Guidance from the White House Office of Legislative Affairs
Accept the fact that Congress is there, was there long before you got to where you are, and will be there long after you leave.
Don't fight it. Work with it. Learning how to work effectively with them will go a long way toward making your life easier, improving the effectiveness of your agency, and promoting the President's agenda.
Every agency is important.
You may think you're stationed in a far-flung, forgotten outpost of the Administration. But calls, letters, or visits from Members of Congress are the "great equalizers." How you conduct yourself reflects on the entire Administration and the President.
Get to know your legislative affairs staff.
Find out who is responsible for your area. Work with them. View them as part of the solution, not part of the problem. You have better things to do than worry about Congress all day.
If you receive a call from a Member of Congress, check with your legislative affairs staff.
- If your agency does not have a separate legislative affairs operation, find out who is designated to deal with Congress.
Decide who is best suited to return the call, but do it promptly. Generally whatever problem the Member had in the first place will not get better with time. On rare occasion, the problem goes away. But that happens more by accident than by design. And it is not the kind of thing that you want to rely on, especially if your agency head spends a lot of time testifying on Capitol Hill or other settings where Members are not shy about venting their frustration about you or your boss or other Members of Congress.
Resist the temptation to improvise.
- The same applies to mail. Members place a high premium on responding promptly to constituents. They expect the same -- if not more -- from you and your agency. If there is a good reason why a prompt response cannot be delivered, someone from your agency should call or write that Member's staff and explain why.
- If an irate Member calls you directly, and you don't have an answer to their question, it is best to admit you don't have the answer and promise to look into the matter.
The road to disaster is littered with agency staff who have forgotten about their legislative affairs staff or, worse, tried to end run them. Clandestine meetings between Members of Congress and agency officials happen more in cheap novels, not real life. Word gets out, no matter how clever you think you are, and tend to make for bad working relationships with a Member's staff.
Stay in regular contact with your Legislative Affairs staff.
Relay even seemingly innocuous information to them. If you are giving them too much information, they will tell you. Until then, what seems insignificant to you may actually be a missing piece of a bigger puzzle.
Your agency legislative affairs staff is here to promote the President's agenda with Members of Congress.
They coordinate not only all the activities within your department, but make sure they are consistent with the broad goals and agenda articulated by the President. This requires them to work with other agencies. It is rare that one issue falls exclusively within the jurisdiction of one agency. For example, the Trade Promotion Authority legislation involved coordination among at least half a dozen core agencies and on particular issues, involved many more.
Make sure you have your facts straight before you deal with Members of Congress.
Untangling mixed signals later takes more time than getting the signals straight in the first place. Imagine the result if a football team tried to call plays as players were running down the field, instead of taking 30 seconds to get the play straight in the huddle in the first place.
It is critical that the entire Administration speak with one voice.