Public Policy Update

With so many new names and faces in the nation's capital this year, APA's Public Policy Office is pursuing a range of new education, science and public interest issues at the forefront of federal policy deliberations.

To officially welcome the 107th Congress, APA's Public Policy Office (PPO), together with the Practice Organization and Central Programs Office, hosted a March 22 reception on Capitol Hill for APA's boards and committees to acquaint members of Congress and their staffs with how psychologists contribute to vital national issues.

With this column, PPO highlights a sampling of those issues, and other key pieces of PPO's federal advocacy agenda.

Education policy: major focus on funding graduate education

Building on several recent legislative successes, APA education policy staff will focus on Senate and House Appropriations Committees in the first session of the 107th Congress. The first priority will be to seek at least $6 million for a separate psychology education and training program within the Bureau of Health Professions. This is the first step in a multiyear initiative to establish a $15 million to $20 million program. The proposed Graduate Psychology Education program will provide funds to train health service psychologists to work with other professions in the provision of services to underserved populations (e.g., children, older adults, people with disabilities and people with chronic illness). Funding would be provided to APA-accredited doctoral, internship or postdoctoral residencies for basic or advanced training. Funds would be used for trainee stipends, clinical teaching psychologists, faculty and curriculum development, model demonstration programs, and technical assistance and would be awarded through a competitive grant process.

Later in the 107th Congress, APA's education policy staff will also seek $2 million for the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) for a pilot program to include psychologists in the scholarship program. The third appropriations initiative for this Congress will be to seek another $2 million to support the new psychology gerontology training provision gained in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2000 reauthorization of the Older Americans Act.

In the area of (re)authorizing legislation, education policy staff will continue efforts to expand psychology's inclusion in the NHSC programs. Although the authorization expired at the end of FY2000, legislative action was postponed until the 107th Congress. APA has gained support from key members of Congress, the Bureau of Primary Health Care, the NHSC Advisory Council, and the rural health organizations for our recommendations. These include support for clarifying the eligibility of psychology in the NHSC programs, emphasizing site development, and promoting an interdisciplinary approach to health care in underserved areas. Education policy staff are also seeking a change in the term "clinical psychologist" to "health service psychologist." Such a change would expand the eligibility requirements to enable more psychologists to participate in this crucial program for people living in underserved areas.

PPO education policy staff is better prepared for the upcoming consideration of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) with the hiring of a new staff member to lead APA's efforts on the ESEA reauthorization. Of particular interest will be teacher development, gifted and talented programs, testing and assessment, the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Demonstration Program, and the Safe and Drug Free Schools program.

Science policy: advancing the science of learning

With President Bush's education proposal, "Leave No Child Behind," taking center stage amid a dozen education proposals in both houses of Congress, science advocates will promote science literacy and the science of learning. As we go to press, Congress and advocates await the President's budget proposal. The proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut would put a massive squeeze on discretionary spending programs. Although the forecast for behavioral health research at the National Institutes of Health looks reasonably good, psychological research funded by other agencies may have to weather an impending storm. PPO science policy staff will continue to work in coalition with other advocates and key members of Congress to prevent reductions in funding.

In addition to strengthening traditional science advocacy efforts, PPO science policy staff look forward to seizing the opportunity that Bush's education agenda presents. Following-up on the recent release of the "Atlas of Science Literacy" by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), PPO will convene the next in a series of Science Advocacy Training Workshops in support of psychological science literacy. The workshops, which bring psychological scientists to Washington to learn the fundamentals of advocacy, culminate with a visit to Capitol Hill to brief members of Congress and their staffs on issues of importance to psychological research. This workshop will couple the interests of the new administration with those of the new House Science Committee Chairman, Sherwood "Sherry" Boehlert (R­N.Y.), a long-time advocate of what he calls the three E's: environment, energy and education.

During the workshop, PPO will deliver two different but complementary messages:

  • Teaching psychological science is just as important as teaching the fundamentals of any other basic science discipline.

  • Psychological research can teach us about how and when students can best learn scientific concepts and problem-solving strategies. The AAAS Atlas, which provides a visual depiction of critical minimum science concepts linked to research that supports how and when to teach those concepts, arrives just as the National Science Foundation is poised to activate a foundation-wide complementary program on the Science of Learning (SOL). Headed by Steve Breckler, PhD, the SOL program grew out of the 21st Century Workforce Initiative (formerly called Educating for the Future) within NSF's Education Directorate. SOL's goal is to create centers for research on learning, similar to NSF's large Science and Technology Centers. NSF has requested $35 million for SOL in the FY2002 budget, with a goal to increase the funding to $60 million annually within five years.

Public interest policy: addressing issues acrossthe life span

In addition to education reform, Congress and the Bush administration are expected to consider public interest policy issues of vital importance to psychology, including children's mental health and health disparities. Accordingly, APA's public interest policy staff will be actively involved in shaping legislative and federal agency proposals on these and many other fronts (e.g., media violence, welfare reform and end-of-life care) to ensure the application of psychological research findings and the inclusion of mental health services and psychologist practitioners in new program initiatives.

A key priority of public interest policy staff in the FY2002 appropriations cycle will be obtaining funding for new and existing programs authorized by the Children's Health Act of 2000, which in part reauthorized the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This new law not only extends the life of the mental health and substance abuse block grants, but also maintains the High-Risk Youth Program and allows up to $150 million for programs to reduce violence and to help children who are exposed to violence. The law provides for an increase of $9 million (up to $91.7 million) for the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Families Program and authorizes $10 million for a new suicide prevention initiative. Among other provisions, the act authorizes $40 million to provide services to juvenile offenders who have, or are at risk for, serious emotional disturbances, once the juvenile is discharged from a juvenile justice facility.

Through active support for the bipartisan Family Opportunity Act, sponsored by Senators Charles Grassley (R­Iowa) and Edward Kennedy (D­Mass.), public interest policy staff are striving to further enhance access to mental health resources for families in need. The Family Opportunity Act would allow middle-income families to "buy-into" the Medicaid program to obtain health insurance coverage for their children with mental or physical disabilities.

Meanwhile, legislation to eliminate minority and other health disparities signed by President Clinton in November boosted national efforts to eliminate health disparities. Public interest policy staff are working closely with coalitions of health organizations to develop health policy recommendations for the racial and ethnic congressional caucuses and the Indian Health Service and to advocate for these proposals. The Public Policy Office is also committed to efforts to secure additional funding for the Minority Fellowship Program. The newly created Congressional Caucus on Health and Behavior, which public interest policy staff helped initiate, will strive to educate members of Congress and their staffs about the role of behavior in health.


Further Reading

For more information on these or other upcoming federal policy issues of interestto psychology, visit the Public Policy Office Web site at Asa member of our Public Policy Advocacy Network (PPAN), you will receive periodic updates on late-breaking federal policy developments of concern to psychology.