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Government relations team promotes vital research

Office of Government Relations makes case for University causes, values in Washington

EVANSTON - Reporting directly to President Morton Schapiro, Northwestern University’s Office of Government Relations makes the case for the University’s vital interests and research enterprise directly to federal, state and local officials.

The federal government has a profound impact on the University. It is the single largest source of sponsored research, and federal financial aid supports many of Northwestern’s students. Federal tax policy and Northwestern’s tax-exempt status underpin all operations of the University, and federal rules and regulations guide how many staffers do their work.

“For these reasons, we are well organized to communicate with federal officials,” said Bruce Layton, special assistant to the president for government relations. “I assure you that Northwestern will continue to do its share of the work to help preserve federal funding and federal policies that allow our researchers and educators to do the important work they do.”

Northwestern has a government-relations office with locations on each campus. The University also has an office in Washington, D.C., and retains a team of lobbyists there as well, maintaining regular communication with officers of federal agencies and, particularly, with members of Congress who make the final decisions on the federal budget.

Northwestern encourages civic and political engagement by all members of the University community and offers guidance for those who wish to contact government officials.

Most importantly, Northwestern’s Government Relations team is part of a large community of higher education institutions in Washington organized to protect the interests of colleges and universities across the broad spectrum of higher education concerns.

The University is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), the American Council on Education (ACE), the Big Ten Academic Alliance and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU). Northwestern also is a member of many other specialized organizations for business officers, tax-exempt organizations and groups for individual schools or disciplines, such as United for Medical Research (UMR) and the Association of American Medical Colleges.

“These groups are not a hodge-podge of alphabet-soup organizations,” Layton said. “They form a well-organized network of groups that work on a daily basis to influence Congress and federal agencies. There is an impressive amount of teamwork involved.”

Colleges and universities make good use of the distributed power of Congress, and the committee structure by which Congress does its work. There are 535 members of Congress, and they divide their work among two houses, 41 committees and 174 subcommittees.

One subcommittee in each house has responsibility for National Institutes of Health (NIH) appropriations, another for the National Science Foundation appropriations and yet another for those at the Department of Defense. One subcommittee works on student financial aid, and yet another has oversight on tax issues and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Colleges and universities divide up responsibility for reaching out to the committee members of both parties.

Colleges and universities also coordinate their lobbying. The roughly 4,500 public and private colleges and universities spread across the country have considerable influence on members of Congress, because they are important economic actors in the home districts of almost every representative or senator.

Through the Government Relations office and partner organizations, Northwestern works across the board to protect relevant areas of federal funding.

Because of the distributed nature of Congressional decision-making:

  • The University is not asked to choose between requests for research, for example, at the expense of student financial aid;
  • Northwestern will not be asked to choose between requests for funding of the hard sciences at the expense of the social and behavioral sciences or for funding for libraries at the expense of funding for the arts, to give two examples.

Inevitably, at a time of great change and political upheaval in Washington, Northwestern will be affected as a result. Layton, however, declared, “I can only assure you that the universities — and Northwestern among them — will make every effort possible in the difficult years ahead.”

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