Science Wednesday: Watching the Government Process

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By Claire Payne

I find our government fascinating because at first glance, it seems a giant organization that makes the rules for all of us. However, upon closer inspection, one can see the intricate web of Federal agencies mixing with our elected politicians, advocacy groups, scientists and other professionals, press, and an untold number of general and wonkish enthusiasts engaging on every issue.

As a summer intern for EPA, I’ve experienced the pleasure and challenge of navigating these multiple layers. I’ve learned that with every step along the way new questions and obstacles arise that must be analyzed and answered before eventually arriving at a satisfactory conclusion.

I recently attended a congressional hearing where EPA Assistant Administrator Dr. Paul Anastas was called to testify regarding EPA’s Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). Mingling with the EPA senior staff as well as with the dozens of people who were visiting Congress that day as either tourists or professionals was indescribably uplifting. This was our country at its best and here I am, a 21-year-old from the west coast, experiencing the finest of democracy’s ideals, first-hand.

I took my seat towards the back of the hearing room and waited with anticipation. Before me I could see the committee chair and members seated across three rows of seats that spanned the room. At once I noticed on the wall behind them an engraving with the quote,

“For I dipped into the future, far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be” –Tennyson.

This quote resonated deeply with me throughout the hearing because it seemed extremely appropriate and fitting as IRIS program was discussed in such detail. Through IRIS, Agency researchers conduct chemical hazard assessments that provide scientific data to support EPA’s program offices as they make decisions on how to protect public health and the environment, now and for future generations.

It was a special privilege to observe these high caliber professionals engaging in this manner. I think that there’s no better way to learn about our future than to be thrust into the heat of such an important government process and experiencing it firsthand. I recommend to all you readers – if you haven’t yet attended a hearing, it is a must see event!

About the author: Claire Payne is a summer intern with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Assessment.