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Working With Congress Author Visits AAAS

In April, AAAS CEO Rush Holt (1982-83 Congressional Fellow sponsored by APS) had a visit from Dr. William G. (“Bill”) Wells, Jr., former director of the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships and author of two editions of the seminal AAAS resource, Working With Congress: A Practical Guide for Scientists and Engineers, published in 1992 and 1996.

In a foreword to the original edition of the book, Wells referenced physical chemist C.P. Snow (1905-1980) to describe the “two cultures” and “the gulf that seems to separate the scientist from society and those who govern it.” The book’s first edition included “seventeen cardinal rules for working with Congress”—including such tips as, “Don’t seek support of science as an entitlement,” and, “demonstrate your grasp on the fundamentals of the congressional decision-making process.” Dr. Wells quoted policymakers like then Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-New York), who said: “We take a lot of time to understand science; please take some time to understand us. Keep in mind you are dealing with focused generalists, not narrow specialists; get to the point in an understandable manner.”

Today, an updated version of the AAAS resource book first developed by Dr. Wells is available online. It still includes essential background on the congressional organization and legislative process, plus strategies for working with Congress, including ten “top rules.”

“Whenever someone asks me how they should go about talking with a member of Congress, I have always pointed them to Dr. Wells’ book,” said Holt, who also serves as executive publisher of the Science family of journals.

Wells, a retired colonel with the U.S. Air Force, is an engineer who served as a manager in NASA’s Apollo Program, as staff director for key science subcommittees in the U.S. House of Representatives, as chief of staff at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and as head of the AAAS office then known as Public Sector Programs. By the time of the second edition of Working With Congress, Dr. Wells was also a professor of management science at The George Washington University, and a consultant to industry and government agencies.

He also played a key role in the development of the AAAS S&T Policy Fellowships program and served as its director from 1979-80. The program began in 1973 when seven fellows served in congressional offices to contribute scientific expertise to policymakers who were facing increasingly technical legislative issues. During Wells' decade of service in the White House, he helped bring many fellows into the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

One of the highlights of my career was observing the advancement of fellows into senior positions in Congress, the executive branch, industry, and the academic world.  - Bill Wells, Jr.

The 42-year-old Fellowships program, which places outstanding scientists and engineers in executive, legislative, and Congressional branch assignments for one or two years, now includes more than 3,000 alumni working worldwide in the policy, academic, industry, and nonprofit realms. Holt, a former research physicist who served eight terms in the House of Representatives before becoming AAAS CEO this year, had been teaching at Swarthmore College in 1982-83, when he was tapped by the American Physical Society to participate in the S&T Policy Fellowships program. He has called the experience “life-changing.”