Three Keys to Success With Next Federal Transportation Bill

Congress is likely to start working on the next surface transportation bill in mid to late 2013. Stakeholders need to start thinking about how to preserve their victories and reverse their defeats.

One of our primary goals is to help public agencies and companies who don’t have lobbyists or government relations staff know what’s going on in Washington DC and how to accomplish their goals.

We asked Stephanie Vance, aka “The Advocacy Guru,” what advice she would offer to transportation stakeholders.  Below is her response. Earlier this year The Guru provided our readers with a four-part story about “Playing the Influence Game,” discussing some of the secrets of effective federal advocacy. She discussed timeframe, intent (action vs. inertia), scope (controversial or note) and importance (must do vs. may do).

Three Keys to Success with Next Transportation Bill

Whether you love it, hate it, or have mixed feelings about it, the U.S. Congress has finally passed a reauthorization bill establishing ground rules for our nation’s transportation policy until October 1, 2014.  So what’s an advocate to do now?  While it’s tempting to sit back and relax (or fume), with just over two years to go until the current bill expires your voices are needed more than ever.  Once you’ve made your way through the 599 page bill and know for sure whether you’re pleased or outraged, focus on the following three keys to building success for the next time around – because it’s coming sooner than we might think.

  • Local, Local, Local…:  In many ways, MAP-21 increases the ability of state and local jurisdictions to determine how dollars will be spent, which means that  advocates should look to build relationships with local and state level policymakers.  Start learning about these key players by finding out their policy interests, researching their political perspectives and understanding their constituencies.  The best ways to do this are to look up bills they’ve introduced, review the transportation project in their districts and review their bios for clues as to what concerns them the most.
  • … But Don’t Forget the Feds: When members of Congress can’t agree, they “kick the issue over to the agency” – and MAP-21 offered plenty of opportunities for disagreement.  This means that the U.S. Department of Transportation will be responsible for implementing many provisions of the bill.  Advocates would do well to monitor http://www.dot.gov/map21/ for the latest updates on federal activities.  In addition, remember that although many major transportation programs are funded through the Highway Trust Fund (and hence not subject to the vagaries of the appropriations process); advocates ignore the transportation appropriations process at their peril.  You can learn more about what’s happening (or sometimes not happening) on the Library of Congress’ appropriations monitoring page at: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/approp/app13.html
  • Gear up for the Next Battle:  Although 2014 seems as long way away, in political terms it’s just around the corner.  The most successful interests will start rebuilding their networks now, with an eye toward understanding and connecting with the victors (and survivors) of the November 2012 elections.  Regardless of which party controls the House, Senate or even White House, groups built around strong bipartisan and multi-interest themes will be much more likely to succeed in the next transportation show down.  Start finding those unusual coalitions and “strange bedfellows” now – you’ll likely need them in the very near future.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember in the aftermath of MAP-21 is that the fun never stops when it comes to transportation policy-making.  Whether the action is in Congress, the DOT, state government or at the city council, transportation advocates will always be called upon to speak out for critical priorities. The keys to success are to know your audience, research your issue, develop and deliver winning messages and, perhaps most important, be persistent.  To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “never, ever, ever give up.”

Stephanie Vance aka The Advocacy Guru

Stephanie Vance (aka, the “Advocacy Guru”), is a long time federal advocate, national speaker and author of several books including Citizens in Action: A Guide to Lobbying and Influencing Government.  The Guru’s new book is The Influence Game: 50 Insider Tactics from the Washington D.C. Lobbying World that Will Get You to Yes (link to Amazon.com). For on-going tips follow Vance on Twitter at @AdvocacyGuru.