The ASCB and the Coalition for the Life Sciences: Partners in Advocacy

Keith Yamamoto

Keith Yamamoto giving a presentation at a Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus meeting

The announcement of the Precision Medicine Initiative. The formation of a congressional committee to help draft what would become the 21st Century Cures Initiative. Discussions with John Holdren, head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy at the White House, on ways the President can incorporate science and technology in the State of the Union address. What do all these things have in common? The Coalition for the Life Sciences (CLS) was involved in all of them.

What Does the CLS Have to Do with the ASCB?

The ASCB is not only a member of the CLS; it founded the CLS. The ASCB has long had a prominent reputation on Capitol Hill. It is a voice for fundamental research and has successfully advocated policies that benefit cell biology. But we can’t do it alone. In 1989 the ASCB organized a coalition of likeminded scientific societies that included the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Biophysical Society. Partnerships in Washington are essential. Speaking with one voice as a community sends a strong message to our elected officials. Uniting with one voice strengthens our position with policy leaders on Capitol Hill and at the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Who Is the CLS?

The CLS is an alliance of professional organizations working together to foster public policies that advance biological research. In addition to the ASCB, the CLS comprises the Genetics Society of America, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research, and the Society for Neuroscience. The CLS Board, chaired by Keith R. Yamamoto, University of California, San Francisco, oversees the efforts of the CLS and is made up of the member organizations and members of the research community. Indeed, the ASCB scientific community is fortunate that the CLS leadership includes many respected scientists who are ASCB members: Yamamoto, Martin Chalfie, Gerald Fink, James Haber, H. Robert Horvitz, Richard Hynes, Connie Lee, Elizabeth McNally, Thomas Pollard, and Joan Steitz.

The CLS brings top leaders of federal agencies and Congress together with CLS leadership to strengthen our partnerships and tackle critical issues of concern to the biomedical research community. The CLS has met not only with influential leaders in Congress but with representatives from President Obama’s administration and NIH, including individual institute directors. Administration representatives who have met with the CLS include individuals directly responsible for drafting the NIH and National Science Foundation budgets and policies that affect biomedical research.

Why the CLS?

Many organizations in Washington, DC, serve a role similar to that of the CLS. So why does the ASCB remain such a strong partner in the CLS? Communicating with Congress and the NIH, major universities, and other institutions is a complex and demanding task in which the CLS has a proven track record.

The CLS is unique in how it brings science to Capitol Hill. When the CLS was first organized, it helped Congress launch the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus (CBRC) in 1990. The CBRC has since grown to become perhaps the most credible caucus in Congress, as well as a model for other congressional caucuses. A caucus serves a convening, organizing, and advocacy function for members of Congress who support its purpose, in this case promoting scientific research. A caucus is also a bipartisan, no-dues association for congressional representatives. CBRC activities feature a highly successful series of briefings that brings research leaders—many of whom are ASCB members—to Capitol Hill to describe the latest advances in biomedical research. The explicit messages are that science is an iterative process of discovery fueled by individual investigators and that taxpayer dollars are well spent in support of this research (often by the NIH).

The CLS serves another important role—the organization of scientific citizens for advocacy. Through its Congressional Liaison Committee (CLC), chaired by ASCB member Tom Pollard, the CLS can organize the voices and passions of individual scientists in participating member societies. The CLC organizes members to participate in its mail and email campaigns to elected officials. Email campaigns are easy to participate in, because the CLS drafts letters for individuals’ personalization and signature. It’s free to join the CLC, and CLS staff will guide you through the Washington bureaucracy. To join, visit http://bit.ly/1nFZG9L.

Biomedical research faces many challenges in Washington, from funding to peer review, science education to fetal tissue research. The CLS and ASCB will continue to use their strong partnership to confront challenges to the scientific community.

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