Tech’s Official in D.C. on Strategy for Science, Education Funding

The Marches for Science around the world on April 22, 2017, were historic, with large crowds and witty signage capturing the media’s attention. Those who work in the scientific community and its supporters may now be wondering: What’s next?

For Robert Knotts, director of federal relations for Georgia Tech’s Office of Government and Community Relations, attention now must turn to the hard work of convincing Georgia’s congressional representatives of the importance of continued federal funding for science and research.

This year, thanks to concerns  about the Trump administration’s funding priorities, Knotts feels like he has more support from the Tech community for his efforts.

“In the past, where it may have been just my office doing the advocacy, we’re excited to have others join us,” Knotts says. “We just want to make sure it’s done in a way that’s going to be productive and hopefully get people’s attention as they’re making these difficult decisions.”

Knotts was on campus last week to brief College of Sciences Advisory Board members on the climate in Washington around science and education funding. In this audio interview on the day before the Marches for Science, Knotts talks about possible reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and emphasizes the need to get average Georgians – “who will probably never set foot on Georgia Tech’s campus” – to understand the importance of the Institute’s academic research.

You can listen to the full audio interview here or read the transcript below.

TRANSCRIPT:

I’m Renay San Miguel with Georgia Tech College of Sciences. Joining me now is Robert Knotts. He’s the director of federal relations in the Office of Government and Community Relations of Georgia Institute of Technology. Robert, thank you for your time today. We appreciate it.

Knotts:

Thanks for having me, Renay.

San Miguel:

So tell me – here we are, as we record this, closing in on 100 days of a new administration, and we still – some key science officials have not been named yet, in science and technology – and we still don’t have any kind of a clear indication of what the funding priorities are going to be for this administration regarding science and technology. In your experience, how different is that? How strange is that?

Knotts:

Well, it’s a little unusual. But we’re not sitting around waiting for that information. We’re being aggressive. We’re trying to educate this new administration, we’re building coalitions, we’re strengthening partnerships, and most importantly, we’re talking to Congress about things that are important to Georgia Tech.

San Miguel:

Let’s talk more about that. Would that maybe be the strategy here: if you still don’t get the answers that you’re looking for or just don’t get them at all, maybe focusing on the elected representatives and being able to educate them about issues that are pertinent to Georgia Tech?

Knotts:

That’s definitely the strategy, but that’s always our strategy. We always want to pay a lot of attention to Congress. There are 535 members of Congress, they represent a narrow slice of America, and they’re there to be responsive to their constituents, so it’s important that the Georgia Tech community helps us connect with folks in Washington that represent them to convey the important of things like funding for research and financial aid.

San Miguel:

Tell me about some of the authorizations and reauthorizations that need to happen for certain legislation, such as the Higher Education Act. Tell me how that impacts Georgia Tech and where we are right now with that.

Knotts:

So the Higher Education Act is due to be reauthorized. It may or may not be reauthorized, they can continue to sort of kick the can down the road. But it’s something that has tremendous jurisdiction over Georgia Tech. It governs things like student financial aid, the lending market, rules and regulations that apply to universities. So it’s something that Georgia Tech’s very involved with, and we’re working with associations like AAU (Association of American Universities) and APLU (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities) to make sure that our voice is heard.

San Miguel:

And finally, what would be the Georgia Tech strategy here overall, with dealing with the news that’s coming out of the White House but also as you continue to do your research into how the elected representatives of Georgia want to deal with these science issues?

Knotts:

Our strategy is to educate the campus about the importance of staying involved and advocating for things that are important to us as the Georgia Tech community. So we’re spending actually a lot of time internally talking to a lot of people, and educating them about the process, and then trying to figure out ways to be productive in how we do our advocacy.

So in the past, where it may have been just my office doing the advocacy, we’re excited to have others join us. We just want to make sure it’s done in a way that’s going to be productive and hopefully get people’s attention as they’re making these difficult decisions.

Don’t get me wrong:  Our federal budget is in a tough place, and so our job is to recognize that, but make the case for why – when they start cutting things – science and education hopefully won’t be on that list.

San Miguel:

Maybe reminding everybody how close we are in the science community to some key breakthroughs in these disciplines – biology, chemistry, physics? You see what’s going on with some of the probes that are being sent out to distant worlds and bringing back some new information, and Georgia Tech is all over that.

Knotts:

I do think so, that’s right, that’s it exactly, and we do need to talk about that. But we also need to explain how these things impact their constituents, people who probably will never set foot on Georgia Tech’s campus, and that’s the tougher assignment.

So explaining to average Georgians how the work we’re doing here can impact them, and impact future generations, can help start new industries, that’s sort of the long term thinking that often doesn’t happen in Washington and often doesn’t happen in our country. But we’re in the long game in the type of work we do.

And there’s also the economic development component – that we’re churning these great students out into the marketplace and they’re getting gobbled up for great jobs, so we should probably talk about that just as much as we talk about the research breakthroughs.

San Miguel:

Robert Knotts is the Director of Federal Relations for the Office of Government and Community Relations for Georgia Tech. Robert, thanks for joining us today, we appreciate it.

Knotts:

Thanks Renay. Thanks for having me.