National Guard April 2011 : Page 50
Get Inside the Process How you can help make a real difference for the Guard on Capitol Hill By Andrew Waldman HE SEVEN MEMBERS of the NGAUS legislative team spend much of their time “working the Hill.” That is, they visit congressional offices to meet with lawmakers and their staffs to advocate on behalf of the force structure, equipment and beneﬁts needed by the National Guard. While the success of their ef-forts is well documented, little of it would be possible without the rein-forcement of thousands of members T 50 | Na tional Guard Konstantin L
Get Inside the Process
How you can help make a real difference for the Guard on Capitol Hill
THE SEVEN MEMBERS of the NGAUS legislative team spend much of their time "working the Hill." That is, they visit congressional offices to meet with lawmakers and their staffs to advocate on behalf of the force structure, equipment and benefits needed by the National Guard.
While the success of their efforts is well documented, little of it would be possible without the reinforcement of thousands of members nationwide sharing their stories with their elected representatives.
This grassroots lobbying effort is central to the NGAUS approach on Capitol Hill, and Guard leaders and most association members understand its strength.
So do key members of Congress.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the co-chairman of the Senate Guard Caucus used a box analogy to describe the impact of the NGAUS approach in an interview in the January National Guard magazine.
"NGAUS hits way above its weight, he said. "It has the ability to take core issues and spread the need for those programs on Capitol Hill more effectively than any other body that I can think of because NGAUS is a grassroots organization."
To understand how grassroots lobbying is important to the association, one must understand the legislative process in Congress.
In general, members of Congress introduce bills on the floors of the House and Senate when they see a need that legislation could resolve.
If the bill is something NGAUS supports, it sends its legislative teams to the offices of other members of Congress to solicit their support for the measure.
At this point, the voices of concerned constituents across the land pushing for the bill's support augment the efforts of NGAUS at the seat of government.
Citizens who communicate their opinions to their elected officials can often turn the tide in a bill's favor or get important amendments added to improve the legislation.
"Sometimes it only takes the concerted effort of three or four people to get something in a bill," says Pete Duffy, the NGAUS deputy director of legislative affairs.
Members of the National Guard live and vote in every congressional district. So every lawmaker has constituents who are Guardsmen.
This is what makes NGAUS one of the widest reaching lobbying organizations in the United States.
And that broad membership is powerful, too. NGAUS and the state associations have been using that power for years to influence the work of Congress.
Each state approaches grassroots lobbying in its own way.
The National Guard Association of Tennessee, for example, puts together binders of information about Guard personnel and installations, along with the levels of associated spending in each congressional district, and provides them to members of Congress.
This helps the members connect with the Guard, says retired Col. Larry McKnight, the executive director of the NGATN, and reminds them how "meaningful the Guard is . . . not only from the amount of expenditures, but also the number of members that are in that [congressman's district]."
Once the relationships are established with members of Congress, the state association is more able to mobilize its own membership around issues.
The adjutant general and wing and brigade commanders throughout the state are involved with the state association and their leadership is important in motivating association members to contact Congress.
When action is needed on a bill or legislative issue on Capitol Hill, NGAUS distributes a Legislative Alert that explains to members why their involvement is important.
State associations, too, receive the alerts, which prompt McKnight and many of his peers nationwide to mobilize their association members. McKnight says he gets a 20 to 35 percent response rate whenever he distributes a NGAUS Legislative Alert to his membership.
The Ohio National Guard Association does the same thing. In the Buck- eye State, retired Brig. Gen. Robert Lawson, the ONGA executive director, sends his messages to commanders and other ONGA leaders.
ONGA has representatives in each battalion-sized element that are trained on how to use the Write to Congress feature at www.ngaus.org.
They also keep updated on current issues and relay these issues to their members, encouraging them to respond when a Legislative Alert is distributed.
Members of NGAUS are not shy about expressing their opinions on a variety of issues. Last year, 108,961 letters were sent to Congress through Write to Congress, mostly as a result of Legislative Alerts.
So far in 2011, the states leading in the number of letters sent to Congress are Tennessee (2,023), Georgia (1,535), Ohio (1,134), Pennsylvania (1,021) and Mississippi (840).
McKnight says another effective way to get Guardsmen interested in grassroots lobbying efforts is by visiting Washington, D.C.
In fact, dozens of state associations bring some of their members to the nation's capital each year, often stopping by the National Guard Memorial, the NGAUS headquarters in Washington, D.C. They receive updates from association staff and often use the building for receptions often attended by lawmakers and their staffers.
McKnight says that visitors from Tennessee usually visit the Pentagon, the National Guard Bureau and the offices of their state's members of Congress.
"It's the most effective way to educate young members," he says.
Not all young officers get a chance to attend briefings in Washington, D.C., but Duffy encourages all NGAUS members to get involved on a local level.
While e-mails, letters and phone calls are effective, Duffy says the faceto- face interaction when members of Congress visit their districts is the most effective form of grassroots lobbying.
Lawmakers sometimes hold town hall-style meetings back home. This is an excellent time for NGAUS members to get issues before their congressional representation.
"[Members of Congress] will make promises and bargain with those who show up," says Duffy. "The results are surprisingly good. Showing up at a meeting has a big effect on them."
Duffy notes the success activists of the so-called Tea Party had during the last election campaign. Many members of that movement promoting fiscal restraint spoke up during town hall meetings. That had an impact at the ballot box and some members of the 112th Congress are promoting the group's agenda.
"It's hard to get to a meeting, but that's why it is impressive. [Members of Congress] know how hard it is to get there," he says.
These town hall meetings are scheduled by each individual lawmaker's office. The contact information for your representative in the House is at www.house.gov/writerep.
Duffy also encourages all members to talk about issues with their fellow airmen and soldiers as a way of staying informed and spreading the word.
Grassroots lobbying efforts have been effective in the past, and they'll be the only way that NGAUS continues to achieve its legislative goals.
McKnight says he remembers the tooth-and-nail struggles it took to get some of the benefits most popular with today's citizen-soldiers and airmen.
"I can remember when the GI Bill was just a pipe dream," he says, "and I remember when Guard paychecks came once a quarter. The younger generation thought all this was [always] in place, but it was those grassroots efforts of people involved that made that happen."
Andrew Waldman can be contacted at (202) 408-5892 or andrew.waldman@ ngaus.org.
NGAUS Top Legislative Priorities
Early Retirement Credit for Guardsmen
Retroactivity for deployment-based program back to Sept. 11, 2001
One year earlier retirement for two years served beyond 20
Embedded behavioral health care providers at drills
"Soft landing" for post-deployment
Veteran status for all retired members
Worldwide space-available travel benefits
Employer authorization to pay TRICARE Reserve Select with pre-tax dollars
Fully Equip and Modernize the Army National Guard
Funds for Army Guard equipment and the National Guard and Reserves Equipment Account for critical dual-use equipment
Recapitalize the Air National Guard
Concurrent and balanced Total Force procurement policy
Service Life Extension Program for aging Air Guard F-16s
Modernize National Guard Facilities
Functional training and mobilization facilities
Guard and Reserve Initiative funds for critical infrastructure projects
Seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the chief of the National Guard Bureau
Three-star vice chief of the National Guard Bureau
"Sometimes it only takes the concerted effort of three or four people to get something in a bill." –Pete Duffy Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs NGAUS
Ways To Get Inside The Process
There are several ways to tell your story to Congress. Here are a few:
Call and leave a message. The Capitol Hill switchboard is (202) 224-3121
Use the Write to Congress feature at www.ngaus.org
Stop by a district office
Attend a town hall meeting
Come to Washington, D.C., with your state or territory association
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/Get+Inside+the+Process/684630/65566/article.html.