I came into D.C. and this program with a cynicism that I believe many of us in the United States have regarding the capital and our policymakers. Given my past research on rhetoric on climate change and climate policy, the bar for congressional support of science and use of science could not have been lower. As my internship is ending, I have come to the realization that Congress is not nearly as bad as the people, media, and even politicians make it out to be. Nearly everyone that I have talked to off the record have said that D.C. was a place of relationships. They have told me that the swamp is not nearly as deep as people say. Members of Congress have said they have many close friends from across the aisle. Even though the façade nearly every politician puts up is that of someone in staunch opposition of everything the other party stands for, the two parties have more in common than different. But cooperation does not make the front page of the news. People would rather see Trey Gowdy grilling Peter Strzok on national television than hear about bipartisan support of U.S. quantum research funding. It’s no wonder the political climate is become more and more polarized. It’s no wonder that dialogue and discourse has turned into shouting and insults.
It is not merely my optimism on bipartisanship and political discourse that has been renewed. My cynicism about the general anti-science policymaking atmosphere has also dissipated. After seeing several hearings on different science topics, from artificial intelligence to data privacy, it seems that most really do try to understand the concerns of the scientific community. This isn’t to say that sometimes the panels are given leading questions. The majority of the time, however, the members of Congress seem to have general consensus on most scientific issues.
The most shocking information I found out about Congress’s stance on scientific matters was looking at their appropriations for scientific agencies like NSF and NASA. While I was writing a memo for work, I had to find the funding for the Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, and NASA. Furthermore, I had to find the amount of money used for climate policy. Given the current administration’s stance on climate change and the rhetoric of the GOP, I was not expecting much. However, looking at appropriations for both agencies and their work on climate related science and technology, I was very surprised. Funding has been consistently going up even under Trump. The Congressional defense of DOE, NASA, and NSF gave me renewed hope in our policymakers. The Trump administration’s requested budgetary cuts for those agencies were extreme. Instead of complying, the House increased nearly every area of funding, cutting only 10% funding for NASA’s Office of Education, which was still better than the proposed elimination of the office by the administration.
I could not be happier, coming away from this experience DukeEngage has offered me. Not only have I realized a different definition of service, I have discovered light in politics, despite the constant scandals and problems we hear about in the media. Thomas Williams, the director of this program, along with our two site coordinators Siobhan and Samah were the best people I could’ve asked for to lead this experience. DukeEngage Washington, D.C.: 10/10 would recommend.