TexASCE Government Affairs Provides Training for Houston Branch Leadership
By Michael F. Bloom, PE, AICP, ENV SP
On October 26, 2023, Michael Bloom and Adam Eaton, members of the Texas Section’s Government Affairs Committee, provided government relations training for members of the Houston Branch Board and other committee chairs.
Michael and Adam defined advocacy, government relations, lobbying, and educational activities, and how members of ASCE can conduct and participate in each of those activities. While some members mistakenly believe that lobbying is not permitted, ASCE Branches, Sections, and the Society CAN and DO conduct lobbying, which is defined as activities conducted to influence law or policy making processes or the decisions of elected officials. In fact, members who sign up to be a Key Contact and contact their elected officials on behalf of ASCE, or members who participate in the annual Legislative Fly-In to Washington DC, are conducting lobbying activities. Under federal tax rules, ASCE organizations can generally spend up to 20% of their annual budget on lobbying without losing their tax-exempt status.
The training clarified that ASCE as an organization and members acting on behalf of ASCE are NOT permitted to endorse candidates for office or make donations to campaigns. Members of ASCE are, of course, able to personally donate to campaigns, and in fact, Michael and Adam encouraged members to do this (at any amount, $10, $50, or more) to get more engaged in the political process and to become more aware of how infrastructure issues are featured in candidates’ campaigns.
The training also examined the mission of our sister organization, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), as compared against the mission of ASCE. ACEC’s mission is to advocate for consulting engineering companies and to create business opportunities for their member firms; whereas ASCE’s mission is to advocate for the advancement of the science and profession of engineering to enhance the welfare of humanity. While ACEC advocates for firms and associated business opportunities, ASCE works to enhance the profession and societal welfare, which is an important distinction when speaking to elected officials. Michael and Adam explained that our mission creates an opportunity when speaking to elected officials about infrastructure policy and funding, as those officials may be more receptive to ASCE’s expert input when they sense that our members are engaging to enhance the welfare of their constituents.
Michael and Adam also explained how the new ASCE Strategic Plan includes “ADVOCATE” as a core strategy. This calls for ASCE to promote and facilitate civil engineering leadership in developing solutions to global challenges; to shape forward-looking infrastructure policy, investment, and implementation; to equip civil engineers to shape public policy and awareness; and to elevate the visibility of civil engineers’ leadership role in society.
They explained that participating in ASCE advocacy and government relations work will enhance your personal brand and experience. You will learn how to interact with elected officials; learn ASCE policies; grow your network; learn about local government processes; and learn about local political issues.
When members engage in government affairs activities, the Branch benefits from increased visibility; the establishment of direct relationships with elected leaders; the creation of a pipeline to deliver Branch, Section, and Society products and services, such as the Infrastructure Report Card; and an increased likelihood that elected officials will call on Branch members for input and guidance on infrastructure issues.
The training provided an overview of how the Branch Public Relations Committee and Section Government Affairs Committee conduct government relations activities. Committee members identify elected officials; subscribe to their newsletter; watch the proceedings of elected bodies; become aware of local infrastructure issues and policy options; identify relevant ASCE policies on the ASCE website; develop positions on local issues consistent with national policies; schedule and conduct meetings with elected officials; and conduct follow up activities to stay in touch and support elected officials.
The training concluded with a demonstration of how to conduct a meeting with an elected official, with Michael playing the official and Adam playing the ASCE member. After the demonstration, attendees were given a chance to practice a meeting with Mayor Bloom.
The Corpus Christi Branch also received training two weeks later. The Corpus training was done on November 9, 2023, at the offices of Port Corpus Christi.
The Corpus Christi training was by Michael Bloom (Chair, GAC, TX Section) and Sean Merrell (ASCE Region 6 Director).
- Fernando Quintanilla – President, CC Branch
- Justin Buchen – Vice President, CC Branch
- Evan Montgomery – Secretary, CC Branch
- Julie-Ann Adams – Treasurer, CC Branch
- Willam Allen Hays – History and Heritage Chair, CC Branch
- Leo Veloz – Young Member Chair, CC Branch
- Bria Whitmire – Events Committee Chair, CC Branch
- Veronika Casteneda – TAMU-CC Student Islander Civil Engineers Treasurer (soon to be our newest ASCE student chapter)
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