Unlocking Capitol Hill: Federal Business Development and Congress

Federal Business Development professionals are expert at navigating the “GovCon” environment.  They know the importance of building relationships, understanding the customer, and being strategic.  However, Capitol Hill is an often overlooked piece of the puzzle for growth strategy.  Many BD’ers monitor congressional hearings focused on government programs of interest but are uncertain how, when, or if to get involved.  Not being involved, means Congress is not hearing your interests as they provide oversight and direction to federal agencies and the programs you support.  Here are key steps to consider when forming a congressional strategy:

Understand the Legislative and Regulatory Environment

  • Monitor Legislation: Stay informed about pending legislation and regulations that could impact your industry. Use resources like Congress.gov, Federal Register, and government affairs publications.
  • Identify Key Committees and Members: Determine which congressional committees and members are influential in your sector and/or represent the state or district where your employees and offices are located. These can include committees on appropriations, commerce, defense, energy, etc.
  • Monitor GAO Reports and IG Reports: Agencies regularly determine their budgets and acquisitions far in advance.  One big exception can be contractor support needed quickly by agencies to respond to Government Accountability Office (GAO) or Inspector General (IG) findings and criticisms.  Congress holds hearings on topics covered by the GAO and IG and agencies often require contractor help to address any deficiencies.

Build Relationships

  • Engage with Congressional Staff: Congressional staff members are gatekeepers. Develop relationships with staffers who handle issues relevant to your business.  A key part of a congressional staffer’s job is helping constituents, including constituent companies.
  • Participate in Industry Associations: Join trade associations and business groups that advocate for your industry. These organizations often have established relationships on the Hill and can amplify your voice.
  • Attend Hearings and Events: Participate in congressional hearings, town halls, round tables, and policy events to meet policymakers and stay updated on key issues.

Develop a Strategic Plan

  • Set Clear Objectives: Define what you want to achieve on the Hill, such as influencing legislation, securing funding, or shaping regulations.
  • Craft a Compelling Message: Develop clear, concise messaging that explains your position and how it benefits the public and aligns with policymakers’ goals. 
  • Prepare a Lobbying Strategy: Decide whether to hire a lobbying firm or advocate directly. Professional lobbyists can offer expertise and established networks.

Advocacy and Lobbying

  • Meet with Legislators: Schedule meetings with members of Congress and their staff. Be prepared with data, case studies, examples to support your position, and how any decision will impact their constituents.  Define your “ask” so that Members of Congress and staff understand how they can help.
  • Submit Testimony and Comments: Provide written or oral testimony during congressional hearings. Submit comments during the regulatory rule-making process.
  • Coalition Building: Partner with other businesses, non-profits, and community groups to strengthen your advocacy efforts.

Compliance and Reporting

  • Understand Lobbying Disclosure Requirements: Determine if any of your interactions require disclosure.  Ensure compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) and other relevant laws. Regularly report your lobbying activities as required.
  • Ethics and Transparency: Maintain high ethical standards in all interactions. Transparency builds trust and credibility with policymakers.

Continuous Engagement and Adaptation

  • Stay Engaged: Advocacy is an ongoing process. Maintain regular contact with policymakers and their staff.
  • Adapt to Changes: Be flexible and ready to adjust your strategies in response to political and regulatory changes.
  • Measure and Report Success: Track your progress and outcomes. Report back to stakeholders on your achievements and any changes in strategy.

While each step will not be relevant to each government contractor, it’s important to be mindful of the role Congress plays in the GovCon ecosystem.  Congress cannot hear your voice if you don’t have a seat at the table.  Leveraging Capitol Hill for federal business development requires a combination of knowledge, relationship-building, strategic planning, and effective advocacy.  Jefferson can help!  View our capabilities

About the author:  

MJ Sivulich is a Senior Vice President and leads Jefferson’s business consulting practice.  MJ provides federal business development, capture, proposal, government affairs, and marketing support to industry clients.  To contact the author or learn more about Jefferson’s federal business development services, please email contact@jeffersonconsulting.com.