Get to Know the Executive Agency Legislative Liaisons

Agencies compete in the legislature with other special interests, state and private, for money and authority. In most, but not all, cases agencies work though their own in-house lobbyists called legislative liaisons.

The legislative liaison’s role can be an observer, analyst, or advocate as determined by his or her personality and expectations of management. Observers by their presence demonstrate department concern with a matter before the legislature. Analysts answer questions, as needed. Advocates, however, are real lobbyists in that they are expected to effect legislation. To do so they must consider the political consequences of agency policies, legislative and administrative, upon their legislative efforts. Advocates are the legislative liaisons we lobbyists want to work with.

Like most lobbyists, legislative liaisons cut mutually beneficial deals with other special interests and even form coalitions with them. For example, department management wants more personnel. The public employees union wants more members. Department and union work together to fund more state employees. The department gets more staff and the union gets more public employee members.

Unlike most agency staff, however, legislative liaisons are neither civil service nor Administrative Procedures Act protected. They are political appointees. Their jobs rest upon meeting department legislative goals and with the least political conflict possible. To achieve they will cut deals. From the statehouse cafeteria to capitol hallways I have negotiated with them over bill language; each of us trying to gain consensus with the other to advance our respective principals’ interests.

Legislative liaisons are almost unbeatable in the capitol because: 1) the legislature is legally obligated to fund and empower agencies; 2) almost nobody in the legislature is competent to refute the agency Ph.D. the legislative liaison brings with him or her to the committee meeting; and 3) agency constituents, public interest groups and beneficiaries of agency services, make powerful political forces. Being almost unbeatable also means that agency support or opposition can improve or doom a bill’s chances.

Even as to appropriations the legislative liaisons have the upper hand.  While lawmakers may not fully trust agency budget requests, “Nobody in the Legislature wants to spend more than what must be spent, but what lawmakers really don’t want to do is cut the budget of something and then get blamed when something goes wrong.”[1]

The legislative liaison can at times help with administrative rulemaking. In our book, Guide to Executive Branch Agency Rulemaking [2] Chris Micheli and I train readers in the technical side of influencing agency rulemaking including soliciting the help of the legislative liaisons.

Further, they have the ear of the political appointees. For example, if a proposed agency action could harm the department’s legislative efforts to secure funding or authority, then management may shut down the proposed agency administrative action. As an agency enforcement officer, my management instructed me to cease preparing an enforcement action against a facility owned by a prominent politician saying he greatly affected our department’s budget.

An effective lobbyist must make every effort to build relationships with executive agency legislative liaisons. These contacts can prove useful in the legislature and in administrative rulemaking. Experienced senior lobbyists have told their Lobby School classes that when they have a problem with an agency the first person they lobby is the legislative liaison. Next time you have an opportunity – in the capitol or at the agency – take time to cultivate a relationship with the agency legislative liaison.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Ross Ramsey, “Analysis: Cutting the Texas Budget, But Only Hypothetically,” Texas Tribune (July 13, 2016) https://www.texastribune.org/2016/07/13/analysis-cutting-texas-budget-only-hypothetically/.”

[2] Guyer, Robert and Micheli, Chris, Guide to Executive Branch Agency Rulemaking (Gainesville: Engineering THE LAW, Inc., 2021) www.lobbyschool.com

 

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