On Capitol Hill, perceptions are realities. If the
Congress perceives something, it is a fact. You must never lose sight of this
But — false (unwanted) perceptions can be corrected by
presenting the facts, i.e., using opportunities to "correct the record."
Year-in and year-out, Congress does not sustain 100-day agendas. Chances
are your issue will be handled routinely.
The bulk of public business
does not take place in public, such as hearings or on the Senate and House
floor. Understand how things get done and whether, or how, you should play.
Except in national emergencies,
"deliberate" and "ponderous" are the cornerstones of congressional machinery.
No one, or even two, is in charge, although some are on television more than
others, and some present taller targets for the opposition.
The shortest distance between
two points in Washington is the network between the Pentagon and Capitol Hill.
Congress is never in front of any power curve. It
doesn't start initiatives, infrequently moves on Administration initiatives,
and normally responds only to strong public opinion when it is politically
smart in its interest.
Congress pushes parochial concerns, not always asking what is best for the
Some Members always call for cuts in defense spending...unless such might
affect their district. It's often a case of "do it in the other guy's backyard,
not mine." For examples, see recent base closure lists.
usually get reelected by creating pain: raising taxes, cutting social
Citizens hold Congress (the institution)
responsible for the public interest, and individual Members (notably their
Member) responsible for what they do for them.
Congress may be unable to
change a defense policy or decision but it wants to be part of the process.
Recognize defense acquisition is a two-way street. Without Congress,
there are no programs and no money. Without programs, there is no national
defense (or jobs back home). Dependence on each other produces a "win-win"
situation. Work toward it.
Congress almost never makes a
(pushed-into-the) "corner" solution to a problem.
Congress has the
"right" to do "whatever it wants." So, instead of you saying Congress "can't do
this," say Congress "ought not to," or "it is not prudential to do so."
Congress plays Humpty-Dumpty with the defense budget but no one puts it
back together again.
Regardless of their obvious importance to you,
spare parts and gun ammunition have less political appeal than hardware systems.
This is one reason why "sustainability" and "force modernization" projects,
regardless of how they are spoken, carry lower congressional priorities and
shorter attention spans than main battle tanks, attack submarines, and stealth
Virtually anyone on the Hill can bring something to a halt,
but few can say "yes."
Acquisition legislation usually is triggered by
something that happens. Members just don't sit back and invent issues.
In normal times, Congress doesn't change the thrust of the DoD budget.
It plays on the margins with a little here and there.
myriad agendas attempting to be carried out — state, district, party,
caucus, defense committee, other committee, personal. Understand motivations.
Trade-offs, deal-making, and back scratching form the basic political
process in Congress. With 535 equals (in ego and authority), it is difficult for
one point of view to prevail on everything.
Despite so-called two-year
defense budgets and five-year defense programs, Congress continues to look at
defense issues one year at a time.
Staff, particularly on the "Big Four" (defense) committees, make the bills
happen. Be professional, rather than arrogant, in dealing with them, regardless
of their military expertise.