APTA’s business members play a critical role in the association’s ongoing outreach effort to members of Congress. The new Advocacy All-Stars Challenge is designed for them.
APTA encourages its business members to reach out to members of Congress at the Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, with visits to one or more members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and to maintain the contact once they return home.
“There’s no better way to get Congress’ attention than by meeting with members of Congress and their staff and inviting them to your facility or to a project that you have underway,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “This needs to be a continuous outreach. I did that at Motor Coach Industries and I saw how powerful it is.”
He continued: “Congress members are bombarded with dozens of issues each day. You have a product that they can feel and touch, and we want them to be able to identify where there are federal dollars being spent in their district. This is absolutely critical in the age of formula funds and no earmarks.”
Here are a few examples of APTA business members reaching out to Congress.
“We believe in the mission of public transportation and its impact to communities and the economy,” said Raymond Melleady, managing director, North America, for USSC Group in Exton, PA. “For our organization, outreach is about connecting the dots between public-sector funding and private-sector jobs. The reality is that when the transit industry is provided with a long-term, stable funding source, we make long-term investments in equipment and human capital—we hire and train additional people. When funding is uncertain, capital is constrained.”
He continued: “For anyone in Congress, this message has to connect or impact their constituents. My message is always relevant to jobs or a project within their district that will improve quality of life or standards of living.”
Melleady noted that Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA) and other policymakers and their staff members have visited the USSC Group plant in Exton. He listed the four primary elements of a successful congressional visit to his, and for that matter to any, facility:
* Provide an overview of the industry or project you are supporting;
* Connect that industry or project vision to a specific benefit or cause relevant to the constituents of the congressman or senator;
* Define success and make the request: Be specific about what is needed (for example, funding or regulatory change) and how this will benefit constituents; and
* Follow up—send a handwritten letter with materials.
Cathy Connor, director of federal government affairs for Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) in Washington, DC, explained that she oversees outreach efforts undertaken by the firm’s local offices.
“PB employees interact with their local members of Congress on a frequent basis,” she said. “Sometimes we meet with them to discuss their priorities and ours, or we brief them on local transportation projects. We defer to our clients. For example, PB is a project manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s capital improvements, so WMATA would be in charge of bringing local members of Congress to see its sites.”
Connor emphasized: “We just want members of Congress to understand the whole process of transportation planning, design, and funding. We simply want to educate the members on how the federal transit and highway program works. The other primary issue is the need for long-term, predictable, stable funding. The first thing that agencies or state DOTs cut back on when funding gets tight is planning new projects. These projects can’t proceed without the partners knowing where the money will come from two to five years down the road.” This is a particular concern for engineering firms such as PB, she added.
Unlike a manufacturer, an engineering firm does not have a plant that visitors can tour, she said. “A manufacturer may have a plant in a specific district that employs 600 or 700 people, with enormous influence and visibility in that district.” PB, in contrast, has business offices, but the client is responsible for the worksite.
Reba Malone of Reba Malone and Associates, San Antonio, TX, described how her years working for APTA business members and as a former member of the VIA Metropolitan Transit Board of Directors have helped her form personal connections with members of the Texas congressional delegation.
“My message to Congress is that we need funding for transit systems—I specifically focus on agencies that need buses, since I work on contract with New Flyer—so we need continued support for federal transportation funding,” Malone said. “It’s also important that these funds not be designated for any one specific thing. Big properties need money for one thing, smaller properties for something else, and suppliers for something else again.”
Malone echoed Connor’s comments about the need for guaranteed funding levels. “The money needs to be for lots of things,” she said, “and it needs to be certain enough that transit agencies can make plans. Suppliers also need to understand the bottom line so they can make plans with their transit agency partners.”
Nancy Butler, vice president of government/federal relations at AECOM, also emphasized the importance of congressional outreach. “We try to make contact with the committees that are most important to us,” she explained, including an ad hoc committee examining public-private partnerships.
“At AECOM, we try to be a thought leader to members of Congress,” Butler said. “We might share feedback over coffee with congressional leaders, and we participate in the stakeholder meetings hosted by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR).”
The company’s priorities for Congress include passage of a six-year authorization bill rather than a shorter-term bill and strategies to deal with the possible funding shortfall of the Highway Trust Fund. “We need the bill—a long-term bill—but we also need to be flexible, to look at new ways of doing things,” Butler added.
Joel Abraman, director of government relations and director of sales, eastern U.S., with New Flyer, noted that both Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have visited the bus manufacturer’s plants in Minnesota.
“We’re always promoting the number of jobs we provide in Minnesota,” Abraman said. “We also want to see a stable, long-term federal authorization bill in place with increased funding for bus purchases—the number of transit buses sold each year remains static although demand has increased.”
For more information about APTA’s Advocacy All-Stars program, contact Christian Richards.