Government Relations Update

APA’s Advocacy for Health Research

By Geoff Mumford

Over the last year, APA has pursued a comprehensive strategy of advocacy for inclusion of psychological science and services within health-care reform legislation (see APA’s Psychology and Health-Care Reform website).  Although the prospects for health-care reform remain uncertain, APA will continue to work for its health-care priorities through sustained interactions with Congress, the White House, and the Executive Branch agencies.

Most of APA’s efforts to enhance support for health-related psychological research are led by the APA Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office (GRO).  This office pursues four major goals:  1) enhancing research funding; 2) strengthening the scientific infrastructure; 3) sharing research with policymakers; and 4) training scientists to become effective advocates for psychological research.

The following is a sampling of GRO’s recent activities in these areas.

Enhancing Psychological Research Funding

Each year the Science Directorate GRO requests opportunities to provide written and oral testimony before congressional committees with oversight of health research funding.  This testimony puts APA on record for increased research funding relevant to health for a variety of federal agencies. 

Since the bulk of support for health research comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), much of GRO’s effort is focused on the NIH budget.  But GRO also works to increase support for basic and applied research related to health at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Defense, and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). For example, in April 2009, GRO staff testified before the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the VA, focusing on the VA’s needs for funding to care for veterans and to invest in its research programs.  GRO will provide invited testimony again on March 23, 2010.

The staff of GRO also helps lead the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research Coalition (FOVA), comprised of over fifty professional and scientific organizations.  FOVA advocates for VA health research programs, including those addressing mental health, substance use, and physical and psychosocial rehabilitation. 

Strengthening the Scientific Infrastructure

The GRO advocates for inclusion of psychological science within federal research programs by meeting directly with agency staff, by developing consensus statements when agencies call for public comment on new initiatives, and by nominating scientists to serve on agency advisory committees. 

GRO staff have helped establish and lead coalitions of scientific and health organizations that provide APA with regular access to the leaders of NIH institutes (including NICHD, NIDA, and NIAAA) and other agencies. GRO has also established an APA-administered listserv for all psychologists serving on NIH advisory committees to enable rapid communications and coordination among these psychologists and with APA.

In preparing consensus statements, GRO draws input widely from APA members and other scientific sources.  Recent statements have been submitted in response to calls for recommendations for priorities for the new NIH Director, for focus areas for the new NIH Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), and for topics to be addressed in the Department of Health and Human Service’s Healthy People 2020 initiative.

In February 2010, it was announced that two psychologists nominated by Science GRO – Dorothy Hatsukami and Jack Henningfield – were appointed to the Food and Drug Administration’s new Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.

Sharing Psychological Research with Policymakers

GRO coordinates opportunities for psychological scientists to present their research on Capitol Hill in exhibits and briefings that tie their research to the missions of the agencies that fund them.  In April 2009, GRO staff helped organize a poster session and reception on Capitol Hill, titled “National Institutes of Health: Improving the Nation’s Health through Behavioral and Social Sciences Research.”  The event featured 43 scientists associated with 19 of the NIH units that fund behavioral science. 

As a founding member of the Collaborative for Enhancing Diversity in Science (CEDS), APA co-sponsored a Congressional briefing that examined the challenges faced by academic, scientific, and professional organizations, including NIH and NSF, in creating a diverse scientific workforce. This briefing, held in March 2009, was jointly managed by GRO staff and staff of other CEDS member organizations.

Promoting research on substance use, GRO paired senior psychological scientists with the Directors of NIDA and NIAAA in a series of three separate briefings in 2009 on “Alcohol and Pregnancy: An Overview of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders,” “Implementing Effective Substance Abuse Treatment in the Criminal Justice System,” and “Military Personnel, Veterans and Their Families: How Research is Effecting Positive Change.”  Each briefing drew standing-room-only crowds of congressional staffers.

Training Psychological Scientists to Become Effective Advocates

The GRO staff oversees the annual APA Science Leadership Conference in those years in which it has an advocacy theme.  As part of the 2009 Conference, GRO arranged for more than 100 psychologists to be trained in advocacy and then visit the offices of over 150 members of Congress from thirty-one states to request (a) sufficient funding for the NIH in FY 2011; (b) protection of the peer review process from political interference; and (c) inclusion of behavioral interventions in health care reform legislation aimed at expanding comparative effectiveness research.  

In previous years, GRO has also sponsored smaller thematic science advocacy training workshops for psychologists working in such areas as tobacco use, sexual behavior, and school-based health survey research.

If you would like additional information about the Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office, please contact Geoff Mumford (202-336-6000). 

Geoff Mumford is Associate Executive Director for Government Relations in the APA Science Directorate.  Other members of the Science Government Relations Office are Heather O’Beirne Kelly, Pat Kobor, and Karen Studwell.