About the Government and Community Relations Office
The Government & Community Relations Office (GCR) is a small and mighty team devoted to advancing Berkeley Lab’s research, institutional, and good neighbor goals and objectives by engaging and partnering with federal, state, and local government officials, community leaders and neighbors, and the K-12 STEM education community. The team is led by Executive Director for Government and Community Relations Don Medley, who recently announced his plan to retire at the end of June 2022 after over 19 years at the Lab. Strategic Communications sat down with Don and GCR leads to discuss the role that the office plays in supporting the Lab’s mission and the vision they have for the future.
GCR Roundtable Conversation
Can you describe in broad terms how the Government and Community Relations Office (GCR) supports Berkeley Lab?
Jonathan Nurse, Director, Federal Relations: GCR educates external stakeholders on the capabilities and needs of the Lab through activities such as virtual and in-person briefings. These exchanges often lead to the Lab being called upon to offer thoughts on relevant policy proposals, which helps further our mission and advance the public good.
Jim Hawley, Director, State and External Relations: Governments are the principal sponsors of the research that's performed at the Lab, so it's extremely important that governments -- federal, state, local -- have an understanding of what's happening at the Lab and why the science performed here is so important.
Jennifer (Jenn) Tang, Director, Community Relations: The Community Relations team supports Berkeley Lab in a few different ways. One of the most important things we do is to be out and about in the community (though these days, we do this virtually), sharing stories with our neighbors about how the research conducted at the Lab has broad societal impacts and benefits.
What does success look like at the end of the day?
Jim: Our goal is always to deliver on the opportunities to bring the Lab’s unique research strengths to the State of California. More broadly, success is defined by awareness of the Lab at the state level. There are many people in Sacramento who still confuse Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley, so it can be as basic as getting an understanding of who we are and what we do.
Don Medley, Executive Director, Government and Community Relations: Part of the success metric that people don't think about is that we're successful when division directors, researchers, and leadership look to us as a resource to help them be successful. When they look to us to help them deliver on a new research center or develop support at the state, federal, and local level for an initiative or research area, we can really make a difference.
Faith Dukes, Director, K-12 STEM Education and Outreach: I think another measure of success, especially for K-12 programs is, five to ten years from now, having a greater number of people who are from the Bay Area who are coming back and saying “I started my career here” or “I got the spark in STEM and started my career with national labs because I was in a high school program here and made great connections with researchers.” When we start to see that uptick, we can undeniably say this initiative has been a success.
Don: As a team strategy, GCR does everything we can to make sure we're leveraging all the pieces of government and community relations to help meet our specific goals and objectives. We work together to serve our community and leverage our resources. We try to be greater than the sum of our parts.
What would you say is the most important aspect of your role or your roles?
Jonathan: From my perspective, it's important that policymakers have the facts as they consider legislative and regulatory proposals impacting science. On the federal level, we have built a reputation on Capitol Hill as a trusted resource. We're a one-stop-shop for everything that they would want to know about the research that takes place at Berkeley Lab and its potential impact on the nation. They don't have to dig around a website to find a researcher to offer thoughts on a policy or funding proposal.
Jenn: From a community relations perspective, I think you can distill what I do as making sure that the Lab is seen as a good neighbor and as a responsible community institution. I think that can mean many things. It’s collaborating with community organizations, nonprofits, and local governments to advance our shared goals. It's encouraging interest in providing opportunities to engage with us, whether it's face-to-face programs, whether it's through job opportunities, or sharing our groundbreaking research in a way that inspires folks.
Jim: Being a mission-oriented laboratory, it's extremely important that we understand the mission of both the federal and the state governments, and where those align, so that we can deliver actionable relevant research. We try to introduce policymakers to the researchers at the Lab who are doing what we think will be exciting, interesting, and useful work.
Jonathan: While it's important to serve as a ready resource to Capitol Hill (in Washington, D.C.), there's also a more proactive component of our work that is just as critical. On a near-daily basis, we’re responding to questions from the Hill and requests for input on legislation. However, we’re also staying up to speed on activities on the Hill and in the agencies so that we can reach out with relevant information at impactful points.
Jim: Jonathan made an excellent point. I think we're really trying to shape and build support for the kind of science that's being done.
Don: I think one way to describe all of us and what we do is that we build bridges. And it sounds corny but we're building bridges. Jonathan's building bridges to people on Capitol Hill and with the administration. Jim's building bridges with state legislators. Jenn is building bridges in the community with the communities that we want to engage with. Faith is with students, teachers, and school districts. We're trying to build those bridges for the Laboratory and there are new challenges in building those bridges. We're really focused now on building bridges with underserved communities and under-resourced communities. We play a catalyst role for the development of those relationships, but also we help steward those sorts of relationships and help the researchers to think about the need to develop those bridges themselves.
How do you develop that proactive agenda, and how are you proactive on behalf of the Lab?
Jim: We educate policymakers who are in a position to do something about what is possible on a particular subject, but we also work with coalitions of industry and other academic and research institutions to convey a broader message to policymakers about why research in particular areas is important. The Lab itself is one player amongst many and so it's important for the Lab to be aware of what others are doing and to participate in coalitions.
Jonathan: The same is true at the federal level. We often partner with the other national labs and universities on issues of mutual interest. Further, we rely on those partnerships to both share and learn.
Don: I’d say the majority of what we strategize about is how to be proactive. A lot of our time is spent reactively because people are coming to us. People are coming to Faith to do this program or that program. Jenn's getting requests for philanthropic donations. Jonathan has a spreadsheet of issues that we're wanting to educate people on. So, even though we are reactive to a lot of things, our primary purpose is to drive specific initiatives and programs that meet the Laboratory’s goals.
Faith: For K-12, it’s about building programs that share what's happening behind the gates of Berkeley Lab. Demystifying and making us more visible and accessible is how we're trying to be more proactive. We are creating not just one-off programming, but a comprehensive suite of programs that are part of the infrastructure of the Lab. We love it when scientists are motivated and come up with a program and want to do it with us, but we know that it takes a lot of time to dedicate materials, resources, logistics, and time in order to help develop. We are here to help.
Jenn: One of the things that I try to be proactive about is building partnerships with diverse communities and community organizations whose missions complement ours so that we can be prepared to take advantage of funding opportunities that might be coming up either at the state level or at the federal level. I also try to have as many conversations as I can with our neighbors, to anticipate and learn about what community concerns will be. For example, vegetation management and fire safety at the Lab’s hill site.
Let’s switch gears a little bit and ask you about the impact of some of the wins you’ve seen.
Jenn: I have to say, I was proud of the fact that we were able to come together as a Lab and as a community to celebrate the Lab’s 90th anniversary even though it was in the middle of the pandemic and we couldn’t gather in-person to mark the milestone. In terms of impact, the 90th-anniversary campaign allowed us to shine a spotlight on the people that make Berkeley Lab the incredibly special place that it is while also increasing the visibility of the Lab in the broader community, reinforcing the message that we’re here to do good for the public.
Jim: Where I think the state engagement can be especially impactful for the Lab is when the state provides cost-share for very large federal investments that the Lab gets and that essentially allow the Lab to compete from a stronger position relative to other labs in these large competitions. One example is the National Alliance for Water Innovation (NAWI), where a $22 million commitment from the state was instrumental in enabling us to win what I think will be over $105 million dollars in federal funding. Another example is where the state made some commitments with respect to workforce development and they were helpful in enabling us to win the Quantum Systems Accelerator hub, which is another hundred million dollar investment from the federal government.
Faith: Well, the pandemic happened and that could have been an excuse to not have any programming or any interactions with students at all. I say this is a win for the entire Lab, and for those 250 plus volunteers who've been working with us, especially over the past two years. We’ve had two successful summers of training and internship programs and camps for nearly 200 students. It’s a huge testament to the relationships we’ve built with students and school districts.
We’ve talked a lot about critical external partners. Who are the critical internal partners?
Don: I think we're here for everybody, with the caveat we are a small team. We want to work with everybody, but we have to make sure that what they need has the support of their leadership, whether it be in operations or whether it be in a science area, and ultimately it's something that the laboratory leadership approves is something that we should spend our time on. In Community Relations and K-12, our stakeholders are people who want to be mentors, or volunteers. And in the science areas, young career researchers who we work with to develop their ability to share information with policymakers. I think our constituency is very broad.