How to lobby for a specific change to military spending?



As someone who works professionally developing technology for military systems, I have become aware of a specific problem for which I think the US Congress should allocate more funding. This pertains to an existing system that could be improved significantly in its effectiveness if more funding were applied to a couple of key research areas. The needed amounts are relatively small, on the order of $10 million or so.

One problem is that the way the program is currently funded is relatively ad hoc, and not only that, it is funded by the wrong branch of the services, creating a situation where the program relies on funding decisions by a branch that does not benefit from the program. Needless to say, this is not good for the program.

I would like to notify the proper people in Congress of the problem so that they can apply money to the right area and hopefully fix the allocation screwup so that the correct group (the group using the system) is getting the funding.

The Pentagon is aware of the issues and is trying to resolve them in the usual way, but it is a huge bureaucracy, so progress has been slow. Another problem is that the brass probably does not understand the technical details deeply enough to realize the importance of what needs to be done. My job is just to develop the technology, not report its implications. For that, I have to rely on my customers at the Pentagon, and I think they have overlooked some of the criticality of the problem, in some respects. I recently read the 2017 defense budget and it really completely missed what needs to be done in this area.

The bottom line is that I want to alert the right person in Congress to the need to fund the relevant research and do not know the best way to go about this. My initial inclination is to write the Chairman of the relevant subcommittee (the Committee on Armed Services has seven subcommittees, one of which is relevant to my problem). However, I do not know if this is the best way to go about the lobbying process. Maybe I should be talking to lower level functionaries in the Rayburn building? What is the right approach here?

Tyler Durden

Posted 2016-12-10T18:15:38.750

Reputation: 4 645

1Asking on an internet QA site for a method to perform an end run around the Department of Defense acquisitions programs isn't going to serve you well. The chance that there are people that are properly informed on the acquisitions process, and have the release authority to post those same details public, is slim. Further, your intentions demonstrated a conflict of interest; you want to specifically lobby the government to redirect funding towards a problem that you happen to have a solution for? – Drunk Cynic – 2016-12-11T01:17:29.253

@DrunkCynic Uh, actually it has already "served me well" because I have one useful answer already. Are you suggesting that lobbying should be outlawed? As for the problem itself, there are multiple aspects to it, not just the ones I work on and this problem affects the potential survival of thousands of men, so the interests here at stake are a lot larger than my personal benefit. – Tyler Durden – 2016-12-11T02:23:36.730

The existing answer is misguided, and no, lobbying shouldn't be outlawed, there are already strict restrictions on it. You're about to walk right in to them. There is a massive amount of inner workings to the DOD acquisitions process that population of this media likely doesn't have access to or they can't talk about because of release restrictions. – Drunk Cynic – 2016-12-11T03:30:54.297

Theres such a thing as opportunity cost; most systems can be improved to some degree; the question in terms of allocation is where the money is the money best spent. – Mozibur Ullah – 2016-12-11T07:21:34.710

@DrunkCynic - The question is specifically about working with Congress. Working through the agency's procurement process would be out-of-scope for this question. – indigochild – 2016-12-12T17:00:19.173



I'm distilling your question down into this:

...I want to alert the right person in Congress to the need to fund the relevant research and do not know the best way to go about this.

In keeping with SE's GS/BS requirement, these suggestions are based on my experiences as a legislative auditor and what I have seen in my legislature, as well as my interactions with Congressional offices.

Contacting the Delegates from Your State

The delegates from your state represent your interests. Contact them (or their staff directly) and explain your concerns. Although the delegates from your state may not be on the most appropriate committees, they can still influence the process.

Don't be discouraged at all if you talk to their staff instead of the legislator directly. Legislators leave varying instructions for their staff, but generally they aggregate and the pass on word to their bosses.

Contacting the Appropriate Committees

As you noted, you can also contact the appropriate committees or subcommittees. Don't just contact the chair - contact the members of the (sub)committee also.

Request an Audit

Aside from requesting legislation, you may also suggest that the Government Accountability Office perform an audit on this subject. Audits are performed upon request by legislators and there is a hierarchy here: senior leadership first, (sub)committee chairs, minority committee leaders, and then everyone else.

Build Consensus within the Executive

Despite being antagonistic in many regards, agencies and the legislature do influence each other. A $10 million modification to an existing budget doesn't sound large, it may be possible for the agency to implement it on their own. If not, a request from the agency to the subcommittee for the change will carry much more weight.

Additionally, consider contacting the agency's Inspector General's office. They may have a mechanism for soliciting ideas from the public. The Inspector General is an internal mechanism for improving the efficiency of the agency. Their work is often used to guide policy (especially before the legislature becomes aware of the problem!). Because IG's report to Congress, they often have valuable connections and are generally seen as highly credible (sometimes more so than the agency head).

Find a Sponsor

In the end, you need a legislator to take responsibility for your proposal. They will be the ones proposing the legislation, walking it through the process, and doing the legwork to get it passed. You may need to shop around for this legislator. They may not be one of your delegates or a member of a reasonably appropriate committee. You may speak with many legislators before ever finding one who is interested.

Be Advised

If you thought that the agency's bureaucracy is slow, wait until you try to walk through the legislative process.

It could take several electoral cycles before you find a legislator sufficiently interested in your topic to sponsor a bill. They will likely want to engage in some kind of research before sponsoring the bill. Depending on the kind of research, this could add a few months to a couple years. Once the legislator has something they think will work, it could take many years before the idea gets any traction or the political situation is right.

Once the topic is actually being talked about in the legislature, there will be a long process of being referred to committee, then subcommittee, then being worked by the subcommittee, and being referred back to committee who may then refer it back to the subcommittee....until both chambers are satisfied. If it fails any of the parts of this process, it will have to wait until it can be proposed in the next session.

Once the bill is passed, it could take a long time to be implemented. A budget allocates money to be spent, but it doesn't require that money be spent: the agency could sit on that $10 million research allocation and never touch it.

Finally: Consider Working with Others

An individual can influence a legislature: but it's often easier when you have more support. Consider whether forming some kind of organization to lobby for this issue is worth while. At that point, you may consider hiring a professional lobbyist (and raising the funds to pay for this).


Posted 2016-12-10T18:15:38.750

Reputation: 22 718

3This entire process will be further complicated because he is a contractor trying to lobby for more money to be spent on the field he provides an answer for. – Drunk Cynic – 2016-12-11T01:19:23.090

@DrunkCynic I find the answer interesting. If it explains that this procedure is to be followed only by people without conflicts is interest would make it acceptable to you? – SJuan76 – 2016-12-12T14:13:49.203

@SJuan76 In the general sense, for a question of "How to I get involved in politics and federal spending?" this answer is exceedingly valid. It is nearly the inverse of how some projects in the military have had their funding protected. In the specific sense, this answer does not provide guidance for this question, because of the foundational conflict between the position of the asker and acquisitions process. – Drunk Cynic – 2016-12-12T16:44:07.307

@DrunkCynic - The asker doesn't have any unique ways of interacting with Congress by virtue of being a contractor. Their options don't change. Depending on who they are talking to, they might be thought of as more or less convincing because they are the contractor, but that doesn't influence what they can do - just how difficult it is to be successful. – indigochild – 2016-12-12T17:07:23.343

@indigochild On the contrary, the asker is specifically limited in how he can communicate with congress in regards to the product he is providing to the Department of Defense. – Drunk Cynic – 2016-12-12T17:46:52.373

@DrunkCynic - If you know where that requirement is, I would be happy to include it in the answer. – indigochild – 2016-12-12T18:42:13.867