Perspectives from a Senate Staffer

Insider Info: Capitalizing on Capitol Hill Visits

NCART members and other complex rehab technology (CRT) stakeholders are gathering in Washington, D.C., this week for talks with legislators and their staffs.

It’s a situation very familiar to John Goetz, director of government affairs for Permobil.

For nearly six years, Goetz worked for Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on the senator’s healthcare policy team, just as debate on healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act was gaining steam.

In an interview with Mobility Management, Goetz said he recalled meeting with CRT and DME industry stakeholders when they came to Capitol Hill. Now, Goetz is on the other side of the table and working with CRT advocates to advance policy changes and preserve consumer access to assistive technology.

Every 15 Minutes

In his tenure with Corker, Goetz focused on healthcare policy and also worked on disability issues.

“During the time that I was there, Sen. Corker was ranking [member] on the Committee on Aging, and despite the name of the committee, a lot of the issues we dealt with also dealt with disability,” Goetz said. “I did a lot of research and briefings for the senator as issues came up.”

As one of Corker’s staffers, Goetz added, “I remember taking meetings with [NCART members] and taking meetings with AAHomecare. It was right around the time that things were really coming to a head with competitive bidding. Any healthcare or disability-related issue that came up, usually I was one of the staff that [they] met with.”

While visiting groups are sometimes able to meet directly with representatives or senators, they more often meet with Congressional staffers who take meetings on legislators’ behalf.

That was Goetz’s role when he worked for Corker.

“Especially when we were in session and when there were hot topic issues happening, like we will see at the NCART conference, [staffers] basically have meetings put on their calendars for every 15 minutes all day long and all week long,” Goetz said. In remembering his time as a staffer, he said, “So much is under healthcare that you would [meet with a group about] CRT, you would meet with hemophilia doctors, you would meet with nursing home folks. It was a wide range of things. You had to jump between topics constantly. “In the middle of that, you get an e-mail from your boss that asks you something completely unrelated to anything you’ve been talking about all day that you have to jump in and do that as well.”

Tips of the Trade

Goetz’s time on Capitol Hill gives him first-hand knowledge of what makes an effective meeting with legislators and staffers.

First tip: Don’t be disappointed if your meeting is with a staff member rather than the representative or senator. Those staffers often look young, but they’re critical members of representatives’ and senators’ teams.

“[Staffers] are the ones that become the experts, and the senators rely on the experts on that issue,” Goetz said. That’s why building a strong relationship with a staffer can be beneficial down the road.

“If you have a staffer on your [side], you have an inside person helping you,” Goetz said. “That’s exceptionally important. Obviously, the member [of Congress] has the ultimate decision, but it is the staff that is going to be putting together the materials and the argument to get them on board. [Staffers] are the think tank.”

Second tip: Be organized and efficient with your presentation. Most Capitol Hill meetings last just 10 to 15 minutes due to the large number of advocacy groups seeking an audience.

“Don’t give too much information,” Goetz said. “There were so many times I would be sitting in a meeting and somebody would want to tell me every single detail in the 30-year history of an issue. And I would be thinking that I’ve already gotten an e-mail that the next meeting is sitting outside. It makes your mind wander.”

Instead, he suggested, “Come into a meeting and give a 30,000-feet overview of the world. Then narrow down as quickly as possible to what the actual purpose is. ‘You’ll remember we were here last year talking about X, Y and Z. Those are still important to us, but here are the most immediate needs we have right now.’ Get those out in the beginning. If you can get those asked, [staffers] will write those down at the top of their notes, and they’ll ask questions to fill in the context for that afterward. You want to be able to give that time to dialogue and questions.”

Third tip: Make sure leave-behind materials are succinct and well organized. Goetz said he appreciated groups that gave him “one-pagers” – information organized and concisely expressed on a single sheet of paper.

“What I appreciated is when [a group] would come in and have materials, but the materials weren’t like a book,” Goetz said. “It wasn’t so much that it was overwhelming. [Staffers] don’t have much time, and they don’t have much storage space. They just have one desk and a filing cabinet, potentially. That’s why I’m a big fan of the one-pager.”

And Goetz especially appreciated electronic follow-ups. “When I’m leaving the meeting and leaving that material behind, I say, ‘I know I’ve just put a lot of information on you and I know you’re very busy today and there may be questions you still have. I’m going to follow up with you via e-mail and I’m going to send you all of this electronically.’ [Staffers] make a folder in their inbox [for your materials]. They can access it wherever they are, if they’re traveling with the boss or whatever; it’s there. I do it in the form of an electronic thank you note. It’s one more touch to make sure they remember you.”

Final tip: Be ready to discuss your issues on the fly, wherever there’s room to accommodate you and your group.

“Don’t be surprised if you have to take a meeting standing in a hallway or having coffee in the coffee shop,” Goetz said. “Space is limited. I think people think it’s like TV, where there’s a lot of space and everyone has their own room. No, it’s like an international airport in there. There is the potential you might have to take your meeting in an odd space you might not expect.”

Despite the fact that meeting in representatives’ and senators’ offices may be less glamorous than depicted by Hollywood, Goetz said the atmosphere on the hill is still electric.

“Even after having worked there for years, when I go up there, I have a sense of excitement,” he said. “I talk to the staff and I feel the energy. It’s still exciting. Knowing it’s not TV is always important, but it’s still extremely exciting and has a different feeling than anything else.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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