Government Advocacy Guide
An FAQ on how to be an effective citizen advocate for medical and biological engineering.
- Effective Phone Calls to Your Representative
You can contact your Congressperson by phone at his/her district or Washington, D.C. office. A Congressional directory may be found here. If the legislature is not in session, legislative staff will have phone numbers of district offices. It is a good idea to acquire a legislative directory at the beginning of each legislative session. Following are some tips on what to say on the phone.
- The administrative assistant will probably be the one to answer the phone. You can leave your message with him or her, or ask to talk with the legislative aide working on your issue.
- Make sure you get the name of the person with whom you are speaking.
- Identify yourself by name and hometown. Make sure you state that you are a constituent, your occupation and a member of AIMBE.
- Keep your call short and to the point.
- Identify the issue or bill (by bill number if you have it available) you wish to address.
- State your position and how you want your legislator to vote.
- Leave your name, phone number or address even if the person says it is not necessary.
- Follow-up your phone call with a short note to the staff member with whom you spoke, emphasizing your position and your appreciation of his/her attention to the issue. This can help build your relationship with the staff person and the legislator.
- How a Bill Becomes a Law
Introduction: A Member of Congress introduces legislation. The official process begins when a bill is numbered, (“H.R.” signifies a bill originating in the U.S. House of Representatives and “S.” signifies a bill originating in the U.S. Senate) referred to a committee and printed.
Step 1 – Referral to Committee: A bill is referred to standing committee in House or Senate. The referral is determined by which committee, or committees, has jurisdiction over the issues addressed in the bill.
Step 2 – Committee Action: When a bill reaches a committee, it is placed on the committee’s calendar. If the committee chairperson decides not to hear a bill, or act upon it in some other way, it is the equivalent of “killing the bill” – meaning it will progress no further.
Step 3 – Subcommittee Review: Often, bills are referred to a subcommittee from the originating committee. Hearings held at the subcommittee or committee level allow the views of the executive branch, other public officials, experts, supporters and opponents to be put on the record.
Step 4 – Mark Up: After hearings are held, the subcommittee may “mark up” the bill (make changes or add amendments) prior to recommending it to the full committee. If a subcommittee votes not to report the bill to the full committee, the bill “dies,” and will not be considered further.
Step 5 – Committee Action: After receiving the subcommittee’s report on the bill, the full committee can conduct further hearings, or it can vote and “order the bill reported” to the respective chamber where the bill originated: House or Senate.
Step 6 – Written Report: After the bill is reported, committee staff prepares a report on the bill describing the intent and scope of the legislation.
Step 7 – Scheduling Floor Action: The bill is then placed in chronological order on a calendar. The House keeps several legislative calendars, and the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader largely determine if, when, and in what order, bills come before the House. In the Senate, there is only one legislative calendar.
Step 8 – Debate: After being placed on the schedule, a bill reaches the floor of the House or Senate. The chamber must vote on the rules determining the amount of time allocated for debate on the bill.
Step 9 – Voting: After debate and approval of any amendments, the chamber votes. Votes may be recorded electronically or by voice vote. A recorded or “roll call” vote contains the names of members who vote for or against the bill, or who did not vote at all. A voice vote is a simple “aye” or “no” and the presiding officer in the chamber determines the result. If a bill is non-controversial, or has been reviewed sufficiently by each member of Congress before even reaching the floor, it can be voted on without scheduling any debate. This is called “unanimous consent” or “suspension of the rules.”
Step 10 – Referral: When the House or Senate passes a bill, it is referred to the other chamber which may approve the bill, reject it, ignore it or change it through the same committee or subcommittee action as described above.
Step 11 – Conference Committee: If the opposite chamber only makes minor changes, the legislation goes back to the originating chamber for approval of the changes. However, if the bill has been significantly altered, a conference committee with members from both chambers is formed to reconcile the differences. If the conferees can reach an agreement, a conference report is prepared, if not, the bill dies.
Step 12 – Presidential Action: After a bill has been passed in identical forms through the House and Senate (or reported out of a conference committee), it is sent to the President who may either sign it into law or veto (reject) it. If Congress is in session and the President takes no action, it automatically becomes law. If Congress has already adjourned its second session and the President takes no action, it is called a “pocket veto” and the bill is rejected.
Step 13 – Overriding a Veto: Congress may attempt to override a presidential veto, which requires a two-thirds majority roll call vote.
- Lobby Rules
What is lobbying?
Lobbying is an individual or organization’s attempt to influence legislation by contacting (Direct Lobbying), or urging the public to contact (Grassroots Lobbying), members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing specific legislation. For example, policy makers in Washington are continually debating and making decisions which will impact your ability to conduct research. Public officials cannot make fair and informed decisions without considering information from a broad range of interested parties. Lobbyists and organizations that engage in lobbying help to provide information from all viewpoints in order to produce fair federal policies. While most people think of lobbyists as paid professionals, anyone can lobby, and all who do so are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Can AIMBE Lobby?
Yes. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, AIMBE may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status. AIMBE can spend up to 20% its first $500,000 in operating funds on lobbying.
AIMBE may, however, may be involved in public policy or advocacy without the activity being considered lobbying. For example, AIMBE has conducted educational meetings on Capitol Hill in the form of Congressional Briefings on the regulatory process at the Food and Drug Administration and biomedical engineering research at the National Institutes of Health. Preparing and distributing educational materials or otherwise considering public policy issues in an educational manner is not lobbying. Also, staff researching legislation, regulations, or other public policies is not lobbying.
Can AIMBE get involved in political activity?
AIMBE may not engage in political activity defined as participating in, or intervening in any political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office. Doing so would threaten AIMBE’s tax-exempt status. This includes endorsing specific candidates or political parties for office, and donating to campaigns, political parties, and political action committees.
AIMBE members and staff may be involved in political activities on a voluntary basis, not on behalf of AIMBE, or while in the course of their normal business activities.
 These groups may include: colleges, universities, churches, charities, public interest groups, senior citizens organizations, businesses, and even state, local or foreign governments.
 Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure. It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.
- Visiting Your Representative
Visiting your legislator is the most direct way to have your voice heard. It can also be the most intimidating. But, remember legislators and staff are people just like you. And, more importantly, they depend on you to bring issues to their attention which are important to you. Remember, the difference between an activist or public policy advocate and the novice, is ONE visit. Following are some tips for visiting your legislator’s office:
- Make an appointment - Contact your Congressperson’s office in advance for an appointment when she/he is working in district. A legislators schedule in Washington is very full. They, or their staffs will be glad to meet with you here in Washington, but you are more likely to meet with the actual elected official in their district, where they are looking to meet constituents.
- Create an agenda – Inform the scheduler about the topic you wish to discuss with your legislator and who will be accompanying you. If at all possible, pull together a group three people or so for the visit. A group that represents different experiences and backgrounds broadens your base and influence. Be sure to coordinate your remarks and discuss the agenda before your meeting. Select a spokesperson.
- Anticipate your audience – In Washington, due to your legislator’s demanding schedule, you will most likely meet with a legislative aide or “staffer”. Don’t underestimate aides/staffers. They often are well informed and knowledgeable on a specific issue.
- Come prepared - Know your representative’s voting record and his/her position on the issue you will be discussing. Have background information on the issue and know the specific legislation relating to it. AIMBE Public Policy staff has available a one-page summary of its legislative priorities and will assist you in preparing talking points for your issue prior to the meeting.
- Consider timing - Have two talks ready: one that is 15 minutes and another that is 90 seconds. This will ensure that you will be prepared if the legislator is called out in the middle of your visit.
- Provide effective insight - At the visit be clear, positive, and constructive. Use examples from your personal experience.
- Clarify your stance - Before leaving, provide a definite request. Leave a short, one-page written summary of your position and supporting materials. Make sure your legislator knows how you want them to vote on a particular issue.
- Volunteer to be a local resource - Legislators often set up advisory panels consisting of local experts to provide them with the “local view” on major policy issues. By volunteering to serve on these advisory groups, you will be in a central position to provide input.
Call AIMBE’s offices at 202-496-9660 if you need assistance in setting up a meeting.
For more tips on how to conduct effective in-office visits with your elected officials, AIMBE highly recommends the “17 Cardinal Rules for Working with Congress.”
- Writing Effective Letters to your Representative
A well-written and constructed letter to policymakers is an important part of influencing legislation and can be written to voice either support or opposition. It is suggested that all members with an interest in particular legislation send individual letters rather than form letters.
If writing about an AIMBE legislative priority, be sure the view expressed is consistent with AIMBE policy. Of course, any citizen may send a personal letter to a representative advocating a personal opinion or point of view but you can only speak on behalf of AIMBE if your information is consistent with AIMBE position statements and guidelines. Please contact the AIMBE office at 202-496-9660 if you need assistance
- Write early – Begin to encourage approval disapproval of a bill while it is in committee, if possible.
- Identify yourself – Let the reader know if you are writing on your own behalf or as a representative of an organization.
- Put your return address on the letter because envelopes are often discarded.
- Identify your issue – Do this right up front. Include the bill number and subject matter.
- State your position – Also try to do this up front when you identify the issue. For example, “I am writing to request your support for House Bill 1212 which requires reporting of hospital-acquired infections.”
- Establish your credibility and expertise – Let them know your professional credentials and years of experience. Be sure to communicate that you are a registered voter from his/her district.
- Be brief – Keep the letter to one page. If your background information or supporting material is lengthy, attach it as a separate, supporting document to the letter.
- Use facts – Facts will validate your position. Numbers and statistics are very persuasive but don’t overload the letter with them.
- Be reasonable – Be firm, confident, positive, and courteous but do not give the reader an ultimatum.
- Use personal/human terms – Don’t fill the letter with jargon; it will distract the reader. Add a short personal story to tie the issue to a real problem.
- Ask for a reply – Indicate that you would appreciate a reply containing the reader’s position on the issue.
- Follow-up – If the decision-maker proceeds in a manner that pleases you on an issue, express your gratitude with a thank-you letter or offer to provide support to them on other issues. On the other hand, if you believe the decision-maker has acted contrary to your interest, let them know politely.