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Update from Washington: 2018 Election Fallout

Bill Ruch and Alex Alonso

As anticipated by a majority of polls, Democrats took back the majority in the House of Representatives, and the Republicans made gains in the Senate in the mid-term elections on November 6.  With the House and Senate moving in opposite directions, the elections defied a simple takeaway message. Americans appeared more polarized along party lines than any time in modern history. With many moderate Republicans losing in the House and several moderate Democrats losing in the Senate, finding areas of common ground may be even more difficult in the next Congress as the House and Senate set up dueling agendas in the months ahead.

With a divided Congress beginning next year, the House is widely expected to use subpoenas, oversight hearings, and investigations to examine issues in the White House and among the federal agencies. In addition, with its expanded Republican majority, the Senate is expected to focus on confirming federal judges, newly nominated political appointees, and replacement Cabinet officials, such as a new Attorney General. An additional complicating factor is that as many as nine Senate Democratic members have shown an interest in running for president. However, beyond these individual pursuits, there will also be a focus on what areas of bipartisanship exist.

A Democratic majority will be new territory for both sides in the House. All but four of the previous chairs the last time the Democrats were in the majority are no longer in Congress. Similarly, two-thirds of the remaining Republican House Members have never been in the minority. Some initial topics in the House and Senate in which both the Democrats and Republicans have cited interest include healthcare, specifically reining in prescription drug prices, and infrastructure, although each party has a different notion of how much new public funding would be necessary for this. In addition, new energy projects, cybersecurity, and threats posed by international competitors, such as China, are also expected to be areas of bipartisan concern. Each of these legislative interests affect industries and economic sectors which are much broader than the research and education communities but will have direct impacts nonetheless.

With respect to science, one of the chief concerns for the research community will be to rebuild some of the key champions who will vacate committee posts, who lost in swing districts, or who participated in bipartisan caucuses around top issues (e.g. almost half of the House climate caucus Republicans lost). Science champions such as Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Culberson (R-TX) and House Science Research and Technology Subcommittee Chairwoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) lost their races along with champions such as Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS), and Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Still, there are several new members with science backgrounds, and champions often emerge in situations such as these, which could create new opportunities for bipartisan compromise.

Lame Duck Session

At the time of this writing, there are only a few days until the current fiscal year spending resolution expires, and congressional leaders have not signaled how much they intend to accomplish before adjourning for the year and ending the lame-duck session.  The highest priority issue is resolution of the final seven appropriations bills, which include support for some federal science agencies, among others.

Earlier this year, the House and Senate approved funding for the military, Congress, energy and water programs, veterans’ affairs, and a bill that covers labor, health, and education spending.  These bills account for over 75% of funding for the government.  The remaining spending bills, including legislation to fund the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, and other science offices must be sorted out before December 8 to avoid a partial shutdown.

At the center of the debate is President Trump’s determination to receive increased funding for a border wall, and it remains to be seen if the still all-Republican Congress can secure support for the wall from the Democrats in exchange for votes to finish FY 2019 funding before the new year.  Another possibility could be a lame-duck deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in exchange for border wall funding.  If no deals are made, the possibility of a partial government shutdown may be heightened based on the election results and a determination by both sides to be tough negotiators. 

In April, SIOP submitted written testimony to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Commerce, Justice, and Science, urging the Subcommittees to appropriate $8.45 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), in fiscal year FY 2019.  The testimony also conveys the importance and applications of social and behavioral science research funded through the Foundation.  Lewis-Burke Associates LLC (Lewis-Burke) and SIOP will continue to monitor the situation and seek opportunities to engage on behalf of these and other crucial research programs as deliberations continue.

Implications for SIOP Advocacy

The new faces in Congress could bring even more interest in evidence-based policymaking, and SIOP and its federal relations partners at Lewis-Burke are poised to take advantage of this enthusiasm.  Among the issues that are expected to be considered by the new Congress and federal agencies in the next term are federal workforce restructuring proposals, including the examination of actions by the Trump Administration to roll back telecommuting by congressional Democrats; the consideration of potential veterans workforce legislation and development of programs at federal agencies; the use of the science of team science for major funding opportunities at science agencies; the expansion of community policing; and addressing issues related to the future of work at the human–technology frontier.  SIOP is continuing to form teams of experts with I-O intel to support Lewis-Burke-guided outreach to address these and other issues.  Although legislation could be slow, SIOP is ready to work with congressional staff to inform their decision making, sign onto letters of support for legislation that aligns with our advocacy goals, and further solidify relationships with federal agencies interested in innovative workforce solutions. 

In times of divided government, scientific societies can be at risk of being used by political actors to advance purely partisan agendas.  Lewis-Burke will continue to work closely with SIOP leadership and GREAT to ensure the Society’s input is expressly nonpartisan.  To this end, GREAT Chair Alex Alonso collaborated with Lewis-Burke and SIOP leadership on the development of guiding principles to formally define the Society’s main priorities for advocacy going forward.  These principles will be leveraged to guide policy activities by SIOP leadership, such as the submission of testimony to congressional committees and the approval of letters of support for priority legislation.  

SIOP leadership is also looking to take advantage of the 2019 Annual Conference’s proximity to the nation’s capitol with more advocacy-related content than ever, including discussions on how SIOP members can be more involved in the Society’s outreach activities in Washington and beyond.

New Advocacy Area Working Group on the Technology-Enabled Workforce

SIOP has launched a new advocacy area on the technology-enabled workforce.  The advocacy area is focused on advocating for the consideration of evidence-based I-O psychology as policymakers address the various challenges and opportunities related to areas such as the impact of automation and new technologies on the workforce.  Through the efforts of this advocacy area, SIOP can help shape policies to better integrate technology into the workforce and build an effective “workforce of the future,” an emerging priority for Congress and federal agencies.

The technology-enabled workforce advocacy area follows the same advocacy model as SIOP’s veterans transition advocacy area and the SIOP Policing Initiative.  As with the other initiatives, the Advocacy Area is supported by a working group of experts convened by Richard Landers with deep understandings of I-O research and practice findings relevant to the future of work, including Patricia Grabarek, Katina Sawyer, Tara Behrend, Ruth Kanfer, and Alexis Fink.  This Advocacy Area bridges SIOP’s capabilities and government relations expertise at Lewis-Burke Associates LLC (Lewis-Burke) to efficiently advocate for evidence-based I-O practices in the consideration of federal programs and policies in this space.

This work will build on recent efforts by SIOP’s government relations team, including signing onto a letter of support for the Fundamentally Understanding The Usability and Realistic Evolution (FUTURE) of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Act of 2017 for the creation of an advisory council to consider policies related to artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential impact on the government, workforce, and the nation overall, and Dr. Fink’s connection with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Global City Teams Challenge (GCTC) Education Cluster to encourage the use of I-O to aid local governments in implementing smart city concepts.  Lewis-Burke and GREAT will continue to report on the progress of this and other advocacy areas going forward.

Interested in Supporting SIOP Advocacy?

Are you interested in learning about SIOP Advocacy?  Don’t hesitate to reach out to Alex Alonso, SIOP GREAT Committee Chair, or Bill Ruch, SIOP Advocacy Lead.  Be on the lookout for SIOP Advocacy Sessions galore at the 2019 Annual Conference in Washington, DC.

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