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Speaking with one voice.

Engineers of all disciplines have a unique ability to influence public policy and to inform policy makers both in Washington, D.C., and in state legislatures. The problem has been, and continues to be, that many engineers are unaware of the tremendous impact they can have.

Because very few members of Congress have backgrounds in engineering and science, they and their staffs depend upon people schooled in those disciplines to provide information that can help them make informed decisions. Issue areas that demand input from engineers include, but are not limited to, federal support for research and development, patent law reform, transportation, electric-utility deregulation, technology-transfer initiatives, standards, and technical barriers to trade.

ASME's government relations office has worked for years to increase awareness among our members of the important role they can play in shaping national and state policies affecting them. Several programs help to accomplish that goal, including the State and Federal Fellows Program, ASME participation in Congressional Visits Days in Washington and in the states, the Action Network Team to provide rapid member response to pressing issues, and a new initiative to create an ASME Committee on Engineers in Public Policy.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of ASME's Federal Government Fellow Program. In 1972, ASME established a Congressional Fellows Program, the first of its kind among engineering societies. In 1973, current Board on Government Relations Vice President Barry Hyman began a one-year stint as ASME's first Congressional fellow, serving on the staff of the Senate Commerce Committee. The program was expanded in the early 1980s to include fellowships in the executive branch of government. Currently, ASME has Federal Fellows in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and in the Department of Energy. Current Congressional fellows provide engineering expertise and advice on the staffs of Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).

While federal laws ultimately affect us all, it is important not to underestimate the importance of the public policy process in individual states. ASME has coordinators in or near the capitals of 12 states. These individuals, who either are retired or semi-retired, monitor legislative and regulatory activities in their states and offer testimony from the perspective of the mechanical engineer.

Each year during National Engineers Week, ASME participates in a multi-society Congressional Visits Day through which ASME members can visit with representatives, senators, and Congressional staff to talk about issues of importance to the society. Recognizing that members of Congress often have more time while in their home states, ASME expanded that concept, in the form of a District Visits Day, this year. In this program, the ASME government relations office coordinates visits by ASME members to the district offices of their representatives and senators.

The Action Network Team, established in 1996, allows ASME members who have access to electronic mail to communicate with their elected officials in an informed manner. Team members receive periodic Action Alerts on urgent legislation and weekly news updates via e-mail.

Finally, many ASME members have expressed an interest in belonging to an ASME organization that pairs engineering and public policy interests. Engineering professionals who work in the public policy environment currently have no ASME unit or professional organization that provides them with networking benefits, mentors, career-building opportunities, and professional development.

In an attempt to fill that need, a focus group is exploring the feasibility of establishing an ASME Committee on Engineers in Public Policy. The mission of such a committee would be to provide a means for common support, interaction, and personal and professional growth to those ASME members with an interest or involvement in engineering and public policy.

There are numerous ways ASME members can become involved with public policy issues and programs. As individuals, engineers can always speak out on issues of importance to them. But as a member of an association such as ASME, the engineer's voice is magnified and the impact it has is intensified.

ASME's voice in Washington is, in turn, enhanced through the Society's participation in the American Association of Engineering Societies (AAES). There currently are 15 engineering society members of AAES, representing over 800,000 engineers. Through AAES, the engineering community can speak effectively as a single voice on crosscutting issues of interest to engineers, regardless of discipline.

Additional information about how engineers can impact public policy is available on the ASME Government Relations Homepage at

Francis Dietz works in ASME Government Relations in Washington, D.C.
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Title Annotation:Washington Window; role of American Society of Mechanical Engineers members in shaping public policy
Author:Dietz, Francis
Publication:Mechanical Engineering-CIME
Date:Jul 1, 1998
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