done so far and for your continuing efforts to keep JWST on track for launch later in the decade.

Mailed 16 August 2011
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