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Tip #1: Make Your Voice Heard
- There is no voice more convincing to a member of Congress than a credible, concerned voter from their own home district. Whether your voice is heard through a phone call, fax, e-mail or in person, the fact that you have taken the time to communicate as a constituent will carry considerable weight when it comes time for the member to vote on the legislative issue of concern to you. This is especially true regarding biomedical research policy and funding issues.
- There are only a handful of members of Congress with scientific backgrounds or connection to the basic research community. It is important that you help them cast votes that are based on sound science. The best way to do that is communicate with them.
Tip #2: Do Your Homework
- Start by going to your member’s website where they post biographical information. There are also independently written bios available on public information websites such as congress.org and c-span.org.
- Find out:
- What are their personal and professional interests?
- Do they have any connection to or experience with biomedical research?
- Do you have anything in common (alma mater, mutual friends or colleagues)?
- Where did they grow up?
- What are his/her committee assignments?
- Does he/she serve on any special congressional panels (other than committees)?
- Is your representative a member of the Congressional Biomedical Research Caucus? If not, invite them to join.
- What are his/her top legislative priorities?
- What is his/her voting record on biomedical research issues?
Having this information as you head into a meeting will greatly increase the effectiveness of your visit.
Tip #3: Hone Your Message
- Make a specific request. Presenting action items for the member or staff to respond to will help to foster an ongoing relationship with that office. It provides an opportunity for follow-up and reinforcement of the topics discussed during your meeting.
- Keep communications clear. Avoid technical jargon and acronyms. Describe your research in the context of how it relates to human health and in a manner that non-scientists will understand.
- Strategize. Tailor your message to the member’s interest. If the member’s top legislative priority is job creation, explain how federally funded biomedical research provides high-paying, high-skill jobs in his/her district. If the member is pro-business, bring colleagues from a pharmaceutical or biotechnology company to demonstrate the connection between basic and applied research.
- Provide data and factual information. It is helpful to provide information on the amountof NIH or NSF funding you, your lab or your institution receive or have received in the past. This information provides the members and their staff with a concrete understanding of where money they appropriate for federally funded research ends up.
- Bring handouts or information to leave behind with the staff. This helps reinforce the information you provided during your meeting and can also serve as a reference resource for the member and their staff. Things to include: bios on meeting participants, descriptions of federally funded projects in your lab, department or institution, examples of noteworthy research that attracted attention from the scientific or mainstream press. Any publications you have contributed to or helped produce.
- Conclude the meeting by thanking the member or staff, restating your specific request, and offering to serve as a resource for the congressional office.
Tip #4: Know Your Etiquette and Protocol
- Keep your meeting short and concise. Meetings with members of Congress or staff may only last 15 minutes.
- Be flexible. Meeting times and locations may change with little notice. When meeting with a member or staff, call the day before to reconfirm your appointment. When meeting in Washington,D.C. be prepared to hold your meeting in less than traditional settings. Meetings have been know to occur while a member is heading to a committee meeting or floor vote.
- Unless you know your member of congress personally or they have indicated that you should call them by their first name, use Mr./Ms. or Congressman/Congresswoman.
Tip #5: Coordinate with Other Efforts
- Use the CLS and other societies as a resource when advocating for biomedical research issues. We can provide you with information on recent legislative actions including floor and committee votes.
- Always carbon copy the CLS on written communications with Congress. This helps us to know which members are hearing from constituents and helps us effectively target the time and energy of CLC members.
Tip#6: Follow Up
- Write a thank you letter. This helps to reinforce the information you communicated during your meeting or conversation. Your letter should summarize the conversation, reiterate your points, re-state your request and request to be notified when the request has been filled. Even if you and your member disagree on an issue, a thank you letter is still appropriate. This is an important part of building a relationship with your representative and may lay the foundation for them to reconsider a certain position. In this instance your letter should acknowledge your differences of opinion, thank them for their time and attention for meeting with you and listening to your concerns, reiterate your arguments, ask them to reconsider their position and let them know that you would like to continue a dialogue on this important issue.
- Thank members and staff when they do the right thing. Even if the final vote does not fall in your favor, it is important to reinforce that their support was important. Members of Congress and Capitol Hill staffers will tell you that they rarely receive thank you letters for members action on an issue or vote. Be assured, your thank you letter will be noticed!
Tip #7: Visit the District Office
Congressional Recess allows Members of Congress to travel back to their home districts for several days and sometimes weeks at a time. It is a time when they get a break from the business in Washington and get a chance to be reacquainted with the issues that are important to their constituents.
The Coalition for the Life Sciences encourages you to take advantage of this time to conduct meetings with your Representative in their district offices to discuss issues that are important to biomedical researchers. This year Congress will face many complex biomedical research policy issues including stem cells, cloning and bioterrorism prevention.
To schedule a meeting please contact Lynn Marquis Director of the CLS.