The 3 C's Meet the 4 P's: How Congress Creates Legislation
IAAAM 1991
Leslie A. Dierauf, VMD
AVMA Congressional Science Fellow; U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, Washington, DC

I know more than a few of you out there are wondering: "What the hell am I doing in Washington, D.C."?

There are many people in this room who were deeply affected by the Exxon Valdez; more than you might realize. Physically I was not one of those people directly involved in the cleaning of Alaska; however, without a doubt, that event, its effects on me, and its effects on my friends in this room, was the single most reason for my moving to Washington D.C and deciding to participate in the federal legislative forum.

As many of you realize, I have done research, taught, volunteered, practiced clinical veterinary medicine and written extensively. Through this organization, I was allowed the opportunity to begin to understand organized scientific societies, how they function and grow, and how they can work with government to generate changes. The only things I hadn't toyed with were policy and politics. And I felt like cleaning Fido's teeth was just not socially relevant any longer, as much as I still enjoyed it. So I applied for and received the honor of a Congressional Science Fellowship.

This Congressional Science Fellowship is sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) (they pay my way, but I am an independent entity in Congress) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (they trained me in an intensive 6 weeks of orientation and interviewing, and they continue to monitor the progress of my Fellowship); in duration, the Fellowship runs through August 31, 1991. The orientation and interviewing process last fall placed me squarely within the professional staff of the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries. This Committee although considered a "non-major" committee ("minor" is a word seldom heard in Congress) behind such Committee giants as Appropriations, Energy and Commerce and others, serves an exceptionally major role in legislative and oversight issues to do with wildlife and fisheries. The part of the Committee Team that I work with investigates and monitors regulations, complaints and comments relative to agencies such as NMFS and FWS; we insure that these agencies follow the MMPA, the ESA, NEPA, etc. And we, along with the help of fellow professional staffers and under the guidance of Members in Congress, initiate, add to or delete legislative language in the form of drafting bills. We also have responsibility for setting up, coordinating expert witnesses and developing Member questions for Committee Hearings.

Although I am a professional member on the Committee, what I plan to discuss with you today are my own views of Congress and Capitol Hill and not those of the Committee I work for or its Members.

So, what are the three C's and how do they work together with the 4 P's? The three C's are communication, collaboration and compromise, and they work hand-in-hand with process perception, policy and politics. In general, unless all 7 of these concepts work together, legislation is not written, much less passed into law. The legislative process is more like Zen and the Art of Legislation, and laws are truly "created", by the interplay of all these 7 entities.

On the home front, it may seem like the gears of Congress turn too slowly. But do you know that in the 101st Congress (1988-1990), 7,640 bills were introduced by the House and 4,184 bills were introduced by the Senate. Of these 11,824 bills, 2,691 passed and went on to the White House where the President signed 2,676 of these pieces of legislation into law (22.6%).

On a more personal level, in the 101st Congress, 35 bills to do with marine mammals, fisheries and aquaculture were introduced, but of these, only 7 bills passed and went on to the President to be signed into law. Two of these 7 were appropriations legislation (i.e. giving annual money to the Department of Commerce), 1 was the Farm Bill (aquaculture), 1 was the Magnuson Fisheries Act, within which was wrapped the Boxer tuna labeling legislation, 1 was appropriations for the Magnuson Act, and 1 was a joint resolution concerning U.S. policy with regard to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), requesting 10 additional years of moratorium on the killing of whales.

What happens to all the bills that don't get passed? Once you understand the process a bill goes through to get passed, you should understand how complex the answer to that question is. In the following list, a bill can be stopped at any point with an "x", a bill can be lobbied at any point with an "*", and you can affect decisions at any of these points.

1.  A bill is drafted by individuals, organizations, the Administration, a House or Senate Members office or a Committee staffer; (x,*)

2.  The bill is sent out for critiquing, first to people within the author(s)'s own sphere of contacts, then to Committee staffers on the appropriate Committees; (x,*)

3.  3. Once perfected, cosponsors are added, the bill is signed by the Member (the bill's sponsor), given a bill number, dropped in the hopper on the floor of the House or Senate, and its short title and relevant comments are published in the Congressional Record

4.  The bill is referred by the Parliamentarian to a Committee or Committees and then on to subcommittee, where hearings are held, the bill is studied and amended, and if passed, is sent back to the Full Committee

5.  The Full Committee debates, studies and amends the bill further, issues a report and if passed, sends the bill to the floor of the originating chamber, where there is further debate and amending; (x,*)

6.  If passed, the bill is sent to the other chamber, where the entire process is repeated, unless a companion bill (one that is similar or a duplicate) is already being processed there; (x,*)

7.  Once a bill passes both chambers, there often are differences due to amendments. If this is the case, a conference committee consisting of Senate and House Members meets and decides on one interpretation of the bill that is acceptable to both chambers; (x,*)

8.  Once the Senate and House agree by majority vote to the same bill language, the legislation is sent to the White House for Presidential approval and signature. If signed, the bill becomes law and is given a public law number, i.e. P.L.101-627 is the Magnuson Fishery and Conservation Act. The President may veto a bill by not signing it, in which case the bill goes back to Congress, where a 2/3s vote of Members in each chamber can override the President's veto. Knowing the complexities (the above 8 steps are highly simplified), a bill can be influenced at many stops along the way, whether those influences come from within Congress itself, from the Administration or from you as a concerned citizen.

Those of you who work in public institutions, such as universities seaquaria have begun to understand what perception is. Perception is a powerful device. Some of you have hired lobbyists to work magic on Congress, lobbyists who hopefully will change Members' and staff's perceptions of issues. There is an even better way. Do you know that all personal letters sent to Congress, to Capitol Hill, actually get read? In a survey conducted on Members of Congress, the following methods of persuasion were voted by them as most to least effective. Letter writing is number one. So, I say, communicate your perceptions as scientists to your elected officials. If you don't, most probably a representative of the other side's "truths'' or emotions is going to. Congress is an oral-aural medium (as my friend Malcolm is want to say). By that I mean, most of every day is spent talking about what you've heard (and what you think you know) and listening to what other people have heard (or think they know).

Then there is the question of policy. How does one come to think like a policy maker? There are technicalities to this question that took me by surprise. First of all, if you are considering writing policy, the Constitution must allow it. Read the Constitution.

It's quite short, but there surely are within it a number of good reasons why it and our democratic way of governing have survived for more than 200 years. Once you have assured yourself that the Constitution will allow such policy, you need to ask if Congress can write legislation on the issue, and you need to understand what does and what does not move a bill along to become an act and then a law. While writing such legislation and taking all the tactics into account, you must also assure yourself that the agencies being authorized to follow the law will be able to write rules that allow them to regulate the issue. And most importantly, if funding is needed, you must be certain that someone on the Appropriations Committee likes your idea as well. Otherwise it's like writing a grant proposal and receiving that letter that says, ``Dear Doctor: We find your research project entitled to be creative and of great scientific merit. Unfortunately however, we are not able to fund your project at this time...."

So what are the tactics one must consider when drafting legislation? In my minimal experience to date, the main strategy is to make the bill lean and mean (start with a small bill), with minimal referrals to jurisdictional committees (referral to more than 3 committees usually means a gloomy chance that the bill will make it out of committee(s) and onto the floor). Don't scare people off with complexities or excessive length. Resist the temptation to draft a regulation. And through it all communicate with everyone and anyone who has a feeling on the legislation. Cooperate with any other Committee's or Member's staffers who may want to participate, and talk to the agencies for whom the legislation is being mandated. Collaborate with anyone you trust. If you disagree with someone else's thoughts, never dislike that person, only dislike that person's view on that particular issue. You'll never know when you'll need that person on your side for another issue. And stick to the facts as you know them and as they sort themselves out for you from the people you trust.

Remember too, Congress drafts statutes, laws which give some leeway for an agency secretary to detail in regulations. Also be sure to consider the legislative history of an issue. Have similar bills on similar subjects been introduced in the past. When? And what happened to them as they traversed through the procedural mazes? The bills that don't get passed often come back to visit the next Congress. The more times a similar bill comes to the floor, the more likely it is that a bill on that subject will eventually get passed into law.

These final questions are where politics and compromise begin to mesh. I must admit that these are the areas about which I have the least amount of knowledge as yet. My goals for my fellowship year are to understand the process, to argue without becoming emotional and to learn to see gray instead of black and white. The art of thinking politically and incorporating historical awareness into the fine art of compromise, comes only with time and concentration. You need to know what Members sit on what committees and exactly what each Committee's jurisdiction is; for instance, do you know that the Appropriations subcommittee that deals with funding for research (NIH, NSF, EPA) only has one pie of money, which must be sliced up not only into scientific research and development, but also housing and urban development (HUD) and veteran's affairs?! You also need to know whose personal and committee staffers are the most powerful and what issue subjects they handle. Often, the amount of time the staffer has spent on the Hill plays a big role here; unfortunately the average time any staffer spends on the Hill is 2.5 years. So what I'm saying is, to be effective you need to study the situation, delve into the details, and approach the right people in the right places at the right times. The more time you spend, the better you will become at understanding the creative nature of the legislative process and the 7 factors which rule it.

Committee Jurisdictions of Interest to Aquatic Animal Medicine and Research

House (most to least powerful politically)

 Appropriations (Jamie Whitten, D-MS)

 spending authority

 Energy and Commerce (John Dingell, D-MI)

 public health

 biomedical research and development

 Foreign Affairs (Lee Hamilton, D-IN)


 United Nations organizations

 international education

 international fishing agreements

 Agriculture (Kika de la Garza, D-TX)

 agricultural colleges and extension services

 (rural electrification!)

 Merchant Marine and Fisheries (Walter Jones, D-NC)


 coastal zone management

 fisheries and wildlife

 including research and conservation

 endangered species, migratory birds, fish hatcheries aquaculture

 National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA), Fish and Wildlife Service

 Public Works and Transportation (Robert Roe, D-NJ)

 Smithsonian institution

 pollution of navigable waters

 Environmental Protection Agency, Army Corps of Engineers

 Science, Space and Technology (George Brown, D-CA)

 National Science Foundation

 scientific research, development and demonstration

 environmental research and development


 Appropriations (Robert Byrd, D-WV)

 spending authority

 Agriculture (Patrick Leahy, D-VT)

 agricultural research and extension services

 food from fresh waters (aquaculture)

 animal industry

 Commerce, Science, and Transportation (Ernest Hollings, D-SC)

 coastal zone management

 marine fisheries

 oceans science

 engineering and technology research and development

 (also sports!)

 Energy and Natural Resources (Bennett Johnson, D-LA)

 global climate change


 Environment and Public Works (Quentin Burdick, D-ND)

 environmental policy

 environmental research and development

 ocean dumping

 fisheries and wildlife environmental effects of toxic substances other than pesticides

 water pollution

 noise pollution

 Foreign Relations (Joseph Biden, D-DE)



 oceans and international

 environmental and scientific affairs

 Labor and Human Resources (Edward Kennedy, D-MA)

 public health

 biomedical research and development

 student loans

 agricultural colleges


Recommended Reading

1.  The Almanac of American Politics by Michael Barone and Grant Ujifusa, National Journal, Washington, D.C. (comes out biennially)

2.  Congressional and Federal Ye/low Books, directories of (1) members of Congress, including committees and key professional staff and (2) all federal agencies, their division and key professional staff, Monitor Publishing' Washington, D.C. (comes out quarterly)

Speaker Information
(click the speaker's name to view other papers and abstracts submitted by this speaker)

Leslie A. Dierauf, VMD

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