B1: Congress’s use of science in environmental policymaking

The quantity and complexity of scientific and technological (S&T) information have been on the rise for decades. Whether Congress has the institutional capacity to access and use this information for decision-making has been the subject of increasing bipartisan interest and academic research. This session will feature a series of brief talks by two congressional staff and two academic scholars. They will address the role of science advice in policy decisions about energy and the environment; the internal and external advisory systems that help Congress get the information it needs; and what aspects of the institution serve as an asset or impediment to evidence-informed decision-making. Representatives of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will serve as the moderator and discussant, opening the conversation to the audience. As an environmental lawyer with over 13 years of Senate experience and in the Department of Defense and at Northern Arizona University, Deputy Chief Counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Lucy Murfitt will discuss the need for policy-relevant science that is credible and can be translated to forms that policymakers can use. She will highlight the important role of source networks, such as universities, in not just providing scientific information, but ensuring that science answers the questions decision-makers are asking. Based on her 15 years of experience working for the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Research & Technology Dahlia Sokolov will speak about congressional prioritization of research and development and the use of science in Congress for policymaking and federal agency oversight. She is also staff lead on Committee activities to assess the current state of science and technology advice to Congress and will speak to efforts to recreate the Office of Technology Assessment. Congressional staff function as the main pathway by which external policy and political information is transmitted to members of Congress. As such, the manner in which they make information gate-keeping decisions has profound implications for how legislators view the issues on which they are tasked with legislating. University of Michigan Rackham Pre-doctoral Fellow Alexander Furnas will present results from the 2017 and 2019 Congressional Capacity Surveys which detail congressional staffers' evaluations of a variety of external and internal sources of information and expertise. These results shed light on the role that ideological and representational associations implied by an information source play in structure staffers' decision-making process as they make recommendations to their bosses. Using data from interviews conducted with House and Senate science, energy, and environment staff, George Mason University Assistant Professor Karen Akerlof will describe the contexts in which science is used on the Hill and the way that these contexts can affect the types of barriers that staff say they experience most frequently in using scientific information for policy. These barriers can be institutional, social, or due to the nature of the information itself. She will also address the strategies staff say they use to vet science, and what their helpful sources do to make it accessible. Director of the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Emily Cloyd will serve as a discussant and Erin Heath, Associate Director, Office of Government Relations, American Association for the Advancement of Science, will moderate the panel discussion and questions from the audience.

Presenters

  • Karen Akerlof, Ph.D., Assistant professor, Dept. of Environmental Science and Policy, George Mason University
  • Lucy Murfitt, Deputy Chief Counsel, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
  • Dahlia Sokolov, Staff Director for the Subcommittee on Research & Technology, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
  • Alexander Furnas, Rackham Pre-doctoral Fellow, University of Michigan
  • Emily Cloyd, Director, Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Erin Heath, Associate Director, Office of Government Relations, American Association for the Advancement of Science