By Mae Stevens
August is upon us and that means August recess for our elected officials in Washington DC. Contrary to popular belief, our representatives and senators are not off sipping piña coladas on the beach. Most are still hard at work back home in their states and districts rather than in the oppressive mid-summer heat and humidity of our nation’s capital. This presents an excellent opportunity for water professionals to meet their senators and representatives and to invite them on site visits. While they are home, elected officials place a high priority on engaging with their constituents – and of course getting in some PR-boosting photo-ops along the way. Taking advantage of this increased availability to showcase the importance of the water sector to our friends in Washington is something you can and should be doing!
This year, August recess is also an opportune time for a site visit because it comes as Congress is in the middle of negotiating many pieces of legislation key to the water sector. At stake are hundreds of billions in funding and historic policy changes in multiple infrastructure packages as well as in the annual federal budget and appropriations process. A meeting with your representatives in-district or a site visit are excellent ways for you to show off the tangible benefits of increased federal funding for water infrastructure at the time when these issues are top of mind. Showcasing the positive impact your products and jobs have on the quality of life of their constituents may influence them to fight for increased funding now but can also prepare them to prioritize water infrastructure moving forward.
Simply scheduling a visit is a great start, but there are additional steps you can take to maximize the effectiveness of the meeting. First, a visit should be designed to demonstrate the full breadth of the water sector’s positive community impacts. Highlight the impact your company has on jobs and the economy—including those you make possible by providing your products to your customers. So, if you supplied the new carbon filtration system that your local utility is using to filter PFAS contamination from their water, your company isn’t just providing jobs for several employees, you are keeping an entire town safe. Don’t forget to explain the real-world impacts of your work.
Don’t let this August be the first and last time your representatives ever hear from you—fostering a long-lasting relationship with their staff is essential. After the visit you should send a handwritten thank you note both to the representative but also to the staffers who helped set up the meeting and joined the visit. With this contact established you can follow up with a message any time your company rolls out a new product or signs a big contract. You can also leverage this contact to invite lawmakers to a subsequent site visit, or to speak at an event you are hosting. Senators and Representatives want to hear from their constituents and communicating with district staff is an effective way to accomplish this.
I look forward to hearing about your site visits all month long! Post about it on Twitter (https://twitter.com/maestevens) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/maestevens/) —politicians love positive press! Don’t forget to tag me, I love seeing democracy in action. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about engaging with lawmakers.
About the author
Mae Stevens is an Executive Vice President at Signal Group and the Chair of Signal Water. She provides strategic environmental and infrastructure policy expertise to a diverse range of corporate, municipal and non-profit clients. Prior to joining Signal Group, Stevens served as Environmental Policy Advisor to Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), handling the Senator’s responsibilities on the Environment and Public Works Committee, including staffing the Senator during the crafting and passage of the FAST Act and the 2016 and 2018 Water Resources Development Act bills.