June 1, 2007  

Hill how-to

Step-by-step instructions for winning defense dollars

Whether you are an experienced government relations pro or new to the business, if you want to understand the process for getting funding for defense programs, Matthew Kambrod’s “Lobbying for Defense: An Insider’s View” is instructive.

It may seem like a complicated process, but Kambrod offers a straightforward approach and suggests that there isn’t a secret creative approach to success.

Even those who have worked the “building” (Pentagon) and the “Hill” (Capitol Hill) for decades will benefit from this rational approach to understanding the military’s requirements and resourcing process, and how it fits into the congressional budget process.

“This was written as a guide for smaller companies outside the Beltway, perhaps across mid-America, which might be interested in obtaining funding for startup military programs, and employing lobbyists or training their own company people to get the job done,” Kambrod told me. “It provides CEOs, company presidents, chief operating officers or would-be lobbyists an insight into what must be done to get an assessment of their products by the military services as to the product’s meeting military requirements, and what steps must to be taken during the budget cycle to try to secure government funding.”

Kambrod said he wrote the book because he found himself explaining the inner workings of Congress in terms of the appropriations process when dealing with staff officers in the Pentagon. At the same time, he was often asked by newer Hill staffers about what goes on across the Potomac in the formulation of budgets. “There are bits and pieces about the plus-up process [that are] of interest to both.”

As complicated as the budgeting process may seem, Kambrod said the process is the same year after year. “Lobbying for defense is largely a process of checks and balances to be sure that what a company attempts to fund is something that has been coordinated with the services and is required. In general, industry must have their product identified and approved by the services as an unfunded requirement. Points of contact within the services must be identified. It must be sponsored by the military departments when queried by professional staff members of the defense committees as to merit. It must be sponsored solidly by a member or delegation to the defense committees. Documentation or member request forms for submittal to committees have largely been now standardized for staff coordination and submittal. These just reflect some of the elements of the equation which must be put in place, and it is all rote and done by timelines.”

Kambrod said that although there is always the possibility that a lobbyist can succeed in adding a million here or there for something not expressly requested or supported by a service, it’s becoming more unlikely. “Money is so tight these days that accomplishing this sort of thing is increasingly more difficult, and, if anything, will continue to be even more so. I also think the climate on the Hill these days tends to keep people away from advancing this type activity in at least Defense.”

Lobbyists focus efforts on appropriators because the Appropriations Committees provide the funding for programs. “They sign the checks, so to speak. The authorizers do not. Authorizers simply authorize expenditures. Funding for a program found in the Authorization Act is factually no money at all, but authorization for an appropriation.”

But Kambrod said it is a mistake to ignore the authorizers with the Armed Services Committees in their quest for funding. “The mistake here lies in the perception inside the services themselves. If the service finds unobligated funding toward the end of a budget year which it wishes to direct toward another need, it is far easier to apply that funding to a program which had been authorized, though not appropriated, than to a program that has neither funds nor authorization. Those clients engaging lobbyists who dismiss the authorizers as essentially irrelevant are not being served well by those lobbyists.”

I’ve heard that lobbying is as much about “who you know” as “what you know.” But Kambrod said what you know is far more important. “The ‘who’ is important, but the ‘who’ will change, either by choice or administration. Usually, the old and new key people are generally supportive of work that is being done to factually improve the combat capability of the soldier. That is an essential and vital truth in lobbying for defense programs. But to be able to elicit that support, regardless of who the people are, you have to know what you are talking about.”

Capt. Edward Lundquist, U.S. Navy (ret.), a senior science adviser with Alion Science and Technology in Washington, D.C., supports the Navy’s Surface Warfare Directorate.