Advocacy and APA-Agency Relations


William Howell, PhD, APA Executive Director for Science

As most of you know, the Science Directorate's chief counterpart in APA governance is the Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA). Composed of nine distinguished representatives of our scientific constituencies, this body works with us in setting the Association's science agenda. Advocating for psychological science at the national policy level is always high on that agenda, particularly when money is tight and the funding picture is in flux.

Often, we invite officials from key funding agencies to BSA meetings to get an inside perspective on the most recent developments and to exchange thoughts on issues of concern to the Board and Directorate staff. Invariably, these turn out to be highly productive visits, with both visitor and the visited taking away valuable information and insights. And yes, the agencies are interested in what science leaders in organizations like APA have to say.

The November BSA meeting was no exception, except perhaps for the level of agency representation. We extended invitations to the new Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), psychologist and APA member Anne Petersen, PhD, and to Wendy Baldwin, PhD, National Institutes of Health Deputy Director for Extramural Research. Both were kind enough to accept, giving up a significant part of their weekend to join us in discussing research funding issues. Elsewhere in this newsletter, you will find reports on the substance of these visits, so I won't repeat it here except to say that both visitors were well-received and extremely candid in sharing their goals and views--as well as their problems and concerns.

I, for one, came away feeling much better about the changes in peer review that are underway at NIH, and more optimistic about future prospects for the social and behavioral sciences at NSF where Human Capital Initiative is becoming a household phrase! Nothing is more important in today's research support climate than having folks in key agency positions who understand and appreciate the value of our kind of science. Clearly, Anne Petersen and Wendy Baldwin are in such positions and are serving us well. The long-awaited appointment of a Director for the newly created NIH Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research should further strengthen our representation, and rumor has it that the process is finally coming to a conclusion.

But I digress. The point of this column is simply to illustrate one of the important ways APA advances psychological science through advocacy. Contrary to what many believe, influencing science policy isn't just a matter of turning loose a cadre of high-powered, paid lobbyists on elected officials in some smoke-filled room to strong-arm or cajole concessions. Rather, much of it involves bringing together well-informed researchers with well-informed and well-placed agency scientists/managers for a rational discussion of how best to address issues of shared concern. It involves building relationships and trust that each can draw on in working to advance our collective goals. We in the APA Central Office invest a lot of effort in building and maintaining agency relations, but in the final analysis, effective advocacy depends on the active participation of the science leaders themselves. Governance activities provide a wonderful opportunity for such interactions as the recent BSA meeting so clearly demonstrated.

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