NSPE Today: Policy Perspectives
The Power of PE Voices
By Stephanie Hamilton
In late September, NSPE past president and current board member Tom Roberts, P.E., F.NSPE, made the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting with staff in the offices of his senator and representative, to discuss and promote policies that are important to NSPE and its members. The staff he talked with were curious and attentive, asking questions and providing insight into their respective offices’ thinking and approach to issues like professional licensure and STEM education. His experience brought to mind a sentence from a recent advocacy study:
“Despite the haranguing of mainstream media to the contrary, and popular culture insisting that citizen voices are muted in Washington, research conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) shows that constituents remain significant factors to legislators’ decision-making.”
It’s just one of many compelling takeaways from the recent Congressional Management Foundation report Citizen-Centric Advocacy: The Untapped Power of Constituent Engagement. The 40-page report includes data from surveys of more than 1,200 congressional staffers and constituents. It paints a clear and encouraging picture of the influence a constituent can have when the right actions and strategies are put into place.
The report is densely populated with charts and graphs that tell similar stories with different data—over 90% of congressional staffers say personalized communications from constituents have either some or a lot of influence on an undecided lawmaker’s decision-making process. “Personalized communication” can be an in-person visit, an email, or a phone call. Of those, an in-person visit carries the most weight. In addition to influencing undecided lawmakers, CMF found that constituent meetings are “somewhat” or “very” important when a lawmaker is developing new legislation.
Tom’s experiences on the Hill reflect these findings. Every staffer he met with asked for additional information and responded positively when he offered to be a resource on engineering-related issues. In addition, because Tom has met with congressional staffers before, he was adhering to what was perhaps the most compelling information contained in the CMF study:
“When asked what constituents and the groups that represent them should do more of to build better relationships with their office, a sizable majority of congressional staff surveyed indicated that meeting or getting to know Legislative Assistants and District/State Directors is a good idea.”
Tom has been to the offices of his members of Congress many times. He knows some of the staffers personally and has spent time talking with them about how he and other constituents are affected by Congress’ policy decisions. Those personal relationships, and detailed conversations, put him in an excellent position to be an influencer on the issues that matter most to him and other NSPE members.
Members of Congress want to hear from you, and so do their staff. Your opinions genuinely matter—a lot. “Lawmakers,” according to CMF, “count on constituents to provide the human face of public policy and the direct connection between the policy and the people they represent.”
In the coming weeks and months, the NSPE advocacy team will share more stories like Tom’s, in addition to tips and strategies for effectively influencing elected officials. As constituents, you have far more influence than you think. And our advocacy team plans to help you wield that influence in powerful, effective ways.
Stephanie Hamilton is NSPE’s manager of government relations and advocacy.