National Guard April 2012 : Page 44
Steps to Success The keys to successful lobbying on Capitol Hill are quite simple: know your issue, know your audience and know their district 44 | Na tional Guard
Steps To Success
WHAT CAN YOU do with 15 minutes?
Walk a mile? Order, pay for and devour a meal at McDonald’s?
Watch half of “Family Guy”?
If you are a member of the NGAUS legislative staff , you might spend that quarter hour profoundly changing the lives of thousands of National Guardsmen.You might secure for them needed equipment, additional training or increased benefits.
When the legislative team at NGAUS visits Capitol Hill to speak with busy congressional staffers about issues important to the Guard and Guardsmen, there is no time for chit-chat.
“You only get about 15 minutes, so you have to be ready with the information and how it impacts their district,” says Emily Sass, the NGAUS senior legislative affairs manager for Air issues.
Most of the work of lobbying, then, is done before a meeting with a congressional office is even scheduled.
It’s not unlike going to war. Good preparation determines the outcome.
“The mistake a lot of people make is to under-prepare,” says Kevin Mc- Colaugh, the NGAUS senior legislative affairs manager for Army issues. “You have to over-prepare.”
The process begins with the issue.Each one—and there are several labeled NGAUS priorities on each year’s lobbying calendar—requires a different plan of attack, starting with which member of Congress might be willing to go to bat for the Guard.
“Each office has something to off er,” says Pete Duff y, the acting NGAUS legislative director and program manager for Joint issues. “We’ve just got to find the right match.”
If the issue involves cargo aircraft, for example, the team will target lawmakers who have cargo wings or squadrons in their districts. An Army Guard issue might put the NGAUS spotlight on a District with a large armory.
“If you can link up an interest in a certain state or district with an issue, they are very interested,” says Richard Green, the recently retired NGAUS legislative director.
McColaugh says the legislative department maintains a spreadsheet providing a quick snapshot of each lawmaker, including committee assignments, previous bill sponsorships and the military presence in the district or state. Guard caucus membership is noted as well.
When NGAUS takes on an issue, “some names jump off the list,” he says.
Once someone is identifed, McColaugh says, “you tailor your message” to make it relevant to that person’s interests and background.
If the NGAUS lobbyists are lucky, the person they identify as a possible supporter is an old friend, someone With whom the association has already established a relationship.But it could be someone with whom NGAUS has never worked on an issue, which makes the outcome more difficult to predict.
“That’s why we try to visit as many offices as possible at the beginning of the year,” says Duff y, “renewing old friendships and making new ones.”
Once a lawmaker has been identified as a possible supporter, NGAUS schedules a meeting, most often with the office’s military liaison assistant, or MLA.
With a short amount of time available to make a pitch, it’s vital that the person hearing it considers the information to be credible.
“They have to trust the information that you’re giving them,” says Sass.“They have to trust the product you’re selling.”
That requires a reputation for knowledge and straightforwardness, which NGAUS has developed in the halls of Congress. The association is viewed as an independent voice beholden only to the Guard.
“We don’t contribute to anyone’s campaign,” says Green. “We don’t take people out to eat.”
When NGAUS pushes an issue, therefore, members of Congress know it is for the benefit of the Guard.
It makes a difference, too, whether the lawmaker is one of the 435 members of the House of Representatives or one of 100 senators.
“[Senators] have a bigger picture perspective,” McColaugh says.“Senators are more willing to take on national issues.”
With a senator, for example, Sass says, “you talk about how something impacts Tennessee rather than the 3rd Congressional District of Tennessee.”
It’s rare to walk away from an initial meeting, however, with a promise to introduce legislation. Instead, the goal is for the MLA to think highly enough of the issue to pass it along to the member of Congress.
“You plant the seed” is how McColaugh describes that first meeting.
Duffy says it is important to maintain contact with an office. He keeps the information flow alive so that the member of Congress is aware of other issues related to the Guard and knows the NGAUS radar has him or her on its screen.
“You never know which issue is going to catch fire in an office,” he says.
The goal, of course, is to eventually convince a member of Congress to introduce legislation that can turn a NGAUS priority into a law. That’s not so simple. While lawmakers may be willing to support an issue, it’s another matter to take the lead and be the name associated with a particular piece of legislation.
“On the Hill, we have go-to people,” says Green. “When we have an ally on the Hill who will carry the water for us, that’s big.”
He mentioned Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who has sponsored legislation To ease space-available travel for Guardsmen, retired Guardsmen and their families.
Duffy credits friendly lawmakers with making embedded mental health professionals a reality for the Guard.After hearing about a program operated by TriWest Healthcare Alliance in California, Duffy wanted to take the idea nationwide.
“TriWest and I developed a bill and Then we looked to the Hill for offices where we had good relations,” he says.
Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., were willing to champion the bill in their respective chambers, along with Rep.Tom Latham, R-Iowa, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Finding co-sponsors for an existing bill is much easier than finding someone to author legislation. Once the Train is rolling, people are more likely to jump on board.
“There’s a bandwagon effect on the Hill,” Duffy says.
It helps, too, Duffy says, if an issue is making a splash in the news.Suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder were the topics of numerous media reports, both in print and on the air. That type of attention helps when pushing for legislation because The public has an increased awareness.
Media reports were a factor when NGAUS pushed the case for the embedded mental health care providers.
“We were able to ride the wave of news,” Duffy says.
Still, however, getting legislation passed is never a sure thing. In fact, the odds heavily favor any piece of legislation dying a quiet death far short of passage. That was the Tion of the Founding Fathers to ensure that laws have undergone a full and careful scrutiny.
So, NGAUS chooses carefully which issues to push and which to save for another day.
“If we go in there with 100 issues, we’re never going to get anywhere,” Duff y says. “There are some good ideas we have to put off until another Congress.”
The NGAUS lobbyists stress that they are not alone when they approach members of Congress to ask them to support legislation beneficial to the Guard and Guardsmen. They are backed, they say, by the 45,000 members of the association and by the many more members of the Guard.
“It is important that our members Know that their individual voices do make a difference and that they should stay abreast of the issues and provide input to their elected officials,” says Green. “The politicians listen to their constituents more than they will listen to me.
“If they’re not hearing from their constituents, we could be talking to the wall.”
He says also that the associations in the 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia have an important role in the process by keeping in touch with the local offices of their delegation in Washington, D.C.
McColaugh, too, says the task of lobbying is made easier if the members of Congress hear about issues from the folks back home.
“What works extremely well is when they hear directly from the people who vote for them,” he says.“The hard sell is better made by their constituents.”
But the best tool in the lobbying toolbox for NGAUS is simply the contribution the Guard has made over the past 10 years to national security abroad and at home. The period since 9/11 has been a high point in the force’s 376-year history and it has not gone unnoticed.
McColaugh says that fact is a key to NGAUS success in Washington, D.C.
He says, “People have seen what the Guard can do.”
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/Steps+To+Success/1018369/105804/article.html.