If You Won’t, Who Will?

Will BrownThere’s no shortage of things to complain about when it comes to the federal government. The dysfunction and partisanship are not the least of the concerns. Polls routinely and consistently indicate a deep seeded disapproval and mistrust of the federal government.

And why shouldn’t there be? In the divided government we are currently in, the President and Congress will rarely — if ever — agree on a pathway forward and both will blame the other for not succumbing to their demands in the name of “compromise.”

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The perception of Congress is an institution insulated from the people it is intended to represent. It seems every headline about Congress implies some impending crisis or dogmatic struggle between right and wrong, good and evil. Congress bounces from one crisis to the next by not actually solving any of the problems. Instead, Congress will avoid the fight as soon as it heats up by kicking the can down the road several months and create another impending crisis for them to deal with, rather than face the problem head on, solve it and put it to rest.

Instead, Congress’ productivity plummeted and the 113th Congress (the one that ended Jan. 1, 2015) passed the fewest number of laws in more than a century. We, the public, look at this as these Representatives and Senators not doing the job we sent them to Washington to do. But I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective.

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Over the last two decades, the complexity of Congress has increased. Just think about what life was like in 1995 and how much your daily life has changed. Cell phones, the internet and energy efficiency are just some of the many changes to our culture that have changed how we live and work. As a result, the issues before Congress have also expanded and increased in complexity. This does not abdicate Congress of its responsibility to remain responsive to the public and the changing environment, but rather creates opportunities for education and advocacy.

Think about it. The number of total members of Congress hasn’t changed since the early 1960s when Hawaii became a state. How many more issues does Congress deal with now that weren’t around in the 1960s? The issues are almost too numerous to list. So we see Congress’ workload growing and Members of Congress first relying on a higher number of staff, then a higher number of special interests.

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Yes, Congress actually relies on special interests for information and education on specific issues. That is why the number of special interests, whether by trade associations, corporations or advocacy groups, has exploded. Theoretically, Congress actually has less institutional knowledge of issues as a result of their increasing reliance on special interests, whom Congress and staff consider experts in their field.

This makes NUCA’s advocacy more potent. There isn’t another group, trade association or corporation that has the expertise that NUCA has over the utility and excavation contracting industry. Because of this expertise, NUCA is well equipped to influence Congress and make meaningful strides for our industry.
But as I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, opportunity is nothing if it isn’t seized. And if we don’t take advantage of our opportunity, someone else will step up because the competition for influence is fierce.

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The best way, without a doubt, to take full advantage of opportunities afforded to us to influence our industry is simple: Show up.

The upcoming Washington Summit, May 18-21, is your best opportunity to show up. This three-day event consists of legislative briefings from industry experts that will discuss topics relevant to you and our industry, with a full day dedicated to meeting with your Representative or Senator to teach him or her about the importance of supporting your work and industry. The lineup of issues we will be taking to Capitol Hill will be pertinent and relevant to you. This year, the deadline for fixing the Highway Trust Fund will be 10 days after the Summit, so we will again be timely as many of our members do utility relocation, excavation and drainage projects that utilize Highway Trust Fund dollars. We will also be advocating for greater flexibility in infrastructure financing and better regulations, although the full mantel of our legislative issues will remain open right up until the Summit to ensure the greatest effectiveness for our priorities.

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The primary point is that if you don’t show up to face Congress and educate them on what’s important to you, someone else is going to show up to advocate what’s important to them. That might be a completely different issue set, or it might be someone with the opposite agenda that we have. Believe it or not, there are advocates who believe the federal government should have no role in financing, building or operating any sort of infrastructure. What happens if those people are able to convince a legislator to support their priorities? What if one turns to 10 or even 20?

So while I understand there are obstacles to getting to Washington, D.C., can you really afford not to? Can you really afford to trust that things will work out in your favor? Do you really trust that Congress will act on your behalf, when they have a track record of avoiding solving problems? If you don’t show up to support your business, your trade, your industry before Congress, can you trust those who will?

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Will Brown is NUCA’s Director of Government Affairs.