K Street Insiders: What-you-know Washington

Every day, decisions are made in Washington that affect people and businesses across the United States and around the globe. Leaders here need to make such decisions based on the best information they can get. To do so, the executive branch, the Congress, and the business community need the knowledge and insight of experts. The White House and Capitol Hill officials need experts to guide them through the ever-increasing amount of legislation and regulation generated by their colleagues. The 109th Congress introduced 64 percent more pieces of legislation than the 104th Congress (13,074 pieces of legislation, up from 7,991) while the Federal Register last year published more than 75,000 pages of rules and regulations.

In this era of specialization, experts are needed to handle the business of Washington just as experts are needed to handle the business of the microchip industry or medical profession. You would not consider anyone other than an engineer to design your computer, or a surgeon to perform your open-heart procedure. Similarly, it is best to rely on a professional to understand legislation and regulation. Political and business leaders as well as private individuals turn to experts they trust for accurate information and honest analysis, experts who understand how the various parts of Washington function and what proposed laws and regulations would mean for those involved.

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These experts are lobbyists.

To meet the needs of today’s clients, a lobbying firm needs a team with a deep understanding of Congress, the legislative process, the administration and the regulatory process. In a time of divided government, as we have today, this is even more important than when a single party holds all the power. With Congress and the administration controlled by different parties, what ultimately wins the day for clients is a lobbyist’s ability to bring the two branches together to find a policy solution that both can respect and agree upon.

Effective lobbying is being able to look beyond simple partisan balance to how to best represent one’s clients and offer them maximum flexibility. Like a good campaign manager, effective lobbyists should assemble a team, develop appropriate tactics and ensure precise execution of a plan.

Expert lobbyists, with years of specialized knowledge, complement the work of the legislative, executive and business leaders with whom they interact. Healthcare clients, for example, should be able to count on their lobbyists to inform congressional and executive-branch staff with knowledge of how the life-saving devices and medicines clients produce can benefit the health of Americans. The same pattern holds true in other practice areas, where clients rely on telecommunications, energy, financial services, appropriations, state affairs and international professionals both to engage legislative and executive-branch decision makers and to provide guidance through the complex world of Washington.

But we are not only in an era of specialization. We are also in an era of globalization. Not only do decisions made in Washington affect those in all corners of the country and the world, decisions made around the globe impact people and businesses across the United States and in Washington. Increasingly, lobbying firms are needed by domestic and international businesses to advise on business development, trade and technology, in addition to advocacy with the executive branch and the Congress. Professional advice is sought by those promoting international business development and seeking market penetration, as well as those planning political and media campaigns or looking for analysis on the effects of major foreign-policy trends.

Relationships here, too, are critical, but as with domestic policy, a successful firm needs to offer more than just a high-priced Rolodex. It needs to offer expertise.

In all government-affairs work, clients should be able to count on the highest level of ethics to be followed, and rest assured that existing and post-Abramoff regulations are closely followed. In this new day in lobbying, with bad actors weeded out, a period of bipartisan control, and increasingly complex public policy, expertise transcends party lines to get the job done.

Welcome to What-You-Know Washington.

Rogers is the chairman of Barbour Griffith & Rogers.  He founded the firm in 1991 with current Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.  Rogers served as the deputy assistant to the president and executive assistant to the White House chief of staff under  President George H.W. Bush and  held several senior White House positions  under President Ronald Reagan.  

Griffith is the chief executive officer of Barbour Griffith & Rogers.  Before joining BGR in 1993, Griffith served as assistant secretary of education in the administration of President George H.W. Bush as well as in the Bush White House as a special assistant to the president in the office of intergovernmental affairs.