On Saying "Thank You"
Last Thursday (6 February 2014), I walked around Capitol Hill delivering a letter from our President, David Helfand, to the leadership of the Appropriations subcommittees with jurisdiction over NASA, NSF, and the Department of Energy (DOE)—the three agencies that collectively provide most of the federal support for the astronomical sciences. The letter thanks those members of Congress, in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle, for providing the strong support we saw in the final FY 2014 Omnibus Appropriations bill.
As I detailed a couple posts ago, the final appropriations bill hit more high notes than low, especially for NASA and the DOE's Office of Science (where the Cosmic Frontier program is funded). This was not an obvious outcome following the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, which provided relief from about half of the sequester cuts in FY 2014—an increase of about $45B in available funds for all discretionary programs. Both NASA and DOE's Office of Science beat that half-sequester benchmark. And while NSF's Research and Related Activities did not quite reach that level, the account still saw about a 5% increase over FY 2013. These increases were the result of tough choices on the part of lawmakers on the appropriations committees, and that is why we decided to say "thank you."
Now it is our job in the astronomical science community to show what we can do with these resources. Our job is to make exciting new discoveries, develop new technologies as we strive to answer interesting questions, and help a new generation develop the analytical thinking skills that will breed success. Stars explode, extraterrestrial storms swirl in unexpected shapes, rovers on Mars go surfing over sand dunes, and the Sun lofts massive ejections out into the solar system — and we continue striving to understand it all.
I know this may come off as a naively positive post, but I think it's important that we keep our gaze focused on our exciting goals and communicate them far and wide. Talk to people on planes as you travel to conferences (or home to visit family), visit with a school classroom, ride on a science train (or start one!), and maybe even come to Washington and talk to a Congressional staffer or three. Bring it home for them. Why is what we're doing so important? So exciting!? This is our task. So let's get to it!
John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow