October 6, 2016
As Congress is in recess until the November election, now is a great time to catch-up on some homework. By homework, I mean the Congressional version of ABC’s and 123’s, such as knowing bill sponsors and numbers, and preparing one-pagers.
Before any meeting or contacting an elected official, it is critical to do the necessary homework to ensure advocates position themselves in the best light and are viewed as a trustworthy source. Some items seem really simple, but they are often overlooked by groups. As a result, the group loses some credibility. For instance, I cannot even count the number of times a group lobbied my office on a piece of legislation without knowing the actual bill number. In my informal survey of Hill staff, this occurrence was common throughout their meetings as well. In corporate America, this would be like not having cost estimates for a project, or in the classroom, the teacher not knowing what chapter the class was on.
It is important to remember that while a group may eat, sleep and breathe that one specific bill, Members of Congress and staff deal with more than 10,000 pieces of legislation that are introduced into Congress each session. To ensure the member and staff are aware of the correct legislation, make sure they have the bill specifics: a group advocating in support or opposition of a bill should always provide the bill name, number, and sponsor.
For some homework extra credit, be aware that these numbers often change with a new session. Come January, Congress hits the reset button, which means bills need to be reintroduced and will then receive a new number.
Another good homework project is preparing a one-page document with all the pertinent information of the legislation in an easy-to-read format. Yes, this should include the bill name, number, and sponsor, and if it has a companion bill in the other chamber, but a one-page document should also include useful facts, such as a brief bill summary, cost estimates, historical framework, district impacts, timelines and so forth. This document is what members and staff will read first, so it should be full of details and accurate. Many groups like to provide the one-pager during the meetings, however, a majority of staff, would prefer receiving the one-pager ahead of time to be better informed on the issue. This can be done by sending it with the meeting confirmation email and also bringing copies to the meeting. After all, does a group prefer the member or staff read it A) while the group is presenting, or B) ahead of time to provide for a better meeting conversation?
Those answering B receive the “A” for the day!