At Friday’s log lunch on September 23, Jim Carlton, director of the Williams Mystic program since 1989, spoke with easy humor about what he’s learned about testifying before Congress, something he has done nine times. He most recently testified in a hearing about the best ways to regulate ballast waters in commerce, discussing how ships with ballast waters act as vectors for marine invasive species. Congress has continually called on Carlton because he is the leading expert on invasive species in marine environments in this country. He explained the hearing process step by step, providing us with insider information as if we might be going to testify tomorrow.
In order to testify, first you must be invited. You need not accept, because they will not pay you, not even your transportation costs! You are required to prepare both a written testimony (which you must send in 48 hours ahead of the testimony with 100 copies!) and an oral testimony. You should prepare by knowing: Who is on the senate or house committee or subcommittee? Are there stakeholder states? Where do senators or representatives stand on the issue? What’s the hearing really about? Who else is testifying? Do you know people on the inside? If you know people on the inside, you must ask them for the prepared questions that you will be asked after your testimony. Thirty minutes before the hearing, you may enter the Chamber, but he explained that it is savvier to hang around outside to get the inside scoop on which witnesses and representatives are actually showing up. At the hearing, you have only 5 minutes to speak. Do not go over the time limit, he advised; if you break a rule, you send a bad message to Congress. After you testify, representatives may ask you questions prepared by their staffs from the previously submitted testimony. After the questions period, your duty is done.
Carlton explained that on an immediate basis it is difficult to see what impact these testimonials will have on political decision-making. But you do know that your testimonial will enter the permanent record of Congress as part of a long-term process towards creating change. He explained that in order to have the most likelihood of being heard, even environmental advocates must filter their language toward issues of economics and public health. Overt allusions to the environment still just don’t stick.
Written by Claire Lafave ’12, CES Research Assistant, 9/29