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A Postdoc's Guide to Advocacy: Understanding the Legislative Process
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Created by Jennifer A. Hobin and Jennifer Zeitzer (FASEB)
Edited/adapted by Juliet Moncaster, Jill Slaboda, and Rashada Alexander for the NPA's use

Advocacy Overview | A Lobbying Primer | Understanding the Legislative Process
Making the Case for Science Research
Additional Resources


Legislative Overview | Getting Involved in NATIONAL Legislative Issues | Getting Involved in LOCAL Legislative Issues



The Legislative Process

The Regulatory Process
  • Congress passes “enabling legislation.”
  • Federal agencies create regulations required to administer/enforce laws.
  • Federal agencies must publish all proposed regulations in the Federal Register at least 30 days before they take effect.
  • Federal agencies must allow for public comment on the proposed regulations.
  • Final regulations are printed in the Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations and posted on regulatory agency website.
The Relationship Between Congress and Federal Agencies

The America COMPETES Act
  • Required NSF-funded investigators to describe in their research grant applications how they would mentor postdocs  funded on their grants.
  • Mandated that mentoring plans be evaluated by NSF.
  • Required investigators to describe their mentoring activities in their annual and final grant reports.
NSF Response
  • Formed 5 internal working groups to write regulations implementing the mentoring provisions.
  • Mentoring requirements implemented via revisions to the existing Grant Proposal Guide and the FastLane Project Report System.
  • Mentoring plans must not exceed 1 page.
  • New policy adopted – no description of mentoring activities = “no review.”
Key Congressional Committees
  • Appropriations-House and Senate;
  • House Science and Technology;
  • Senate Commerce Science and Transportation;
  • House Energy and Commerce;
  • Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Members of Congress
Follow this link to see all of the Congressional committees and their members:
It will be helpful to identify members who are scientists; for example, at the time this guide was created, those members included Rush Holt, Vern Ehlers, Bill Foster, Jerry McNerny, John Olver, Brian Baird, Roscoe Bartlett, and Tim Murphy.
The Federal Budget & Appropriations Process

  • President submits budget request to Congres.
  • Congress adopts “Budget Resolution” – overall budget blueprint.
  • Appropriations Subcommittees hold hearings.
  • Appropriations Subcommittees approve funding bills.
  • House and Senate vote on bills.
Bill Language vs. Report Language
  • Once legislation is passed by Congress and is signed by the President, the text of the bill becomes an enforceable law.
  • Congressional committees, however, often publish reports explaining the purpose of bills they have approved, in order to provide implementation guidance to federal agencies.
“The conference agreement includes funding for a one-percent increase in research training stipends instead of a two-percent increase as proposed by the House. The Senate did not identify a specific training stipend increase.” ~ H.Rept. 111-366.  FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriations Act.


Building Effective Relationships with Your Elected Officials
  • Establish connection with members and their staff – e.g. college alumni, church, hometown, local business, volunteer group, etc.
  • Note the connection along with the contact information of anyone you speak to so you can refer back to it later.
  • Sign-up to receive constituent newsletters via e-mail.
  • Find your elected officials on Facebook, Twitter or other social networking sites.
  • Attend town hall meetings held by your member of Congress.
  • Communicate on a regular basis – at least once every few months.
  • Document visits in your organization or institution’s newsletter (with photos as appropriate).
Understanding the Role of Congressional Staff
  • Provide advice/recommendations to the member of Congress.
  • Research specific issues.
  • Monitor legislative schedules.
  • Meet with constituents.
  • Represent the position of the member of Congress on specific issues or pieces of legislation.
  • Communicate the member of Congress’ views to the public and the press.
  • Schedule events and meetings for the member of Congress.
  • Assist in resolving constituent problems with federal agencies.
Communicating With Your Elected Officials: By E-mail
  • Address one issue in each message and include it in the subject line.
  • State your purpose for writing in the first sentence.
  • Identify the specific bill/legislation you are writing about.
  • Clearly state your position on the bill/ issue and why you support/oppose it.
  • Include relevant facts and explain why the issue matters to you.
  • Make a specific request.
  • Include your postal address in the message.
  • Keep it short, polite and to the point.
  • Use proper grammar, punctuation and writing style.
  • Address your message to a specific staff person or use House/Senate website forms:
Communicating With Your Elected Officials: By Phone
  • Ask to speak with the aide or person who handles the specific issue.
  • State that you are a constituent.
  • Identify a specific bill no. or piece of legislation that you are calling about.
  • Clearly state your position on the bill and/or issue.
  • State why you support/oppose the bill or issue.
  • Ask the aide what the member’s position is on the bill/issue.
  • Be prepared to give your name, mailing address and a phone number where you can easily be reached for follow-up.
Communicating With Your Elected Officials: In-person Visits
  • Make an appointment.  Expect to have 20 minutes for your meeting.
  • Be prompt….and patient if you are kept waiting.
  • Introduce all participants in the meeting.
  • Open and close the meeting by stating your message.
  • Explain why the issue matters to their constituents.
  • Describe how you or your organization can be of assistance.
  • Bring business cards and “leave behind” materials.
  • Ask for a commitment.
  • Get staff contact information – phone/e-mail.
  • Remember that a meeting is only one step toward building a relationship with your elected officials.
Thank You & Follow-up
Be a Resource...Not a Pest!
  • Be credible – if you don’t know the answer to a question say “I’ll get back to you on that.”
  • Assume they know something about your topic but educate if needed.  Focus on the big picture – it is not a science class!
  • Be collegial, not adversarial – don’t argue.
  • Respond quickly to requests (same day if possible but always within 24 hours).
  • Do not spam or stalk staff.
  • Package information for staff concisely.
  • Always provide references for materials you send to staff.
Be Prepared to Deal with Difficult Situations
What would you do in these circumstances?
  • Your meeting gets canceled.
  • Key advocate’s flight gets canceled.
  • The blank stare.
  • Get asked questions you can’t answer.
  • Person you’re meeting with picks a fight.
  • Someone in your delegation goes “off message.”
Basics of Grassroots Organizing
  • Timing is everything!
  • Make sure your message is clear.
  • Identify your target.
  • Choose your tactics carefully – calls vs. e-mails.
  • Build support for your issue from key allies.
Making the NPA Known to Policymakers
  • Always include copies of relevant position statements in correspondence with members of Congress/staff.
  • Send a letter of congratulations if the member of Congress receives an award – especially if it’s connected to your issue.
  • Ask if you can add relevant staff contacts to your newsletter list.
  • Consider sending a letter to the editor of your local paper when your member of Congress publicly supports your issue.
  • Invite the member of Congress to your events/meetings.


Legislative Branch = State representatives, State Senators

Who are these elected officials?
  • Each state has a state legislature, state governor, and a state judiciary system.
  • Most states have two legislative branches (except Nebraska which has one): Senate and House of Representatives.
  • To find these elected officials, it is best to Google the state legislature, for example “Pennsylvania  general assembly.”
  • At the city or municipality level, there is a council and the size of this council will depend on the size of the city or municipality.
When communicating with elected officials, make certain to:
  • Focus on one issue per e-mail/letter/call.
  • Identify specific legislation that pertains to the issue (if applicable).
  • Clearly state your position on the legislation/issue and why you support or oppose it.
  • Provide any important information about the issue.
  • Clearly state your request of the official (also known as your “ask”).
  • Make sure your message is short, polite and grammatically correct.
  • Provide your contact information for follow-up.
  • Do your homework on the local community and find out how your issue will influence or benefit the local community. For example, if you live in a college town, state how more money for science research could translate to more jobs for the community.
  • Avoid science speak, i.e. keep your message in plain language.
  • Visit the websites of local representatives to determine their views on the issue.
How can you become involved in local government?
  • Make an appointment to visit local campaign office and talk with your representative.
  • Offer to volunteer as a scientific advisor to an elected official, particularly during a campaign season.
  • If you are interested in science funding issues, invite a local representative to your lab to show how state funds are being used.
  • Attend townhall meetings or local council meetings, particularly if they are debating the issue you are most concerned about.
A few facts to consider:
  • States and cities offer funding as well as the federal agencies for research although it may be a smaller budget.
  • Depending on the type of university, states also help fund the universities in terms of endowments. Most universities depend on this money to fund scholarship and offset tuition costs so it is important to continue to encourage state legislators to fund the universities.
  • Local laws may influence how you can conduct research or apply for research money (for example, stem cell research funding is available in CA) and can vary from state to state so it’s important to understand local laws. Most universities or research institutions can assist you in determining these laws.