SIOP in Washington: Advocating for I-O in Federal Public Policy
Jill Bradley-Geist and Laura Uttley
Resulting from the recent U.S. election results, Donald Trump is to be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in January 2017. Although candidate Trump expressed some clear positions for his term, the public is aware of the general contours but not in-depth specifics on other positions and policy-related issues. Existing congressional Republican priorities and policies may, but are not certain to, be adopted by the Trump White House.
Beyond the White House race, the election resulted in Republican majorities in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, meaning that the United States will have one party governance for the first time since President Obama’s first 2 years in office. During that time (2009-2010), Democrats passed legislation such as the economic stimulus package, the Affordable Care Act, and financial Wall Street reforms. Similarly, it is expected that passage of legislation will take on a heightened role with Republicans at the helm of the White House and Congress. What is not yet clear is the extent to which the White House will be setting the legislative agenda beyond a few key interests thus far presented with regard to healthcare, immigration, and infrastructure.
Until the Trump Administration has an opportunity to shape its first budget request to Congress, many existing programs around which day-to-day grants and contracts interactions occur likely will continue. After the new White House has a chance to populate the agencies with new appointees and put its own imprint on them, some of these programs may change while others may remain unaltered.
As mentioned above, the Trump campaign has highlighted some key legislative priorities such as reducing immigration and strengthening border security, lowering taxes, infrastructure renewal and development, and repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). At a more detailed level, his proposed policies have not been fleshed out with respect to education, science, technology, or a replacement for the ACA. Therefore, much is still unknown about a Trump Administration and how it would treat universities and the research and healthcare communities. As the transition team and new administration refine their policy agenda, prioritize actions for early legislative activities, and identify agency and White House leadership, the ensuing months will be a critical period for universities and science organizations to engage and offer suggestions for agency and White House leadership positions as well as for input on emerging initiatives. At the same time, it is important for the community to assess Trump positions as more details emerge and decide where and how to best concentrate energy with respect to key priorities.
Although much is still unknown about President-Elect Trump’s approach to research and education, initial information has emerged in each area as to potential policy approaches and initiatives. Current knowledge about how the Trump Administration might treat each area is included below.
Research, science, and technology have not been high profile issues for the Trump campaign, yet the campaign has recently outlined some key foci and general thinking by means of policy advisors and responses to questionnaires such as Science Debate.1 President-elect Trump has been clear that although the constrained fiscal environment will require prioritization, he views investment in academic research and space exploration as critical roles for the federal government and appropriate areas for long term investment. He has also noted a few major challenge areas that could become areas of focus for his administration such as cybersecurity, defense research, clean water, energy independence, and feeding the world with a special emphasis on the role of agriculture. In particular, in the area of space policy the campaign has outlined a more detailed vision through advisor and former congressman Robert Walker that would include an increase in deep space exploration and a focus on hypersonics technology at the expense of Earth science.2 Past Republican Administrations have specifically emphasized basic research but also deprioritized applied research, environmental sciences, and social and behavioral sciences, and this is a potential approach of the Trump Administration as well.
The next presidential administration is likely to have a strong voice in issues pertaining to higher education, although details from President-Elect Trump are scarce. As would be the case in any administration, higher education policymaking is complicated by diverse factions within the community, each of which has unique and sometimes conflicting interests. These different groups include public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education, for-profit institutions, students, elite research universities, liberal arts institutions, and community colleges.
Although President-Elect Trump has not provided detailed plans for higher education reform, he has referenced tenets of the Republican Party’s platform, including support for eliminating or reducing the power of the Department of Education (ED), returning the student loan system to the private sector, reducing the breadth of the H-1B visa program, and eliminating the gainful employment mandate. President-Elect Trump has also expressed interest in decentralizing the role of the federal government in areas such as accreditation, which would increase the role of states and the private sector.
One of the more concrete education proposals offered by President-Elect Trump is an income-based repayment plan for federal student debt. He proposes payments be capped at 12.5% of income per month and that debt be forgiven after 15 years of steady repayment. The current Revised Pay As You Earn plan (REPAYE) caps payments at 10% of monthly income and forgives student debt after 20 years. President-Elect Trump has also said he would consider the tax-exempt status of large endowments as an incentive to lower student costs. President-Elect Trump has expressed interest in reforming and reducing federal regulations on universities. Further, there is a potential for a Trump Administration to counteract what it sees as regulatory overreach taken by ED under the Obama Administration, such as its rules on gainful employment, teacher preparation programs, as well as the Department of Labor’s rule on overtime pay.
With less than 30 days until the current fiscal year spending resolution expires, congressional leaders have not signaled how much they intend to accomplish before adjourning for the year and ending the “lame-duck” session. High priority issues on the table include:
- Annual appropriations legislation could be resolved through an omnibus “catchall” spending package, a year-long continuing resolution, or some combination of the two. Members of Congress have spoken of the need to dispense with fiscal year (FY) 2017 funding ahead of the next congress, but the politics of whether only some agencies could receive a full year bill complicate the process.
- 21st century cures legislation would require changes to the Food and Drug Administration’s approval process for drugs and medical devices and also potentially boost spending for the National Institutes of Health. Leaders on both sides have expressed a desire to finalize and pass this legislation, but the nature and offsets for new funding are still undecided, and it may get punted to the next congress when prescription drug legislation is set to be considered.
- Tax extenders are routinely a year-end priority, with many in 2016 impacting energy and home mortgage sectors. However, the expectation that a new congress could embrace tax reform may delay this issue until 2017.
- Aid to Flint, MI and defense authorization legislation are two additional items for the remaining 2016 session. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) legislation has passed every year for many decades and Republican leadership will not want to break that trend this year. The assistance for Flint as well as any additional assistance for hurricane victims may be combined with other supplemental spending for the Department of Defense related to war-time operations.
The ultimate productivity of the remaining lame-duck session is still largely unknown and will be complicated by considerations as to whether Republicans will continue to support Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as Speaker of the House for the 115th Congress.
Although Republicans will retain control of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, Democrats made gains in both chambers. The Senate will be composed of at least 51 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and two Independents who caucus with Democrats. The Louisiana Senate seat will not be decided until a December runoff. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will return as the Majority Leader, and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) replaces the retiring Harry Reid (D-NV) as Minority Leader.
At the time of this writing, the House will be composed of at least 239 Republicans and 193 Democrats, with several races yet to be called and Republicans far surpassing the necessary 218 members to retain control of the majority. House Republicans and Democrats are expected to meet in November to elect their respective party leaders. There is heavy speculation as to what a Trump Administration will mean for House Speaker Paul Ryan given his lukewarm support for President-Elect Donald Trump during the campaign. However, Speaker Ryan has recently publicly increased his support for Trump, making it unclear whether Trump’s win will impact his position as Speaker. With respect to Democratic leadership, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to retain her role as Minority Leader.
SIOP Comments on NSF Strategic Plan
On September 26, SIOP’s Scientific Affairs Committee, in collaboration with the Society’s government relations initiative, submitted comments to the National Science Foundation (NSF) to shape preliminary conversations about the NSF Strategic Plan 2018–2022. NSF’s call for input requested feedback on the foundation’s vision, core values, goals, and objectives, referencing the 2014–2018 plan.
SIOP conveyed its support for NSF’s goals and overall vision, and highlighted the potential impact of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology in supporting NSF’s goals. SIOP will continue to engage NSF throughout its strategic planning process for 2018–2022, ensuring continued investment in I-O psychology and social and behavioral sciences broadly. Advocacy and outreach relating to the foundation remains a priority for SIOP government relations.
Advocacy in Action: SIOP Member Snapshot
In our second TIP feature of SIOP members engaging in government advocacy work, we follow SIOP member and past SIOP president, Mike Burke. To tell us about your own advocacy-related work, please contact current Government Relations Advocacy Team committee chair, Jill Bradley-Geist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In providing a few comments about my government advocacy efforts in support of SIOP and applied psychology, I will begin with a story or two about my early experiences. Yes, I have kissed the Blarney Stone. Perhaps there are a few lessons in the stories.
In the mid 1990s, several colleagues and I went through a crash advocacy training course sponsored by APA. Our goal as trained advocates was to meet on Capitol Hill with our congressional representatives and make a pitch for greater science funding in relation to the House Appropriations Committee’s proposed behavioral science funding. As I recall, the proposed funding for behavioral sciences was a significant cutback from the prior year. My planned assignment could be summed up as giving a canned 2-minute presentation on the value of behavioral science research to my congressional representative, who was the chair of the House Appropriations Committee. The meeting with my congressional representative was intended to last about 10 minutes, assuming he would fill the remainder of the time with questions. Shortly after I began my presentation, my representative shifted the discussion, asking about the types of jobs that an undergrad psychology major could get and why it might be important to obtain graduate training in psychology in order to do specialty work. At that time, my representative’s daughter was an undergrad psychology major at a New Orleans area university, a school and psychology program that I knew a great deal about. My representative proceeded to cancel his next two or three meetings, as I transitioned to the role of academic/parent adviser. Word reached APA that I was in an extended meeting with the chair of the Appropriations Committee, which brought APA staffers and cameras to the Hill. Although that event is documented in an issue of the APA Monitor, a notable outcome was that there was an increase in behavioral science funding that year. I cannot attribute the increased appropriation to the advocacy efforts of our APA team. Yet, the association of our efforts with the increase leads me to believe that it was not coincidental.
My other experiences are more directly linked to educating government officials and researchers in other disciplines about the value of applied psychological research. One experience concerned meetings with U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officials and contractors in the early to mid 1990s about the potential of applied psychological research for enhancing the training and training program evaluation for hazardous waste workers and emergency responders. The context for these discussions was that the Dept. of Energy’s primary mission had shifted in the wake of the Cold War from plutonium production for nuclear weaponry to cleaning up the nation’s nuclear waste. Plans were being put in place to train and evaluate the training of tens of thousands of workers who would clean up nuclear waste through the 21st century. The very early meetings were somewhat contentious where our relevance, experience, and machismo were questioned. After being challenged in one meeting, I recall retorting with two questions directed at the audience: Has anyone in this room been in a runaway, out of gear Mack truck hauling 10 tons of asphalt, racing down a steep 1-mile hill? If so, how did your *#!$&^s help you survive? Fortunately, I was the only person in the room who could answer yes to the first question, making the second question moot. These initial “get to know each other” meetings were critical in establishing rapport with and gaining the trust of the rank and file and their union stewards, which opened the door to discussing the potential of our planned research for improving worker safety. We had considerable cooperation and success in assisting the DOE in understanding how to measure safety performance and optimally conduct and evaluate safety training for thousands of workers in dozens of occupations. The active, hands-on form of training that our research findings clearly supported continues to this day at the place of our original work, the Hanford nuclear site in Washington State. In 1997, the training facility at Hanford became the Volpentest HAMMER (Hazardous Materials Management and Emergency Response) Federal Training Center, where they provide “Training as Real as It Gets.”
Another notable experience is when David Hofmann and I were asked to participate in an October 2006 U.S. congressional briefing entitled “Workplace and Public Safety: The Role of Behavioral Research” that was sponsored by the Decade of Behavior associations including APA, SIOP, the National Communications Association, and numerous others. My presentation focused on the meaning of safety performance and the value of hands-on training, relative to more passive forms of training, for enhancing safety performance. That event generated a fair amount of media attention and, subsequently, considerable interest within public health, occupational medicine, and government circles about the value of applied psychological research in the domain of occupational safety. For instance, the safety training research findings presented on the Hill led to a debate on the efficacy of hands-on safety training between my research team and a research panel jointly formed by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Canada’s Institute for Work & Health. This exchange is documented in a government technical report and series of articles, and is ongoing.
Regular participation in government sponsored conferences as well as public health conferences by myself and members of my research teams has also exposed our safety research and that of other SIOP members to those in other disciplines. These presentations beyond the confines of our annual SIOP conference were perhaps influential in the use of our safety research findings in guiding several regional and national safety training and evaluation efforts (e.g., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) disaster preparedness training, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ (NIEHS) Gulf Oil Spill clean-up worker training). Although I am not part of the current effort, my understanding is that our research findings concerning the dimensionality of general safety performance will play a role in the newly launched Ebola Biosafety and Infectious Disease Response Training program, a national worker safety training program offered by NIEHS in partnership with the CDC.
I am also proud of 6 years of highly active service from 2003–2009 as a member of the CDC’s Safety and Occupational Health Study Section. Serving on this panel allowed me to frequently interact with government officials and colleagues in public health, medicine, and engineering. Here, I learned a lot about their fields and research, and I had many opportunities to inform them of the nature and value of applied psychological research in the domain of occupational safety. Since my days as an appointed member of the CDC’s study panel, I have occasionally served government agencies such as NIOSH, NIEHS, and the National Academy of Engineering in an advisory or reviewer capacity.
Admittedly, although engaged in many of the above efforts, I did not view the efforts as “government advocacy” on behalf of the field. Rather, my intention was quite simple, to concurrently create awareness outside our field of our research findings and to serve in roles that could have a positive effect on workers’ safety and health. It should not go without saying that these efforts were frequently part of a team, and I have had the great fortune of working in the safety domain with very talented individuals including graduate students and colleagues from a number of disciplines. After you have kissed the Blarney Stone, you can talk just about anyone into working with you!