Meeting with a Member of Congress and congressional staff is the most effective way to communicate your support for biomedical research or your position on specific science and technology issues. As a biomedical researcher, you have instant credibility on issues related to research. Your request for a meeting confers a level of seriousness about the issue, and the effort you are making in seeking a meeting will be respected.
Here are some guidelines to remember when planning your meeting, whether in Washington or in the Member's home congressional district.
Be persistent. It may take several tries to schedule your appointment at a mutually convenient time. Try writing a letter to request the meeting and following up with a phone call. Know who will attend with you and what you want to discuss at the meeting when you schedule the appointment. Once you've made the appointment, send a confirming letter, noting the date and time, your agenda, and the list of attendees.
Congressional staff matters. Your meeting may well be with staff, not the Member. Don't be insulted; this is typical. Staff is usually knowledgeable about issues and Members rely on their advice about issues and the concerns of their constituents. If a staff member does not appear to be informed, view this as an opportunity to educate that individual. Remember, this staff person is still your entry to the Member.
Be organized and know your issues. Get organized ahead of time. Get up to speed on the status of the legislation, the Member's party affiliation and committee assignments. Know his or her past history and level of support for the issue(s) you wish to discuss. Remember to make a local link between NIH funded research at your institution, and point out its importance to your university and community. Leave a one-page summary (and any supporting talking points) that sums up the points you made. Structure your arguments so that they address:
- Personal Impact - how the bill will affect your research and that of your scientific colleagues.
- Social Impact - how the bill will affect other people's lives (health) in your community, your region and throughout the nation.
- Economic Impact - creates/destroys jobs; wastes/saves money; helps/hurts the local economy; helps/hurts public health.
Remember to leave your business card, writing the date of the meeting and a few words identifying the issues you discussed on the back of your card.
If you've scheduled a team lobbying effort with others who share your position on a bill, coordinate your presentations. Agree on who will serve as the lead spokesperson to introduce your group to the elected official and state your specific request. Others can then speak briefly from their own perspective-trying not to repeat earlier remarks-describing their personal experiences.
Be positive. Express your appreciation for past support, and leave negative attitudes about politics and politicians at home. Offer to help by answering questions on research matters.
If you disagree. Don't argue-ask and listen:
Get in and get out.
- Find out why there is a disagreement. It could just be that the public official doesn't fully understand your position.
- Listen carefully to the public official's views. Don't dismiss his/her concerns.
- Avoid negotiating during the initial meeting. The time should be used to fully understand the views of both parties.
- If you encounter hostility, don't argue. Simply state your position and end the meeting as quickly as possible.
Arrive on time, expect to wait, and don't overstay your welcome. Members and staff are busy. It is common to have to wait for a meeting. Expect a 15-minute meeting, and be prepared to make your points, answer any questions, thank them for their time, and get out. However, take your cues in case the Member or staff wants to talk. Before you leave the meeting, try to determine if you have been successful. At a minimum, find out if the public official is with you, against you, or undecided.
Write a thank you note. Follow up quickly. Write a thank you note recalling the details of your visit. This is perhaps one of the most overlooked lobbying tools. Your note should:
- Express your appreciation for the official's time in meeting with you.
- Reiterate the key points of your meeting.
- Enclose any materials requested.
- Mention your willingness to provide additional information.
De-brief. Send a quick e-mail to AAA to tell us what was discussed and your observations about the visit. Sharing this information can help make future advocacy efforts more effective.
Keep building the relationship. Look for an opportunity to send a newsletter or article relating to your issue. (Something from the AAA Newsletter or the FASEB Newsletter might be perfect!) On your next visit to Washington, drop by your Member's office to leave your card and a quick note. You don't need an appointment for this. Just let them know you are still interested and appreciate their support. Remember: out of sight, out of mind.
Visiting your laboratory. Consider hosting a tour of your lab to give your local, state, or federal representative a first-hand look at the research process.
Be tenacious. Remember that you can't expect to accomplish your goals and establish a relationship with one meeting. Write follow-up letters. Remember to thank Members who voted favorably. Write respectfully even if the Member acted unfavorably on your issues. Building congressional relations is a marathon and not a sprint. Don't give up.