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The 14th thing you need to know after beginning your new job.
Working with Congress
We in Congress are tearing our country apart and weakening the foundation established by great leaders. I am ashamed of our recent record. I am disgusted with our performance, Republican and Democrat alike. There has been failed leadership and worse, failed following within the ranks—and we owe the country far better.
Fernando, Congressman Dingell’s comments represent exactly what many people feel about our Congress. It is a pack of scallywags, as an old Irish grandmother would say. It is not unusual to find some bad ones as you might find in any group of 535 Americans. In 2014, for example, there were at least three congressmen known to be in trouble. First, there was the kissing congressman, who was caught on video turning out the lights and passionately kissing a young aide hired to clean his office. The second example was a congressman hit with a 20 count federal indictment accusing him of hiring illegal immigrants in his restaurant and hiding $1 million in revenues. The third example called the cocaine congressman, pled guilty for his attempt to buy cocaine from an under-cover agent. [ii]
The American public does not hold Congress in high regard. For example, a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, reported that seven-in-ten Americans have a “very” or “mostly” unfavorable opinion of Congress. This is the worst rating in the 30 years that Pew has been asking the public about their opinion of Congress. In an earlier survey only 17 percent responded that Congress is doing an excellent, or even a good job.[iii][iv]
Regardless, I highly recommend that you develop a working relationship with congressional staffers on your appropriation and oversight committees.
Focus on those individuals that have influence over your agency and your program. Some individuals in Congress know more about how the government fits together and how it works than most anyone in a new administration. There are many knowledgeable and visionary congressional officials and staffers in Congress and they likely will know more about your program than you will know in your first few years in your job.
Rohit Kumar a senior GOP staffer for the Senate Minority Leader is one such individual. At age 39 with 13 years on the Hill, he was the person who conceived a way to sell a $700 billion dollar bank bailout bill in 2008 when the financial system was collapsing and the Democrats and Republicans were at odds on the path to take. He also figured out how to let conservatives raise the debt limit while they voted against it at the same time in 2011 when the nation was days away from default.Lori Montgomery, in an article in the Washington Post “For GOP, who’ll make a deal,” (August 9, 2013, page A1), describes Kumar as one of the nuts and bolts guys that congressional leaders trust to negotiate details with the other party, draft details into law, and explain them to elected officials before they vote on legislation for the nation. When he left government, influential officials in both parties and at the White House described his departure as a great loss to Congress and the government. And, there are many others like Rohit Kumar on the Hill, equally unsung, but critically important to the functioning of the government.
Appreciate the power of the members of Congress and their staffs. In the executive branch, working in a large and powerful agency, it is easy to forget the power of Congress and the knowledge that resides on the Hill.
After President Clinton appointed Roger Johnson as administrator of the General Services Administration, Roger made the customary courtesy calls to Congressional leaders and to those members with some influence over GSA. One of his visits was to Tom Foley (D-Wash.), Speaker of the House. Johnson spoke his prepared remarks, including the issues facing GSA, and some broader issues including reinventing government, a major program of Vice President Al Gore. Foley continued to work on the papers on his desk and never looked up when Johnson entered Foley’s office or when he discussed his prepared list of issues.
When Johnson finished, Speaker Foley looked up and said:
You didn’t have to go through all that stuff. . . . I know exactly who you are and what you are up to, and if you think that some rich Republican businessman and those children at the White House are going to tell me or the Congress how to run our affairs you have another think coming! I run the House, and the sooner you and Gore understand the separation of powers, the better off you’ll be. Thank you for the visit.[v]
In another example, Johnson concluded that the Brooks Act caused the government to pay higher prices for computer technology. Then he began to speak frequently in public about his conclusions and the need to amend the Act. Months later, when Roger went to the Hill to testify to the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, chaired by Congressman John Conyers (D-MI.), Congressman Jack Brooks (D-Texas), with 40 years of service in the House of Representatives, showed up apparently to even the score, and asked for the opportunity to speak.
Brooks said a certain Republican computer executive, a newcomer to Washington D.C., had the sole purpose of turning control of the Federal procurement process back to unscrupulous computer companies undermining his efforts to protect the American public. Brooks went on to make the following remarks.
Mr. Chairman . . . you and I remember another Orange County California Republican who came to this town about 20 years ago . . . and I know you remember what happened to him . . . . We sent him packing back to California . . . . Today we have another Orange County California Republican who doesn’t belong here and we are going to send him back also . . . . However, there will be one difference, Mr. Chairman: President Nixon was able to fly in a fancy government plane back home—but not Mr. Johnson. No big plane for him, I’m going to make sure that he has to ride back on a bicycle without a seat.[vi]
[i] John D. Dingell (D-MI.), dean of the United States House of Representatives and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Divided we legislate,” The Washington Post, September 9, 2011, p. A29.
Manage your way to success in your government assignments