WPI Wire, Vol. 10, No. 1 - Spring 1996

The Faculty

Fellowship provides opportunity to learn about government

Vahid Motevalli, associate professor of mechanical engineering, has spent the academic year as an ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) Congressional Fellow.

ASME fellows participate in the legislative process and provide technical expertise to the members of Congress and their staffs. They also interact with government agencies, public concerns and industry contacts to formulate positions on legislative issue s.

Motevalli has been working with the Basic Research and the Energy and Environment subcommittees of the House Science Committee, whose function is authorization and oversight. "In its oversight role, the Science Committee examines policies related to the s cientific and technological activities of the government and determines if what has been authorized is being implemented, while the authorization process sets the government priorities in science and technology and is a policy making process," he says.

The Basic Research Subcommittee has legislative jurisdiction and general and special oversight and investigative authority on all matters relating to science policy, including all Federal research and development activity, university research policy, and government agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Labs, and independent agencies involved with science and technology policy and the U.S. Fire Administration. Motevalli has f ocused his work in Washington on issues related to electric transportation and the government's Partnership for Next Generation Vehicles, and has also been examining the external regulation of nuclear safety in Department of Energy facilities.

The Energy and Environment Subcommittee's jurisdiction is the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the DOE - all the nondefense (civilian) aspects of energy research and development.

Motevalli, who was born in Iran, has lived in the United States for 15 years. He earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree at the University of Maryland and is an expert on flame spread, microgravity combustion, early fire detection and ceiling jets.

"I view my Congressional fellowship as a great learning experience," he says. "I was looking for this because, in my youth, I was deprived of learning about the American system of government and the Constitution. On the positive side, I didn't have the cy nicism people have when they grow up in this country.

"I've come to really appreciate this particular system of government. The tension between the House and the Senate, the rule of the majority in the House and the consensus rule in the Senate, the differences in the length of terms for senators and represe ntatives - all make it fascinating and unique. The system works much better than people may believe. It's open to everyone and the members of the House and the Senate do pay attention to their constituents and to the lobbyists.

In his role as a Congressional Fellow, he has arranged, prepared questions and provided background information for members and staff for hearings and briefings, arranged briefings, and is arranging hearings. "I have also taken the initiative to write poli cy position papers for distribution to members.

"I now have a much broader view of science policy and how we prioritize the kind of research that gets funded by the Federal government. The system is very dynamic. Being a fellow helps you have a different mind set - and helps you to interact with govern ment agencies at a higher level to gain an entirely different understanding of the research funding process."

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