It sounds far fetched in the current environment on Capitol Hill, but sometimes bills do get passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. When that happens, it triggers a flurry of activity at the federal agencies overseeing the new law. It should also trigger steps advocates need to take to ensure that their desired goal is met.
In fact, considerable time, effort, expense, and strategy is required to fulfill a bill’s intended purpose. If the program needs to be funded, and most do, that’s yet another high hurdle to cross. Successful passage of legislation is the beginning as much as it is the end. Here are some follow-up routes government relations and advocacy professionals can take after they help enact a law:
Say thank you to those who helped along the way
Offering a hearty and heartfelt thank you to those who helped, no matter how small a role, is a hallmark of a successful advocate. Those who fail to do so could face lethargy in moving from legislative enactment to implementation and funding.
Work with agencies
Your group and others supporting legislation that becomes law should interact with the impacted federal agency. This is best done when the legislation is pending to work out as many differences and nuances that would need to be addressed if the bill gets enacted. Positions on issues can change from the time a bill is introduced to the time it gets to the president’s desk. Turnover at the agency and among stakeholders supporting the bill, now law, can also bring in new personalities and perspectives.
Advocacy work with agencies needs to be a part of an organization’s overall government relations strategy from the onset. Legislation that your organization favors can ultimately be delayed or regulated unfavorably, which is why relationship building and continued advocacy are so important.
Go to the appropriators
There are hundreds of authorized, but unfunded provisions at the federal level, and you don’t want yours to be one of them.
Building agency support, as well as buy-in by the Office of Management and Budget, is essential. You want to get a line item in the president’s budget submission, even if it’s a zero request. That gives you and your organization/coalition a hook on which to hang a formal appropriation request for the following fiscal year.
Be prepared because savvy appropriations staff – even those who are inclined to support your new budget activity – will often ask, “What would you suggest we cut to make room for your request?” Based upon the allocation for the appropriations subcommittee, the president’s budget request and how many members of Congress you can get to weigh in on your appropriations, you may or may not succeed in the first year to get your program funded.
When you eventually do secure funding for this newly-authorized activity, the federal agency may need technical guidance on the disbursement of funds or solicitation for competitive grant applications.
Educate stakeholders and the public
Dozens, if not hundreds of new provisions, amendments or programs are created each year through the authorizing and appropriations process (yes, the spending process has become a vehicle for attaching authorization bills or provisions).
The public, specific industries, trade associations, institutions of higher education, nonprofits, local and state officials, prospective grant applicants, and others need to be informed about these provisions as well as their intent, timing, impact and how to become engaged in them.
All of this work after legislative enactment beats advocating for multiple Congresses on a bill that just can’t make it through committee or to the other legislative body for action. We encourage taking the cup-is-more-than-half-full approach and looking far into the future with optimism.