Communicating with Policy Makers
Meeting with your member of Congress is one of the most effective means of influencing the legislative process. Members are more likely to support positions that their constituents feel strongly about, and there is no better way to display your passion for an issue then by taking the time to have a face-to-face meeting with your legislator. This is especially important on issues where the opposition has a strong lobbying presence in Washington and/or on issues that are relatively new, complex, and sometimes controversial where scientist-constituents can help educate policy makers.
- Plan, Plan, Plan. If you are willing to invest the time to get a face-to-face meeting with your legislator, be willing to think through what you hope to accomplish from the meeting and how best to go about reaching your goal. Some questions to consider: (i) on which issue do you want to focus?; (ii) what is your legislator’s position on that issue?; (iii) what do you want your legislator to do after your meeting?; (iv) what is your main message for the meeting? (v) would having other people join you in the meeting help you convey your main message?; (vi) consider bringing a relevant hard copy reference regarding your topic to leave behind.
- Decide on location. Do you want to travel to Washington? Would you rather meet with your legislator when he/she is back in the district? There are costs and benefits to both strategies. A meeting in Washington will signal a strong dedication to your issue. However, the legislator may have a last minute vote or committee hearing and may need to miss your scheduled meeting. A meeting in-district may be more likely to happen and easier to secure but you will have to wait until your legislator is back in the district. Additionally, the legislator’s lead staffer on the issue likely won’t travel back to the district.
- Request the meeting. Your request for a meeting should be initiated by mailing or faxing a letter to the legislator’s scheduler. Call the local office and ask for the names of the legislator's scheduler and/or environmental assistant. Next, fax or mail a letter requesting a meeting, putting it to the attention of the scheduler. You should indicate how flexible you are with the time of the meeting, as this will increase your chances of getting a meeting during busier days. Below we have a sample letter.
- Follow-up by phone. Within 24 hours of sending the fax or when you think the letter will have arrived, call the scheduler and confirm his or her receipt of the note. If you have not heard back in three to four days, call the scheduler again and ask if a meeting has been arranged.
- Consider meeting with an aide. If the legislator is unavailable to meet, you may end up with a meeting with the aide. While you should always ask for a meeting with the legislator, a meeting with the lead aide on your issue can be productive. The aide is the office "expert" on the issue and thus has influence with the legislator. If you are persistent and effective, you may be able to parlay a first meeting with an aide into a long-term relationship with that office and/or a meeting directly with the legislator.
- Have Reasonable Expectations. Don’t expect your legislator to change his/her position after your 20-minute meeting. You should view your meeting as one critical step among many to engage your legislator on the issue.
Representative or Senator X
United States House of Representatives or Senate
Washington, DC 20515 (for House) 20510 (for Senate)
ATTN: Scheduler's Name, fax number
Dear Rep./Sen. X:
As a scientist [replace with specific sub-discipline, if desired] from [name institution, if desired], I am writing to request a meeting with you and your environmental aides on the subject of [your research specialty; e.g., climate science.] [If appropriate, briefly mention any additional credentials that would convince the scheduler to make you a priority.]
[Discuss the reasons for your current request for a meeting—e.g., the release of a report related to your research or developments in a piece of legislation related to your specialty. For example:] I wish to request a few minutes of your time to discuss a recently-released report, [report name, co-authors]. I lead the regional [climate analysis component] of this work [e.g., your relation to report/bill]. The report is intended to provide our region’s residents and policy makers with the most up-to-date scientific assessment of the impacts that they are likely to face....I hope you have an opportunity to review the report at some length.
I will be available to meet with you anytime on the [date(s)] and would be delighted to talk with you then about [the report’s findings and what they mean for my state; the bill xxx..., etc]. I would like to bring with me my colleagues, [list colleagues, if applicable], also from [your state/district]].
I can be reached at the phone number (s) below, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
Institution (if appropriate)