Right now the National Space Society and the Space Exploration Alliance are wrapping up their 2009 Legislative Blitz, where groups of activists visit Congressional offices to promote space exploration. Next month the AIAA will be running its Congressional Visits Day, again with people making stops at Congressional offices. And, in a similar vein, there is Prospace’s venerable March Storm (although the organization announced just this weekend that there will be no March Storm this year because of “resource and time limitations”).
All these events are predicated on the belief that it’s effective to speak in person with members of Congress (or, more likely, their staffers) to press their concerns or promote legislation, and proponents of these efforts point to legislation that has been enacted or funding that has been provided based on this lobbying. But is it really that effective? One member of Congress suggests they’re not that useful. Speaking at the AAAS meeting in Chicago earlier this month, Congressman Bill Foster (D-IL), a former Fermilab physicist, said that he’s “inundated” with meetings. “I typically have between 10 and 15 meetings a day; walk-in 15-minute meetings,” he said. “If you don’t come into the job with attention deficit disorder, you rapidly develop it.”
Foster suggested that people meet with their members of Congress in their home districts, rather than go to Washington. “There’s no way they can mistake you for just another special interest,” he said. “You can often get a half an hour discussion with them and actually let them know that you really care about what you’re saying.” That alternative, he said, “is much more effective than this sort of ‘let’s go down and walk on the Mall in Washington a