Taking the Message to Congress

A guide to communicating with Congress from the American Society for Microbiology Office of Public Affairs

Scientific societies, research organizations and health groups advocate for sound policy for research and public health programs, and for adequate budgets for science during the appropriation process.  The ASM develops policy statements, information and resource materials. Advocacy for research can only be successful if the public and research community are part of the effort. Communications from the public are key to influencing sound research policies. The Office of Public Affairs will post legislative alerts and resource materials at key times during the congressional process and direct members to the site so they can send a message to Congress.

Communicating with Congress:

The best way to communicate with Congress is though personalized messages. Senators, Representatives and members of their staff attach great importance to personal messages because they show a serious effort on the part of a constituent. The most critical thing to remember when communicating with your Senators or Representative is timeliness. Knowing when action is pending on an appropriation or legislative issue is essential. Express your views in a way your legislators can understand, but make it clear that you possess specialized knowledge that gives you an important perspective on the issue.

Here are some simple guidelines to follow when communicating with Congress:

  • Your message should be short and to the point. Members are inundated with hundreds, even thousands of messages a day so brevity is appreciated.
  • Discuss only one issue in your message
  • Be sure to identify yourself and include your contact information to enable the member of Congress to follow up with you on your issue.
  • Do not just demand action in your message, give the member of Congress a course of action.
  • Do not over complicate you message with highly technical “science speak.” Think of your audience as intelligent students, who need a clear and simple overview of the topic. Messages that include personal examples are the most effective.
  • Tie your message to the member’s district, state or to the good of the country. Messages looking for entitlements for an individual are never successful. Explain to the member of Congress, for example, that increased funding for life sciences research would benefit the entire country and humankind, not just individual scientists.

The ASM’s Legislative Action Center is an advocacy tool that allows ASM members to send messages to their Representative and Senators about issues of importance to the microbiological sciences.

Meeting with Congress:

Meeting with a member of Congress is another effective way to communicate your message. Remember that the member has a District Office as well as a Washington office. Scheduling meeting in their District Office makes the chance of getting an appointment easier.

Here are a few guidelines to follow when planning a meeting with a member of Congress:

  • Schedule the appointment three to four weeks in advance. Some offices require that you mail or fax a formal letter of request. Call the office for their scheduling procedures.
  • Provide an overview of what will be discussed at the meeting.
  • Know your issues. Do some background research on possible legislation affecting research and where the bill is, in terms of consideration at the time of your meeting, i.e., committee, floor. Also know the background of the member of Congress, read their biography and know their past history of votes on your issue.
  • Arrive and leave on time. Be aware that members of Congress and their staff are extremely busy, so delays may occur. You appointment should last about 15 minutes.
  • Do not be disappointed if you meet with a staff member instead of the member of Congress. Congressional staffers are knowledgeable and advise the member on legislation. If you convey your message clearly to the staff member, in all likelihood he or she will then brief the member of Congress.
  • Address you issue clearly. Since you will only have about 15 minutes, it is important to explain exactly why you requested the meeting.
  • Be prepared. If necessary draft a one to two page summary that you can leave after your meeting.
  • Follow up your meeting with a brief thank you note outlining the details of your visit.

The ASM Office of Public Affairs is a resource for information regarding issues and legislation that affect microbiologists. If you have any questions about communicating with Congress please e-mail: publicaffairs@asmusa.org.

Public Affairs staff can assist you with information and in setting up a meeting with your member of Congress. For assistance, e-mail Meghan O’Brien at mobrien@asmusa.org.

Go to the ASM Policy for more information: http://www.asm.org/index.php/public-policy

Thank you for being an advocate for research and public health.