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There is a long list of funders, advisors, and policy makers involved in setting policy for and about the astronomical sciences. This page is meant to serve as a portal for learning about the astronomical sciences policy ecosystem in the US.

Executive

  • White House
    • Office of Management & Budget (OMB): an office of the Executive Office of the President responsible for the management and budgeting of all government agencies.
      • Flat management structure, one person does a lot, e.g., NASA science and NSF are both overseen by one person each.
      • Issues a budget each year near state of the union address, contains policy directions, etc.
      • Top level issues can severely impact our field...e.g., tax cuts, wars, natural disasters.
    • Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP): advises the president and others on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs.
    • President's Council of Advisors on Science & Technology (PCAST): an advisory group of the nation’s leading scientists and engineers who directly advise the president and the Executive Office of the President.
  • Federal Agencies: act through execution of their goals and implementation of the President’s directives.
    • National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA): The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) of NASA is one of the primary funders of the astronomical sciences. This funding takes many forms, including the fabrication of large-scale flagship missions or instruments, supporting grants for medium- or small-scale missions or instruments, and research grants. The Education Office supports the education roles of the other mission directorates, including internship programs, the Space Grant program, and more. Outreach activities are typically included within SMD.
    • National Science Foundation (NSF): NSF is one of the primary funders of the astronomical sciences, through the Directorate of Mathematical & Physical Sciences (MPS) and the Directorate of Geosciences (GEO) in particular. This funding is awarded via a peer-reviewed grants process and supports research, instrumentation development and fabrication, and more. MPS and GEO also support many ground-based, astronomical sciences facilities. New facilities are constructed under the Major Research Equipment and Facility Construction (MREFC) budget line. Current MREFC projects for the astronomical sciences are the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST).
    • Department of Energy (DOE): DOE's Office of Science is one of the primary funders of the astronomical sciences. The High Energy Physics program funds facilities and research grants.
    • Other Federal Agencies:
      • Other federal agencies that fund the astronomical sciences:
        • (left intentionally blank, for now)
      • Other federal agencies with policies that can impact the astronomical sciences (not funding): 
        • (left intentionally blank, for now)
  • Role of a Scientist: Scientists, indeed any constituent of the US, can and should communicate with federal agencies and policy makers in the White House as frequently as they deem necessary. Each agency will have a different method of communication, which the AAS can help you determine. Agencies issue Dear Colleague Letters when there is a particular topic on which they require stakeholder feedback — as a scientist and constituent, you are a stakeholder.

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Congress

  • House of Representatives
    • Appropriations Committee: sets the spending levels for all federal agencies. Work is done through subcommittees, and the two most relevant to the astronomical sciences are:
      • Commerce, Justice, & Science Subcommittee, which includes NASA and NSF, and
      • Energy & Water Subcommittee, which includes DOE.
    • Space, Science, & Technology Committee: House committee in charge of authorization and oversight of NASA, NSF, and other agencies.
    • Energy & Commerce: House committee in charge of authorization and oversight of DOE and other agencies.
    • Budget Committee: House committee in charge of determining the structure of the budget, through a budget resolution
  • Senate
    • Appropriations Committee: sets the spending levels for all federal agencies. Work is done through subcommittees, and the two most relevant to the astronomical sciences are:
      • Commerce, Justice, & Science Subcommittee includes NASA and NSF, and
      • Energy & Water Subcommittee includes DOE.
    • Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee: Senate committee in charge of authorization and oversight of NASA, NSF, and other agencies.
    • Energy & Natural Resources: Senate committee in charge of authorization and oversight of DOE and other agencies.
    • Budget Committee: Senate committee in charge of determining the structure of the budget, through a budget resolution
  • Role of a Scientist: Any individual is allowed to contact and communicate with any government person, or member of Congress. To learn more about how to advocate for your science check the Advocacy Resources page.
  • Interaction between the House and Senate: Identical versions of a bill must pass the House and the Senate before that bill can become a law. This process is called conferencing.

For definitions of appropriation, authorization, oversight, and budget: Definitions

For the difference between authorization and appropriation: Authorization & Appropriation

For the difference between appropriations and budget: Appropriation & Budget

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Advisors

  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine: an independent body constituted to provide advice to the government on Science, Engineering, and Medicine. Composed of individual members and staff that support Boards, which have Committees (and Committees that can be jointly constituted, like the CAA – listed below). The principal operating agency of the National Academies is the National Research Council.
  • Agency Advisory Committees: constituted under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) and must follow certain rules, such as how their members are chosen, public comment periods, open meetings, etc.
  • Science and Technology Associations, for example, American Astronomical Society (AAS), American Physical Society (APS), American Geophysical Union (AGU) can provide direct input to policy makers.
  • Lobbyists for contractors, missions, and organizations
  • Role of a scientist: The most obvious way to be involved here is to serve on a board or committee relevant to your subject-matter expertise. Different committees make their selections in different ways. You can also be involved with the public policy, government relations, or federal relations office of any professional associations of which you are a member. Your place of employment likely has a similar office or a lobbyist who represents the organization's interests; offering to be a resource to that office is a good way to get involved.

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Definitions

  • Appropriation: In the policy sphere an appropriation is a spending bill. In both the House and Senate, the Appropriations committees lead the writing process for spending bills and responsibilities for different sectors of the government are delegated to subcommittees.
  • Authorization: An authorization is a type of legislation that creates agencies, specifies the functions and limitations of agencies, and sometimes sets appropriations boundary conditions.
  • Budget: The budget, more accurately the budget resolution, is legislation that sets the structure of the budget. This includes how much money the federal government can spend and collect (taxes) in a given fiscal year. Because a budget resolution is a concurrent resolution, it does not have the force of law and the President doesn't sign it.
  • Oversight: Congressional oversight is the process by which Congress can evaluate the performance of agencies and programs and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of these agencies and programs. This often includes gathering information and informing the public, with the larger goals of preventing poor administration, waste, or abuse, protecting civil liberties, and ensuring compliance with legislative intent. Oversight is an integral part of the system of checks and balances.

Authorization & Appropriation

An appropriation bill is the only way to disperse funds to an agency or program. An authorization can set limits on this funding level. A common analogy is that an authorization sets the nominal size of the money bucket, and appropriation fills that bucket.

Appropriation & Budget

Under regular order, the budget resolution would be passed before the appropriations process begins. There are legislative loopholes that can allow appropriations to proceed even if a budget resolution hasn't passed.

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