Engagement/Legacy/ and Transition Plans

We recognize the importance of adding new members to the GAAC and have, over the past several years, solicited volunteers through a variety of sources including through the GAAC workshop, through RSA leadership recommendations and through word-of-mouth.  In some cases, this outreach has resulted in highly engaged members. This outcome, however, is not always the case and there are a number of factors that make serving on the GAAC different than serving on many other RSA committees and perhaps different than what members envision.  We want to provide to the Board some of the reasons that we would argue for more continuity (with some rotation) for this committee AND why some individuals who join do not always feel the “engagement” and/or satisfaction that they might feel from some of the other RSA committees. 

First, much of what the GAAC does is “WATCH” and “MONITOR”.   Legislative action is convoluted and SLOW, thus, longevity on the GAAC matters.  Without something “to-do” NOW, the early excitement joining this committee can quickly wane. Furthermore, unless one has prior experience with legislative action at the local, state (or federal) levels, the entire process can be frustrating.   New members can find it at best curious and at worse off-putting; resulting in a sense that their individual contributions to the committee are limited.  

Second, the GAAC mission is not “task-specific/limited”.  The GAAC must be actively aware and engaged throughout the year and across years, regardless of which political party is in power, and be aware of the multitude and variety of issues relevant to the RSA membership.  It is time consuming, in part, because its mission is not typically accomplished when a disaster has been averted or when alcohol science has achieved greater respect (and funding).  For persons wanting/ needing obvious markers of completion or success, the GAAC offers little reward.

Third, for the GAAC mission to best benefit from a member’s engagement, the member must bring or develop quickly an understanding of the legislative process and of past action and/or history.  New members must have steep learning trajectories and appropriate interpersonal skills and also have the time to put aside other professional responsibilities to address pressing issues coming to a vote in Congress or being addressed by a Secretary.  [This may be one of the most important reasons why limiting terms on this committee could be problematic.] 

Fourth, geography matters.   Although many RSA members are engaged in important work across the country, federal action is often occurring in DC (briefings, hearings, meetings with staff). There are occasions where an opportunity for comment arises quickly and when this happens, it is often difficult for RSA members who live west of the Mississippi River to make “quick trips” to Washington DC.  Many of the issues cannot be ‘done later’ and so occasionally trips to Washington are needed with very little advanced warning.

With this background, we offer some recommendations/suggestions that will provide necessary continuity while ensuring that the committee remains actively engaged and vibrant.  

  1. In 2015, three early-mid career scientists (early Associate Professor or Assistant if the Assistant has a keen interest in the area) would be nominated by senior RSA members and leadership on the basis of key skills/interests.  They would serve for one year without additional obligation.  At the conclusion of the year, their continuation would be determined by their own interest in remaining on the committee and by their engagement throughout the year (participation on conference calls, response to email inquiries, etc).  If they are interested in remaining on the committee, they would be a full member of the GAAC for 3 years (with the option of an additional 3 yr renewal).  In 2016 and future years, one to two scientists could participate in this one year experiential training and then rotate onto the committee as appropriate.  Participation in this one-year experience would NOT be required, but would afford members the opportunity to “try it out” before making a commitment. 

There is some hesitancy to mandate that individuals must leave the committee after six years if their involvement is essential to on-going action. There would be the possibility for such a member to move to a GAAC Chair position and continue involvement. It would not serve the GAAC (or RSA) to have a young investigator who has made significant connections with key legislators “removed” from the committee simply because their two term limit had expired.  

  1. To ensure that a cohort of investigators is available across time, senior trainees (i.e., postdoctoral trainees) may serve as affiliate members with the permission of their mentor and GAAC leadership.  We anticipate that 2-3 trainees might be appointed. The selection of the trainees would be done by the GAAC leadership with attention to rotating the laboratories from which they are coming and their geographic location. Written permission by advisors/mentors would be required.   This internship (of sorts)  is an opportunity to train tomorrow’s leaders without placing too great a burden on them.  They may serve for two years in this capacity.   They would use this experience to gain understanding and determine if they would be interested in serving on the committee later in their career.
  2. To date, in an effort to be inclusive, committee membership has not been limited in number.  Current members are asked to indicate their interest in continuing on the committee and, typically, a few new recruits become the current committee.   We propose that the GAAC might be well-served through a more formal two tiered structure; the standing GAAC committee and the emeritus members, ie senior scientists who have (usually) had a history serving on the GAAC and can be called upon when necessary.

We propose that the standing committee be anticipated to include between 8-10 persons (to accommodate the early career persons and sufficient numbers of senior members).  While we state an 8-10 person limit, there may be circumstances where the size could be increased   There may be individuals who serve a key role on the GAAC – for example, an RSA member who is one of the organizers of the reactivated Friends of NIAAA currently gives updated reports each month on our conference calls.  Individuals such as these clearly have an important role on the GAAC.  We anticipate that typical membership would include an initial 3 year term with the opportunity to serve for an additional 3 years.  In specific cases, individuals might be continued.  Continuation beyond the initial 3 year term would be at the recommendation of the GAAC leadership. As membership rotates off, the GAAC leadership and the emeritus group (discussed below) would work to ensure that the membership nominations were adequately diverse and had the necessary skills to meet the GAAC mission. 

The emeritus group would be included in committee correspondence and called upon to meet specific needs, as appropriate.  Neither the size of the emeritus group nor its term of service would be limited.  Historically, these senior members (though not previously defined within the proposed tier system) have on-going participation at key junctures by sharing their experience, providing written or oral testimony, using their relationship with key members of Congress, and/or providing written comments on specific action.   Their input and often, political connections has proved invaluable.  They would [continue to] receive GAAC emails, but would not be expected to participate in the monthly calls, unless it was relevant to specific action or their specific expertise.

  1. GAAC leadership.   The GAAC Chair(s), serve at the pleasure of the Society.  Typically, the GAAC Chair has served across Presidential terms, providing important continuity.  For a number of years, leadership of this committee has been shared (by 3 co-chairs). We believe that shared leadership has provided an effective distribution of effort.   Additionally, it ensures that multiple perspectives are heard throughout the committee structure. Leadership of this committee would be too much for a single individual.  We cannot emphasize enough the critical need for continuity across RSA President terms in order to appropriately support the GAAC mission.   That said, it is imperative that leadership opportunities not be unduly restricted.  We propose that over the course of this next year, the current GAAC chairs in collaboration with RSA leadership identify able successor(s) who could assume the GAAC leadership role in June 2017.  This person or persons might be, but would not be required to be among the current GAAC membership. We do not believe that the GAAC chair should be restricted to 1 or 2 years (this would have been disastrous when facing the merger or most any other legislative action affecting the RSA membership).   Thus, we would suggest that the Chair serve for ~ 3 years with the opportunity for a second term. In some cases, the Chair(s) may serve in a Past Chair role, but such a term should not exceed 1-2 years. It may be feasible to establish a co-chair rotation with partially overlapping terms. We have not had the opportunity to consider such a structure completely.  As with the membership statement above, the Chair could return to the committee after an appropriate interval and at the President’s request.  

We would also encourage the RSA President-elect to participate in the GAAC calls/activities as a means of preparing for the Presidency.  

It is critical that it be recognized that the committee listings, as publicly noted, are often misleading.  Some of those listed function in a role that we propose to title as an “emeritus” role.  Others are on the list because they were nominated and accepted the position, but have not participated.