2019 Public Policy Highlights & New Opportunities for Advocacy in 2020

It’s 2020. And the beginning of the New Year provides an opportunity to look back to 2019 and look forward to the year ahead. For SWE and its advocacy efforts, there’s much to celebrate, but also much work to do.
2019 Public Policy Highlights & New Opportunities for Advocacy in 2020

It’s 2020. And the beginning of the New Year provides an opportunity to look back to 2019 and look forward to the year ahead. For SWE and its advocacy efforts, there’s much to celebrate, but also much work to do. It might seem long ago, but in January of 2019, SWE was excited about the record number of women who were coming to the 116th Congress, the increased numbers of elected representatives with STEM backgrounds on Capitol Hill and that a woman—Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)—would be leading the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. There was excitement in the air as SWE members came to Washington, DC for Congressional Outreach Day, and the stories shared and requests made proved fruitful throughout the year.

What were some wins for SWE on the advocacy front last year?  There were several:

  • The spending bills that Congress approved at the end of 2019 included increases for several programs that SWE members discussed during their Capitol Hill visits earlier in the year.
  • Research agencies, like the National Science Foundation, won more funds, as did programs at the Department of Education important to nurturing interests in STEM disciplines.
  • Congress did approve a number of bills endorsed by SWE, including the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act and the Building Blocks of STEM Act, which were both signed by President Donald Trump. Other bills supported by SWE have yet to make it to the President’s desk.
  • Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the 21stCentury STEM for Girls and Underrepresented Minorities Act, with SWE’s support.
  • The House Science, Space and Technology Committee held many hearings about issues important to female engineers, including a hearing titled, “Achieving the Promise of a Diverse STEM Workforce,” and another on the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act. (In fact, during the latter proceeding, Representative Paul Tonko (D-NY) thanked SWE for its work on the culture of the STEM workforce and efforts to grow its female ranks.)

SWE’s policy work wasn’t limited to the Legislative Branch in 2019. SWE Executive Director & CEO Karen Horting and her team went to Washington, D.C., several times to meet with officials at the White House and federal agencies.  The Trump Administration has been very interested in increasing access to high-quality STEM Education, and Karen has discussed SWE’s interest in the same with White House staff members. SWE also signed the White House’s “Pledge to America’s Workers” and FY20 SWE President, Cindy Hoover, and Karen participated in an October event in Wichita, Kansas, that featured Ivanka Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo touting the pledge.

What else? There were the almost-daily advocacy efforts of keeping tabs on policy developments and opportunities, the good citizenry in the advocacy community of signing on to letters to support shared causes, and opportunities to feature SWE and its expertise at events, such as a STEM Education Coalition briefing and one organized by SWE that highlighted STEM Reentry efforts.

Looking ahead, there is much work to be done:

  • The Trump Administration is expected to release new guidance on Title IX and its implementation on college campuses soon, and SWE will likely have an opinion on that.
  • The White House will release its proposed spending plan for FY 2021 in February, and SWE will oppose many of the cuts that are expected in that plan, as will most education and research advocacy groups.
  • Even though Congress will be preoccupied with an impeachment proceeding in the short term and an election very soon thereafter, Capitol Hill friends to SWE and its causes will want to pursue support for a number of bills addressing family and medical leave, fairness in wages, the “middle skills” issue that STEM employers find vexing, sexual harassment in scientific workplaces, and a number of others. (See SWE’s legislative tracker here.)
  • The 2020 SWE Congressional Outreach Day is taking place March 11 and 12 this year, and consistent advocacy is crucial to continued success. 2021 will be here soon enough and there’s no time to waste.

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