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Lindsey Yessick


Policy Updates

People Only Listen In Certain Years (POLICY):
The cyclical nature of legislation

Lindsey Yessick, James Marshall Policy Fellow,
Senate HELP Subcommittee on Children and Families

After a year on the Hill, I have learned at least two universal truths: everyone loves a cheeky acronym and legislation is primarily conducted in cycles. As a scientist, you immerse yourself in a body of work for years at a time, and this makes you an incredible source of information to legislators that are unable to keep that depth of knowledge on staff. Unfortunately, it may also give you the false perception that your issue of interest is always relevant, when in fact there is likely a short window of time to grab the attention of legislators.

Gaining the attention of a congressional staffer and their Congresswoman can be maximized by taking advantage of the cyclical nature of legislation. Sure, current events may capture the hearts of legislators that year and move related bills quickly, or the pet project of a Congressman may be their priority 365 days a year, every year. But in general, a lot of legislating is done in a predictable pattern that gives the socially active scientist an opportunity to intervene and educate.

For instance, the appropriations process happens every year, but it very much matters what time of year you show up. Likely your home state legislator is not an appropriator and as a result can primarily influence the appropriations process at a very specific time of year. They operate on a deadline for when they are able to submit their requested priorities to appropriators. For example, if they have to submit requests by mid-March, you showing up in July to ask for funding towards your favorite NIH institute is too little too late. Now you can only hope they will remember you next year (amongst the sea of the 500+ meetings they are taking during “fly-in season”). Similarly, committee actions (e.g., markups and hearings) happen on a strict schedule available online. Asking your legislator to amend a package of legislation that passed through committee yesterday is likely a ship that has sailed.

These cycles do not only happen within a year. A large amount of legislation that passes each congress is done on the cyclical reauthorization of programs and authorities. For instance, every five years the Pandemics and All-Hazards Preparedness Act is reauthorized. You can bet that after reauthorization this year, it will be coming back up in 2028 and all those changes to vaccine innovation may be much more likely (but not guaranteed) to move in 2028. This is not to say your legislator might not want to know your concerns now to get a jump start, but it may not be their priority that year.

If there is any optimistic conclusion I can take from this year, it is that the vast majority of Hill staff want to get it right, and they want to be informed. However, they are receiving a whirlwind of conflicting scientific information with various contradictory motives. You can indeed “be a resource” to staffers, as so many organizations say, but you will be far more effective if you show up to their office at the right time when they have the capacity to listen. Follow the committee schedule, download the calendar for session/recess days, and track the reauthorization years for acts germane to your topic. If you do those things, you’ll be ahead of a lot of lobbyists.

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