A “How to” Guide to Federal Advocacy

by Louis J. Jenny  |  July 15, 2014

I wear a few hats at DBIA, but one major duty is taking the lead on our federal advocacy efforts. While advocacy and lobbying aren’t exactly synonyms, they are close. And, I am in fact a registered federal lobbyist. Because of this, I often get asked just exactly what a lobbyist does and how is advocacy done effectively. People generally assume lobbying means a lot of arm twisting and palm greasing (advocacy has far fewer negative connotations). The truth is effective advocacy and lobbying aren’t about convincing policy makers to do something they don’t want to do, it’s about helping them achieve what they do want to do. So, as we prepare for the DBIA’s Federal Symposium starting in just a few weeks, this seems like a good time to discuss being an effective federal policy advocate in Washington.

Have Good Ideas

The biggest advantage to advocating for Design-Build Done Right is that I have an excellent product to sell. Experience and research clearly shows the advantages design-build offers when compared to design-bid-build and other delivery methods. When we present these facts, design-build advances. No arm twisting is needed.

Our work in the transportation arena is good example here. There is massive need for highway and other transportation infrastructure improvements and expansion. Law-makers and policy-makers are desperate for ways to meet these needs better and faster. When DBIA discusses with them real projects, such as the Minnesota I-35 bridge replacement (finished in less than a year, opened three months ahead of schedule) people see the advantages of design-build. Or we can point to the Colorado Transportation-Expansion (T-Rex) project. A massive $1.67 billion design-build project that is considered one of the most successful transportation projects of any kind. Because of these and many other excellent stories we have to tell, expanding design-build in the transportation becomes a no brainer for many.


A great way for organizations like DBIA to be effective is to find common ground with other organizations and work together. The Design-Build Efficiency and Jobs Act (H.R. 2750) is an excellent example. As the name suggests, this bill encourages the better use of design-build by federal agencies, particularly two-step design-build. The many organizations (DBIA, American Institute of Architects, Associated General Contractors and several others) working together on H.R. 2750 not only allows us to pool our resources and broaden our reach, but also demonstrates to Congress that this is an important issue with solid industry support.

Look Beyond DC

Members of Congress aren’t elected by lobbyists; they are elected by their constituents. Members of Congress want to please those constituents, so it follows that actual voters are very effective advocates for any policy position. Some of the most powerful interests in Washington have their power because they have harnessed focused and unleashed hordes of voters who write, email and use all manner of techniques to reach out to their elected officials with clear, concise messages and requests for action.

DBIA has used this approach with great effect over the years and it is a tactic that I see us utilizing even more going forward, both on the state/local and federal levels. We will expand on our letter writing and email campaigns, such as the one we have used for H.R. 2750, and look to facilitate more meetings between DBIA members and their elected officials.

I hope this helps to explain what I do for a living, perhaps breaks down some of the myths, and gives you a brief guide to advocacy. If you have any questions, suggestions or input, please do not hesitate reaching out to me directly. If you would like further detail on the specific policy issues I discussed, I highly recommend visiting www.DBIA.org.