ACTION ALERT: End the Shutdown
Today, ask your Members of Congress to end the partial federal government shutdown and pass bipartisan, bicameral legislation to fund and reopen federal agencies like NASA, NSF, and the Smithsonian Institution.
When the current fiscal year (FY2019) began on 1 October, five of the twelve bills that set spending levels for the federal government were signed into law. The agencies governed by the remaining seven bills awaited negotiations between the two chambers of Congress and operated under a stopgap Continuing Resolution through 21 December. Successful bipartisan negotiations between the House and the Senate led to compromise versions of six of the final seven bills. Congress failed to pass, and the President failed to sign, any of them.
The result? The agencies, including NSF, NASA, and Smithsonian, have been shut down to all but essential operations for 33 days and counting. Hundreds of civil servant AAS members have missed one paycheck and are about to miss another. These unpaid civil servants are either forbidden from doing their work or are required to work unpaid as part of stretched skeleton crews keeping our scientific observatories running. The number of AAS members going without pay is growing, as contracting organizations run out of forward funds. Early-career postdoctoral researchers supported by NASA and the NSF will miss their next paychecks. University and grant-supported AAS members face longer-term uncertainty as NASA grant deadlines and NSF proposal reviews are postponed indefinitely. Science advisory groups and mission science teams are stalled. Students at NASA centers have lost access to their advisors, their labs, and their equipment. Delays and budget overruns of top-priority missions are all but inevitable. National observing facilities are preparing to cease operations entirely.
A reminder to federal employees: You still have first amendment rights to free speech and to petition your government! Just be sure not to use any federal resources (federal email address, agency laptop, etc.) to make these calls. Always follow guidance from your employer, and check out this guide to the Hatch Act from the Washington Post.
What to do?
BEFORE you call, think about what you will say. Personal, specific stories of impact from constituents are often the most effective. How have you been impacted, professionally and personally? Once you have thought through brief, strong examples, follow the three steps below:
- Find the contact information for your members of Congress. There are many websites to help you do this. We like GovTrack: enter your address and information, including office phone numbers, your Senators and Representative will be provided.
- Make phone calls — strongly encouraged over sending emails — to the offices of both Senators and your Representative*. Open with a version of "I am [NAME], I live in [CITY/ZIP CODE], and I would like to leave a message for [MEMBER] about the shutdown and astronomy." Some talking points from there:
- The federal shutdown is causing serious, lasting impact to people and national resources in the astronomical sciences and beyond.
- [if applicable] I am an [employee of or contractor paid through] [AGENCY], and I am experiencing financial and/or personal hardships in A and B ways.
- Because of the shutdown, I am specifically seeing impacts to my ability to learn/do science/work in X and Y ways.
- I ask that [Congress member] move swiftly to support and pass bipartisan, bicameral legislation that reopens the federal government to end uncertainty, get programs back on track, and get federal employees back to work.
- Report back on how each call goes to the AAS through this brief form.
* If you live in a US district or territory, you only have one person (a non-voting Delegate) to call. If you live in Puerto Rico, you could also call Congressman Jose Serrano (D-NY), who not only offers himself as a voice for Puerto Rico in Congress, but is also the new chairman of the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations subcommittee.
Finally, the AAS has put together (and is regularly updating) a "Shutdown Central" page on our website to be a source of information. If you have more information to add or are willing to share your experiences with the shutdown, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow