Successful Congressional Visits

NSGIC members have three (3) different choices for self-scheduled visits in Washington DC. The addresses and contact information for scheduling the visits can be found on these websites:

There are two main reasons for making Hill visits: building a relationship and promoting legislation. This document focuses on building relationships, and includes four parts: A) introductory visits, B) things (products/maps) to share at meetings, C) things to share later as opportunity arises, and D) educating Members and Staff about issues critical to the states.

A) Introductory Visits

(Learon Dalby, 2009 NSGIC President, created this list in 2011)
1. Call or use the websites to request a meeting with your delegation. Keep in mind, meeting with staffers is a good thing.
2. Prepare maps for entire delegation (we did election maps). You need to have an interesting map product or prop.
3. Recognize that a 15 minute meeting is a lifetime. Plan on 5 minutes.
4. The meeting is for you to ask “how can we help you?”
5. Be prepared to explain what you do in 1 minute (e.g. “We put spreadsheets on a map so they make sense”).
6. Offer examples of useful maps and be prepared to deliver them within 1 week (shorter is better).
7. They will ask ‘what can we do for you.’ An appropriate response is “We just want to help you, so send us the information you are interested in seeing on a map.”
8. Be familiar with the Committee assignments for your Members of Congress to better understand their issues.
9. Get them to talk about their issues and you take notes.
10. Don’t forget to get E-Mail addresses for follow-up – they can be very difficult to obtain.
11. Send a thank you note to each individual you meet with by E-Mail, and include the scheduler – make sure that you include your contact information.

B) Examples of Things to Bring to the Meeting

(Samples provided in most cases, usually delivered in poster-size format – suitable for framing)
1. Air photo of your Member’s home back in your state.
2. Election Map – sample of Arkansas 2010 Senate Race (PDF)
3. Statewide Infrastructure Map – sample of Utah Broadband access (PDF)
4. Historical Map – sample of Utah territory (PDF)
5. Document explaining the value of Federal programs – sample from Arkansas
6. Document showing fiscal impacts - time series maps from Montana showing changes in transfer taxes over a 6-year period (PDF)

C) Examples of Things to Share Later.

Once you have built a relationship with a staff person, these things can be shared as the need arises.
1. State Spatial Data, Applications, and Web Services – sample from Idaho (PDF). The staff person asked for this. A less comprehensive list could be brought to the first meeting.
2. Current Disaster Map – sample of 2011 Arkansas flood (PDF). This low resolution map was included within an email with the assumption that staff people would be looking at this on a mobile device. This was sent to the lead staff person with a request to circulate to whomever needs it.
3. Google Map Website with Flood Photos – 2011 Arkansas flood (Link). Credit to National Weather Service.

D) Promoting Legislation

(Will Craig, 2010 NSGIC President)

Before You Go:
1. Get clearance if necessary. You may need clearance from your supervisor, department, or the governor’s office. This is not a bad thing. They have resources to follow-up on your issue.
2. Decide who to visit. It’s OK to visit anyone, especially for bills that are already introduced, but you want to focus your energies. Congress is organized by committee; e.g., agriculture bills are handled by the Agriculture Committee. Look at the House and Senate websites to see which of your Representatives or Senators are on the committee dealing with your issue.
3. Put a face on it. Collect stories from your Member’s district about the issue you want to talk about. Talk to people in those districts, perhaps relying on a local GIS user group, and attribute them in your writeup. Here are some stories about the value of orthophotos to people in Minnesota Congressional Districts 1 (Olmsted County and other southern counties), 4 (Ramsey County), and 7 (Western Mn) – home of the former chair of the Agriculture Committee, now the ranking member.
4. Schedule the meeting. Call the office and state your interest in a meeting. You will be connected with a scheduler who will help find the right staff member to address your topic. (Your governor’s office is an alternative way to find that person.) It is more important to connect to the right staff person than to your Member of Congress him or herself.
5. Know more about the Member. Congressional websites will tell you more about their professional and personal lives. Understand what is important to them and construct your message to fit.

At the Meeting:
1. Introduce yourself and your topic in 3 minutes or less. Explain what you do and why the topic is important concisely.
2. Have an “Ask.” This is what staffers expect. What do you want? Support for a bill? Change in a piece of legislation? Advice on how to move an idea forward? Author a new bill?
3. Have material to leave behind. This should include, as appropriate, the NSGIC Advocacy Agenda, a 1-page NSGIC Issue Brief, and your story page. For certain, leave a business card. Get their card too.
4. Be prepared to answer questions or say, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
5. Be clear, be concise, and be gone. Don’t expect more than 10 minutes of time. A short meeting is still a good meeting. If the staff wants to continue the conversations, wonderful. You’ll have phone and email connections to continue the conversation later.

After the Meeting:
1. Send a thank-you note after the meeting. Email is great, but it is even better to send a hand-written note, including another business card. It will take weeks to get through Capitol security, but it will pay dividends.
2. Follow-up on any promises you made: an answer to a question, promised material, updates as they occur, etc. Your long term goal is to become a reliable resource for that staff person and that office.