ASTHO’s Government Affairs Chief Previews Washington Week and Shares Advice

March 08, 2018|3:52 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Next week, ASTHO is hosting its annual Washington Week to provide state and territorial health officials with opportunities to meet with various federal leaders and inform policymakers about public health priorities in their jurisdictions. ASTHO’s chief of government affairs, Carolyn Mullen, shares her thoughts on what ASTHO’s members and other public health leaders can expect.

What is in store for ASTHO members during Washington Week?

ASTHO’s Washington Week is a multi-faceted, dynamic, and action-packed week for state and territorial health officials. First, they will participate in educational sessions and learn from leading experts about the federal budget process, HHS, congressional staff, and the intricacies of how to navigate appropriations and policymaking in the nation’s capital. The information provided during these educational sessions will give members a strong foundation to draw on during meetings with members of Congress and the Administration later in the week. The week will adjourn with a board meeting at ASTHO’s headquarters in Arlington, VA.

What are some of the key messages ASTHO will be sharing with Congress and the Administration?

At this time, we are in a very unique federal budget climate. Congress is working on finishing FY18 appropriations bills while at the same time beginning to develop funding priorities for FY19. ASTHO will encourage its members to discuss the need for additional resources for state, local, and territorial health departments to address the opioid epidemic, enhance preparedness programs, and continue the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant.

In addition, ASTHO is launching a campaign urging Congress to increase funding for CDC 22 percent by FY22, as increasing CDC’s budget helps ensure our nation’s health is protected from communicable and non-communicable disease threats. For the first time in two decades, American life expectancy has declined, federal investment in public health has not kept pace with inflation, and workforce cuts are threatening public health programs. This is the rationale for increasing CDC’s funding.

Finally, in collaboration with its affiliate organizations, ASTHO developed a booklet on FY19 governmental public health appropriations. This reference document will be used to convey not only ASTHO’s top advocacy funding priorities, but those of other nonprofit public health associations who represent leadership at state and territorial public health departments. We readily acknowledge that this is a lengthy list of priorities. However, we will be encouraging our members to tailor this information and explain how federal funding is critical to their work to improve the health of the population.

Why does ASTHO host this annual event in Washington, D.C.?

Research conducted by the Congressional Management Foundation found that in-person meetings have considerable influence on an undecided member of Congress—more so than any other influence group or strategy. ASTHO’s annual advocacy day is a critical component to implementing our 2018 Federal Legislative Agenda. Our members’ voices, stories, and perspectives carry a lot of weight with members of Congress. Policymakers also value the input state and territorial health officials provide. Moreover, during this period of uncertainty and fiscal austerity, it is critical that Congress hear directly from state and territorial health officials about the value and importance of federal programs on our members’ work.

What tips do you have for communicating with policymakers about the value of public health?

My recommendations are: (1) keep the message simple and to the point, (2) use data effectively to convey the relevance of programs to the state or district the policymaker represents, and (3) practice your pitch before the meeting. Congressional staff are extremely busy. When I worked as a legislative aide for former Sen. Arlen Specter, I conducted at least 9-10 meetings per day. In addition to meeting with constituents, I also had to prepare the senator for hearings, votes, and other meetings. Therefore, following up after the meeting, thanking staff for their time, and building a long-term relationship with Congress and their staff is vital to any successful advocacy campaign. My recommendation to ASTHO members is they shouldn’t think of Washington Week as just one event that happens once a year, but a building block to forging long-term relationships with members of Congress and their staff.