Tuesday, June 10, 2014

What I Learned At Brookings

And how it can help your association (or business)!

A few years back, I helped launch an industry association by turning it from a subcommittee group at Arizona State University into its own national association. Many of the members of this new stand-alone association, The Center For Job Order Contracting, support federal and state construction contracts. At the same time I was driving marketing and business development for a national contractor trying to grow both federal and state construction opportunities. It became obvious that I needed to better understand how my government works. Even people that had either worked in the federal government or spent years supporting federal clients couldn’t explain how it all fits together.

I decided to learn the inner workings of the US Federal government, how it makes decisions and how it applies resources, budgets, etc.. This led me to the Brookings Institute, a think-tank that supports the development and training of federal employees. It also brings together many parts of the government along with industry and other NGO’s. My decision to work on a Certificate in Policy Strategy was one of the best decisions I have made on career development and helping my clients’, my business and my self. 

A few points to think about as an association or as a business:

1. Don’t Fear The Government – People in the association and the business world fear approaching or working with the federal government. This is completely understandable. It’s big; it’s complicated and in many ways can seem impersonal. The fact is, it’s YOUR government. Brooking taught me that as someone in industry I could understand and interact with the government in different ways.

Now I am not talking about lobbying or trying to get a bill before Congress – rather, as a leader of an association or a business growing into the Federal space it’s important to understand how all the branches of the government work and how things move from an idea, to a bill, to a law and then to policy and budgeting cycles. While we all remember School House Rock. there is a lot more to the whole big picture and how your association can work with the government – from Congress to the White House and different departments.

Possible Action: Research if your industry has a direct link to a department for example, the Department Of Education, if you are deal with education efforts.  Also see if Congress has a special committees  dedicated to your industry (again, in education there are a few special committees focused on education). Drill down and find out who is in these departments or on these committees. 

Be creative when searching the web. Think beyond the obvious – an example for me was the fact that the Department of the Army within the Department of Defense (DoD) has the single largest budget for Cancer research and treatment. I went to a budget hearing exploring the spending on facilities renovation at the DoD and learned this fact. It was great to see the different Cancer associations and charities sitting together and putting forth their ideas and needs as a unified cause.  Start a target list of those organizations within the government that you should know and understand as a leader of your organization.

2. People Make The Difference – At first, exploring the way policy takes shape and impacts our world  was a little overwhelming. “How the heck does anything get done? Or move forward?” With each class it became obvious that there are processes, regulations, laws and visible steps to managing the US government. But, there are people doing the thinking and communicating, and they push ideas into reality or into the dustbin. People make up these organizations and they want to work with people. It is key to have your thinking clear and if you but anything in writing make it easy to understand and easy to read. 

The relationships gained in the classes were so valuable – because in the end all these areas of the Government are made up of people. As an example, tt was so comforting meeting within Congress the people that review one area of the Federal budget and very specific to military hardware and realizing they had backgrounds that allow them to make solid decisions on where and how to spend our Tax dollars. That there is continuity and long view with these people, and that it was less about political thinking helping shape the results and more about what is best for the country. 

Possible Action: Once you assemble your target lists, go and meet the people. Spend time in Congress meeting with those in the House and the Senate on the committees that impact your association or business (even better if you can meet with those that are most impacted by your membership geographically as well). Put together a simple “industry update and overview” to share when you meet (again well written and easy to get the top key points). Do the same with the appropriate departments. I’d even go a bit further and target a few of the think tanks and NGOs in the DC area. The individuals you meet will appreciate meeting someone that understands that what they do matters and impacts others while learning about your efforts and mission. 

The passion, care and integrity of those I sat with at Brookings was outstanding. Building those bonds and contacts is so important. The people make the difference – bringing policy to life and keeping the government moving forward. With my recent graduation in the policy program, while at Affinity Center International, it was both a happy and sad event. Happy due to all I have learned (I now know how the budgetary process works) and sad for no longer having the chance to build new relationships during class time.

One last strong recommendation: If you are leading an organization or association or a business working with the Federal government and you don’t have the time or resources to go after one of the degrees or certificates Brookings offers, you should look at attending the one or both sessions: Inside Congress  and/or Inside The Executive Branch . It’s worth the investment of time and resources to better understand how your organization’ mission fits within the federal government.

Even simply going to the Brookings website and signing up for their free email updates/ newsletters  is a great first step.  

The goal for all of us is to become more educated on how we are impacted by the government and the people within the different branches – realizing we can build a positive, personal, one-on-one relationship with our government. Not only will your association and/or business benefit – so will you as an American.

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