Government Relations Update
Advocacy training and congressional visits highlight research with chimpanzees
By Pat Kobor and Jenna McGwin
Members of the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Committee on Animal Research and Ethics (CARE) made 14 visits to Capitol Hill offices on Oct. 1, 2012. The CARE members encouraged their members of Congress to avoid the looming across-the-board cuts that will occur on Jan. 2, 2013, if Congress does not override them, and to oppose the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (GAPCSA) when it is reintroduced in the next session of Congress.
Members of the APA Science Directorate’s Government Relations Office prepped the committee the day before their congressional visits, briefing them on the technical aspects of the pending budget cuts and GAPCSA, and helping the group rehearse for their Hill meetings.
Members of CARE include chair Gary Dunbar (Central Michigan University), Allyson Bennett (University of Wisconsin - Madison), Marilyn Carroll (University of Minnesota), Jennifer Higa-King (University of Hawaii – Honolulu Community College), Pamela Scott-Johnson (Morgan State University) and Rodney Swain (University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee). In addition, two of the 2012 Interdivisional Mentoring Program awardees — Bonnie Perdue, post-doctoral fellow at Georgia State University and Regina Gazes, postdoctoral fellow at Zoo Atlanta — attended the CARE advocacy training and made visits to their members of Congress.
During their visits with congressional staff, these scientists explained that unless it is overridden, sequestration — the enforcement mechanism adopted to ensure that Congress continue to make progress on deficit reduction — will cut over $2.5 billion from the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and $586 million from that of the National Science Foundation. Those numbers reflect a 8.2 percent cut to research, a number published by the Office of Management and Budget in its recent report (PDF, 992KB) on how the sequester would affect federal budgets. Most members of Congress are currently at home campaigning but will return during a “lame duck” session on Nov. 13, 2012, to consider proposals to reduce the deficit by $1.3 trillion over the next nine years in order to avoid the sequester. This schedule leaves little time to resolve an issue that eluded compromise during the regular legislative session.
The members of the CARE group also explained APA’s concerns about the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, S. 810 (PDF, 190KB) a bill that has been introduced in each session of Congress since 2008, but that never progressed through a committee until this year. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works reported the bill to the full Senate in July. The bill would ban almost all research and funding for research with great apes in the U.S. and would retire current research apes to sanctuaries. The CARE scientists explained that the bill’s broad definition of “invasive” research would prohibit measures including blood draws and anesthesia, and thus prohibit neurobiological studies with chimps on cognition and language processing that may contribute to knowledge relevant to Alzheimer’s disease and autism spectrum disorders.
In December 2011, the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the Use of Chimpanzees in Biomedical and Behavioral Research released a report supporting a reduction in the use of chimpanzees in research, but the Committee did not support an overall ban on research with chimpanzees. Shortly after the report was released, Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, released a statement that NIH would accept the recommendations of the IOM committee. An NIH working group has been established to advise on implementing the IOM recommendations and to consider the size and placement of the active and inactive populations of the NIH-owned or -supported chimpanzees. NIH will not award any new funding for research with chimpanzees until processes for implementing the IOM recommendations are in place.