February 2010

Visiting Congress at Home

Your Member of Congress Is Home Most of the Time— Why Not Visit Then?

 

Question: What federal officials, while ostensibly based in Washington, D.C., actually spend the bulk of each year— almost three quarters of it— back in their home states? The answer: senators and members of Congress.

Congressional District Work Periods for 2010

The following are the remaining regularly scheduled “district work periods” when House and Senate members will be back in their districts and states. These are in addition to the four days each week they are home when Congress is in session. Note that Congress will adjourn in late September or early October to allow time for members to campaign at home in advance of the November elections.

• Feb. 15 – 19
• March 29 – April 9
• May 31 – June 4
• July 5 – 9
• Aug. 9 – Sept. 10
• Oct. – adjournment expected early in the month

This is a fact frequently overlooked by many society government relations programs and, by extension, their members. Many societies tend to concentrate their congressional visit activity in Washington with “Hill Day fly-ins” and other Washington-based efforts. However, because the overwhelming majority of a congressional member’s time is spent in his or her congressional district, it is an essential part of any advocacy strategy to try to meet with him or her when he or she is home. The advantages are obvious: It saves time and money and increases one’s chances of getting “face time” with the elected official.

The following are some suggestions on how to arrange a home-office meeting.

Tips on Meetings at Home

Contact the local office. All members of Congress maintain at least one local district office and sometimes more, depending on the geographical size of the district. In addition, senators usually have several scattered around the state. Go to the congressional member’s Web site (you can find it at www.house.gov or www.senate.gov ) and find the address and phone number of the office nearest you. Contact that office, introduce yourself and ask when it might be possible to get some time with the member. Congressmen frequently arrange group meetings when in their districts. They may devote one or two days a month to meeting with anyone who wants to come see them.

Plan to go with a group. Your chances of meeting with the member will increase if you go as part of a group. (Students, in particular, make excellent ambassadors.) However, make sure that your delegation includes at least some constituents: If you show up with a bunch of foreign graduate students, that is not going to have as much of an impact as if you show up with voters.

Do some research. Once you have arranged a date and time for your meeting with the local office staff, you need to do research, especially if you don’t know much about your Congress member’s positions on issues of concern to you. The member’s Web site is a good place to start. You also can contact the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology staff members in Washington. They can easily provide you with information on the member’s voting record and district as well as his or her level of support for research and the amount of federally funded biomedical research in your district or state. Many members do not realize the magnitude of the federal commitment to biomedical research: All states have at least some federally funded research conducted at colleges and universities.

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