Below are a few tips for getting in and around congressional offices, as well as suggestions on how to ensure that your meetings with congressional leaders have maximum impact on EMS issues.
Before Your Meeting
Security: Arriving on Capitol Hill may remind you of arriving at the airport—the security lines on certain days to enter congressional office buildings can be lengthy. Be prepared to wait 15 to 20 minutes in line. Remember, it will make the security checkpoint process smoother if you are prepared to put cell phones, notepads, and any other metal or handheld items through the x-ray machine.
Arriving at the Office: When you arrive at the office, one person from your group should speak with the Receptionist and hand them your business card. Tell him or her that you are with the EMS profession and have an appointment with the Member of Congress or staffer. Many congressional offices are small so your group may have to wait in the hall until it is time for the meeting.
During Your Meeting
Be Flexible: When it is time to meet with your congressional leader, flexibility and patience are critical. It is not uncommon for a Member of Congress to be late due to a vote in the Senate or House of Representatives. You may also have your meeting interrupted because a vote has been called. Don’t expect a long discussion on the intricacies of the issues as your group will have, at most, 15 to 20 minutes with the Member of Congress. It is also possible that you may end up meeting with a congressional staff person instead of the Member. You should treat the staff person with the utmost level of respect and approach the meeting with the same game plan.
Be Prepared: Review your talking points and other background information in advance of your meetings. Members of Congress are required to take positions on many different issues. In some instances, they may lack important details about the pros and cons of a particular matter. Be prepared to cite brief, specific examples of the consequences and impact of the issues on providing quality EMS to patients.
Be Political: Members of Congress want to represent the best interests of their district or state. At the beginning of the meeting, introduce yourself and your EMS service and cite a few statistics that they can relate to (e.g., number of responders or response volume in the district or state). While it is critical to make this initial connection, it is just as important to be brief. Make your introduction and district connection and move on to your “ask”. Demonstrate the connection between what you are requesting and the interests of his or her constituency. Describe for the Member how you can help him or her on the issues you are discussing. Before the meeting ends, remember to ask for a commitment. They are expecting you to ask for something, so ask.
Be Responsive: Be prepared to answer questions or provide additional information in the event the Member asks questions. In fact, in most cases, policymakers won’t be able to give you an answer right away on your “ask”. They may respond in a vaguely positive way, and while it’s tempting to think they are stalling, the truth is they’re often waiting to make a decision about requests so additional research can be completed. There is simply no way that you will be able to relay everything you know about an issue in your initial brief communication. When you get back to your office, send the Member and staffer a thank you letter that outlines the different points covered during the meeting, and include any additional information and materials requested. Be sure to exchange business cards with the staff person who sits in on the meeting.
The Constituent Factor
Don’t underestimate your power in the political process. Use the constituency connection to your advantage as it’s the one thing an advocacy campaign must have to be successful.
Every elected official represents a very specific geographic area within which lives an important group of people: his or her constituents. Whether a city council member, a state legislator or a Member of Congress, the highest and most important obligation is to the people he or she represents. That’s why the most common phrase heard in any elected officials’ office is “how does this impact my constituents.” It is the framework through which all decisions are made.
In short, policy makers and their staffs receive hundreds of pieces of mail, hundreds of phone calls, and dozens of visitors every day, the vast majority of which seek to influence policy. However, the communication that matters the most are those from constituents. Both members and staff will do everything in their power to carve time out of their busy schedules to meet with constituents, talk with them on the phone, or draft letters in response to their questions. Through the constituency connection, you demonstrate your relevance to your elected officials and set the stage for a truly powerful advocacy experience.
For a complete listing of all active EMS related federal legislation pending in Congress, click here.