For many, the state of grassroots advocacy at the regulatory level is unknown. Let’s explore why and a few ways forward.
The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) has more than a decade’s worth of research on how congressional offices receive and use constituent communications. It focuses on the way in which social media, in-person meetings, email and other forms of communications can bring awareness to an issue. The CMF isn’t the only source of information on communicating with Congress since many PAC and grassroots professionals have experience working on Capitol Hill or political campaigns.
That said, the role of the executive branch is often foreign to grassroots and PAC professionals. Typically, they do not have experience working within a federal agency, and yet there is increasing demand for outreach with agencies on regulatory matters.
A search at regulations.gov will show the multitude of comments submitted on all sorts of issues that come before a federal agency. It’s an excellent look at government transparency and demonstrates different sides of various rules being decided by each agency. However, how to effectively communicate the rules is left out.
To answer this question, Aristotle hosted an event with representatives from the General Services Administration (GSA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to share their experience on how regulatory issues are communicated to the public, and provide an open dialogue on how some regulatory agencies operate.
Among others, a few noteworthy takeaways include:
Federal agencies are listening (sometimes even more than Congress): One panelist discussed going through and responding to more than 35,000 comments and replying to nearly all of them. They are not required to respond to non-substantive comments that essentially say “I hate the federal government.”
Real people review comments, get to know them: Once a comment period is closed, multiple individuals review the comment section. Find out what will work best for them ahead of time. For example, does one letter with multiple signatures trump multiple letters making the same point? Ask, because the response might vary depending on the reviewer.
Know the mission of the agency: Some comments simply argue an issue that Congress has already acted on. Comments should focus on how it can be a ‘better’ implemented law, not about opposing the bill.
Read the manager notes from the bill: If the agency is taking the time to read them, they are taking them seriously. You should too.
The above insights were only a few from the event, but the discussion about defining a best practice in regulatory grassroots communication is just the beginning.
Want to know more? Post your comments below and let’s talk!
Director, Grassroots Consulting