Carpe Diem: Two Opportunities For Scientists To Help Shape Federal Policy

Academic researchers are keen to make their science relevant and to get it into the hands of those who can use it, like policymakers. But it is often hard for scientists to identify the right time and place to engage in a particular policy discussion.

For researchers who work on water, ecosystem restoration, climate adaptation, and ecosystem services, there are two opportunities unfolding right now. First, the White House wants input on the implementation of the newly revised Principles and Guidelines for Water and Land Related Resources Implementation Studies ­­­­– known inside the acronym-loving Beltway as the P&G. Second, the Department of Commerce is seeking feedback on the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan for restoration in the Gulf of Mexico.

Image credit: msciba on Flickr CC-BY2.0

There are two opportunities for scientists to plug into important policy decisions this month: one on large-scale federal water projects, and a second on restoration priorities in the Gulf of Mexico.
Image credit: msciba on Flickr CC-BY2.

The P&G was originally written 30 years ago to guide the investment in and management of large-scale water projects. The first major overhaul of the P&G since its inception was completed this last March. Over the time that the P&G has guided federal investments, the government has had the tools to clearly quantify the costs of these projects, but has lacked the capacity or sophistication to fully account for the benefits that water resources and other natural capital provide (e.g., the ecosystem services).

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, billions of dollars will soon begin to flow to the Gulf of Mexico for restoration of the communities and natural systems that were affected. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council talks a lot about the connection between economic and ecological – and ultimately social – restoration in the Gulf. Everyone involved recognizes that this represents a singular opportunity to do things differently. The Council is positioned to set an example for a more integrated and effective approach to ecosystem restoration than has been achieved before.

Over the last few years, the social and natural sciences underlying ecosystem services have advanced to allow us to account more fully for the economic, environmental, as well as social costs and benefits of human (and natural) activities. This represents a paradigm shift in how we manage our natural resources. The federal government can see that an ecosystem services framework can help make better decisions ­– more transparent, efficient, and intentional decisions. COMPASS can see that the science is sufficiently developed to support the integration of ecosystem services into federal decision-making.

This is where you come in – the White House and the Department of Commerce need (and want) the help of the academic research community to understand how to make this new way of thinking a reality on the ground. So please consider taking the plunge – and don’t hesitate to ask us for help if you’re struggling to get started. These documents can be daunting, but this audience is keen to hear from you.

WHO: Anybody can submit comments. This is particularly appropriate for researchers (of any career stage) who have worked on ecosystem restoration, water resource management and/or adaptive management, and particularly those with an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that adaptive management or an ecosystem services framework brings to planning and decision-making.

WHAT: Open public comment periods:

  • For the P&G Draft Interagency Guidelines.
  • For the Gulf of Mexico Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan.

WHEN: Deadlines for submitting comments are:

  • For the P&G: June 27 at 5pm ET (We know!  You don’t have a lot of time!).
  • For the Gulf of Mexico plan: June 24 at midnight ET (We know! Even less time!).



WHY: We’ve written a lot on this blog about why scientists should engage. We know from our conversations with the people who will be reading these public comment submissions that they want to hear from you (scientists) in particular. So jump in, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and see what you learn in the process.

If you do submit a formal comment, we’d like to know about it. Add a comment to this blog post or email one of us to let us know.

About Chad English

Chad was a Director of Science Policy Outreach at COMPASS, where he helped scientists find the policy relevance in their work, and the policy crowd find the science they need.


  1. Chad English says:

    Note that the Gulf of Mexico Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan deadline has now been extended by two weeks to JULY 8, 2013. See here for more:

    So those of you who are interested in commenting on the Plan have a reprieve – but those of you who are planning to comment on the P&G are still looking at less than a week, so don’t dawdle…

    And, of course, let us know if you have any questions or if we can help!

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