Science in the Senate: It's Not Just Menendez; Full Court Press Badly Needed.

It appears that yesterday's reports that New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez was holding up the confirmation of both the Science Advisor and the NOAA administrator were not entirely correct. He may well be delaying these confirmations, but he's apparently not the only one. CQ Politics is now reporting that the nominations are being held by multiple members of the Senate. Due to the holds, there is currently no confirmation vote scheduled on the floor.

This is a very reliable report. CQ Politics is not basing this on anonymous sources. They are quoting Commerce Committee Chairman John Rockefeller. Rockefeller's committee has jurisdiction over the nominations, and held a confirmation hearing for both nominees last month. Given his position, it's very unlikely that Rockefeller is wrong.

This is the worst possible time for this to be happening. The stimulus package that has already been passed into law contained an enormous boost in science funding. NOAA alone received more than $800 million in additional funding. These jobs need to be filled, and they need to be filled yesterday. CQ Politics quotes AAAS Chairman Alan Leshner on the issue:

âGiven the importance of science-related issues both to economic recovery and the major issues of the day, itâs unfortunate that these nominations are being held up for reasons unrelated to the merits of the nominees,â said Alan Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an international science advocacy organization and publisher of the journal Science. âOne of the advantages of these appointments is that they are true experts who are leaders in science. We need them to lead. Now.â

Leshner is exactly right. We need these two highly qualified scientists in their new positions. Unfortunately, it's clear that this will not happen on its own. If we want the Senate to take action on these nominations, we are going to have to take steps to make sure that they know that this is not an issue that will stay hidden in the shadows. To put it bluntly, we're going to have to raise so much hell that taking action becomes the less painful option for the Senate leadership.

Here's what we need to do:

1. We need to bring as much pressure from as many sources as possible.

If you work with other scientists, bring this issue to their attention. Get them to get involved, too. If you've got colleagues at other institutions, pass the word to them. We've all got a stake in this.

If you're a member of a scientific society, bring this to their attention and ask them to take a stand. In particular, contact AAAS. Leshner's remarks in the CQ article are a good start, but it doesn't look like they've taken an official stand. Yet. Advocacy is part of their job. Ask them to advocate, and to help spread the word. it's not enough. Let's see if we can get more groups to get involved.

The AAAS executive office phone number is 202-326-6640.

If you are involved with other advocacy organizations, such as ScienceDebate2008, get in touch with them, and ask them to put the word out to their membership.

2. Contact the Senate Leadership.

The Senate can, if they so choose, bring the matter to the floor despite the holds. Reid has disregarded holds in the past. Ask him to disregard these holds, too. Remind him of the importance of filling these positions, particularly now that the stimulus has passed. Remind him, too, of the importance of the positions in general.

If you contacted him yesterday, do it again today.

Here's the contact information, including the email form and the Nevada address of one of his Nevada offices:

Email (web form)

DC Phone Number: 202-224-3542

Nevada address and phone:

600 East William St, #302

Carson City, NV 89701

Phone: 775-882-REID (7343)

Fax: 775-883-1980

3. We need to put this issue in front of as many Senators as possible.

Contact your own Senators. Tell them that this is an important issue, and that these nominees deserve a floor vote as soon as possible. Again, if you contacted them yesterday, contact them again today. If you're a registered voter, make sure you tell them that. If you donated any money to their campaign, make sure that you tell them that, too.

It would be especially good to contact the Senators who are on the Commerce Committee, since they are the ones who had the opportunity to question the nominees during the hearing. I'll put a list of the committee members below the jump, so you can check and see if one of your Senators is on the committee.

4. We need to keep pressure on Senator Menendez
. None of the other Senators who have holds on the nomination have been identified, so he's still the only one we know (or at least strongly suspect) is blocking progress.

I posted contact information for Menendez yesterday. If you use the email form to contact him, be aware that non-NJ addresses probably don't receive much attention. (There are NJ addresses for the Senator's NJ offices in yesterday's post, but I would of course never stoop to suggesting that people substitute those addresses for their own.) If you emailed him yesterday, email him today AND make a phone call. The number for his DC office is 202.224.4744. If you DIDN'T contact him yesterday, contact him today.

We need to make this happen. We need a coherent and coordinated national science policy right now. We also need to make sure that the new resources that science has received are allocated as wisely as possible. These things need to happen now, but they cannot happen at all if these positions remain unfilled.

Please find a few minutes today to make a few phone calls and send a few emails. This is important.

Updated: 4 Mar 15:30

Alan Leshner pointed out to me that AAAS is a non-profit, and not an advocacy group. I've corrected the text above to reflect that. I've also corrected the spelling of his last name. I apologize for both errors.

Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Members:


Chairman John D. Rockefeller, IV (WV)

Daniel K. Inouye (HI)

John F. Kerry (MA)

Byron L. Dorgan (ND)

Barbara Boxer (CA)

Bill Nelson (FL)

Maria Cantwell (WA)

Frank R. Lautenberg (NJ)

Mark Pryor (AR)

Claire McCaskill (MO)

Amy Klobuchar (MN)

Tom Udall (NM)

Mark Warner (VA)

Mark Begich (AK)


Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)

Olympia J. Snowe (ME)

John Ensign (NV)

Jim DeMint (SC)

John Thune (SD)

Roger Wicker (MS)

Johnny Isakson (GA)

David Vitter (LA)

Sam Brownback (KS)

Mel Martinez (FL)

Mike Johanns (NE)


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Thanks for posting on this. As a former employee of NOAA and NIH, as well as other non-federal science institutions, I am particularly interested and have made some contacts.

By stillwaggon (not verified) on 04 Mar 2009 #permalink

Dear Sir.

Please allow me to explain that we as a patron on Science and who have children in this wonderful world.....Please get behind these scientist who are nominated and STOP delaying their CONFIRMATIONS. Thank you.

By ursula Post (not verified) on 05 Mar 2009 #permalink

About ten years ago when another anonomous hold was put on legislation I was interested in I called my senator and asked him if he had put the hold on. He said no. I believed him. Is it a matter of belief and trust.? If votors in every state contacted their senators, would they all answer with the truth or say no comment?