Administrative Advocacy

Unlike legislators, bureaucrats are not elected by the voters. They do not answer to us but generally to many other layers of bureaucrats, who eventually answer to an elected official.

Officials are sometimes asked, “Isn’t it great being up there where the buck stops?”

The answer can be: “I’m not sure where the buck stops. I don’t really think that it’s here. But I have seen it roll over us at times.”

There are two sorts of administrators – appointed and civil service. Appointed administrators, such as Commissioners, serve at the pleasure of whoever appointed them, usually the Governor. This allows the Governor to implement his policy priorities directly — the reason he was elected. Commissioners may have a Deputy or two, who may be appointed or civil servants. Sometimes Commissioners are promoted by the Governor from the ranks of civil service, sometimes they come from outside the agency, sometimes they are political appointments, and some are former legislators.

Civil servants usually test for their positions and are immune to political influences and changes in administration. This allows them to be independent and provides historic continuity in government operations between administrations.

It is not as easy for advocates to influence bureaucrats as legislators. Many are overworked, and you are usually trying to add to their workload. They do not generally move up in the system by embracing new, revolutionary ideas. Turf issues between agencies can be a significant problem.

Bureaucrats can be very influential. An agency can easily kill a bill, if they choose. Even if you get the bill passed, and get money in the budget for it, if the agency doesn’t want to do it, it likely won’t happen.

Advocates are advised to discuss their idea with someone from an agency early in the process. How to do this varies depending on the idea, the agency, the cost, history and a dozen other variables. It is best to take your cue from your champion.

The best ways to move an agency come under the carrot or the stick headings. Potential carrots, or ways to make their lives easier, could include offering to write a grant or paper, conduct research, hold a conference or seminar on an issue they want to address, invite them to visit your site, send them background information and updates, and work with them on shared legislative priorities. Sticks can include bad press, unfavorable legislative advocacy or playing to a competing agency.

A great way to influence administrative policy is to get appointed to a state task force, council or commission addressing your issue. For more, go to the Governor’s Online Application for Appointments.

The same rules apply with bureaucrats as with other people you wish to influence:

  • Establish relationships
  • Be helpful
  • Identify and trust your champion
  • Keep informed