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FCW : October 30, 2012
October 30, 2012 FCW.COM 21 to maintain a healthy tension between the branches. For officials on either side, the secret to being effective and prevail- ing on issues that matter is to be pro- cient in operating at this intersection of government. That is not always the case, of course. If the issues are small or mundane enough, components of any branch of government below a certain level can operate almost unimpeded. The situation changes when issues are bigger, more important and more contentious. In other words, not all agency of - cials will need to interact with mem- bers of Congress or their staffs. For our consideration, however, let s assume that your program or policy area draws congressional interest, which means you must be able to coexist with Con- gress in order to effectively do your job.Almost by de nition, congressional interest means contention and differ- ences in opinion. Any large program that has winners or losers, real or perceived, will fall into this category. Even programs with Mary Poppins- type objectives, such as saving tax- payer dollars, produce winners and losers and will therefore encounter advocates for different ways of per- forming the program. The variety of stakeholders in gov- ernment programs and policies is sometimes mind-boggling. Constituen- cies such as veterans, senior citizens, students and farmers are among the best-known, but they are far from alone. Pick a topic, and then educate yourself on the amazing range of inter- ested parties. Executive branch lead- ers often look at issues in a myopic operational or technical way, without regard to the constituencies that might be interested. Who supports or oppos- es your initiative is not something you want to learn for the rst time at a con- gressional hearing. Tip 2: Build relationships before you are called to testify I still marvel at how badly some wit- nesses perform during congressional hearings, and to see members of the executive branch show up poorly prepared and poorly positioned with regard to congressional staffs is par- ticularly disappointing. Although prep- aration depends on staff work in the few weeks leading up to the hearing, positioning is dependent on what you and your staff have been doing for the past two to three years. It is critical to work with congres- sional staffers on a regular basis. Often this means visiting them to provide pro- gram updates and briefs, even when there might not be much going on. Rou- tine brie ngs on important programs are important to do often and in small doses. Telling the story as it happens increases credibility and allows time for the staff members to absorb the complexities and complications of the program. Waiting for your program to become interesting to congressional staffers is not a good idea. It means others have likely de ned the issues for you, and it will raise the question of why you haven t been more forthcoming. Tip 3: Know what type of hearing you'll be attending Even with the best relationship-build- ing efforts, big and contentious pro- grams will often reach a point where congressional committees feel they need to air the issues publicly in a hearing. Press coverage and congres- sional attention will vary depending on the level of public interest. A low- interest hearing --- to discuss a small agency s budget, for example --- will have no public audience, few lawmak- ers or staff members attending, and two or three agency executives at the microphones. These are sleepers, and it s important to stay awake and not offend anyone. Let s call this a Type C hearing. The next level of hearing --- a Type B --- will be a full-blown affair in the committee chambers with members of the public present, most lawmakers chairs occupied, and some trade and mainstream press reporters attend- ing. There will often be photographers shooting these inside-the-Beltway types of events. Such hearings are important to the stakeholders involved and will appear in the Congressional Record, but they are unlikely to make the eve- ning news. Type A hearings are the ones we see on television. Cameras capture people being sworn in, witnesses sweating, lawmakers being concerned or hor- ri ed, and crowds of reporters --- all under the blinding TV lights. Type A hearings are shows. Symbolism is paramount, messages are important, and changes are likely to be made as a result. Tip 4: Do your homework, and practice, practice, practice! My experience with being a witness at Type A and B hearings has taught It is important to recognize that, when it comes to Congress, different rules apply and a little preparation goes a long way.
October 15, 2012
November 15, 2012