Solving Problems is the Key
When working with federal agencies, establishing relationships with key personnel is a critical step in the process.
When working with federal agencies, establishing relationships with key personnel is a critical step in the process. Federal agency personnel working in the transportation and infrastructure sectors are for the most part long-term dedicated professionals who are subject matter experts.
As a federal lobbyist working in this sector, I don’t go in asking for favors. The goal – always – is to solve problems. So, my goal in working with federal agency experts is to be a resource for them, a liaison to the industry, and a problem solver. Here’s an example.
When working with the National Precast Concrete Association, I regularly heard from precasters that they were running into difficulties with FAA specifications on airport infrastructure projects. Some of these specs dated to the mid-1970s and favored underground cast-in-place structures. Over time, sophisticated precast structures have replaced cast-in-place for this type of underground infrastructure, but the FAA’s specs didn’t align with the real world, and it made gaining bid acceptance very difficult for precasters.
I contacted FAA, and initially met in Washington, D.C., with John Dermody, FAA director of Airport Safety and Standards. In talking with John, I described the advantages of updating FAA specifications to align with ASTM standards.
After receiving approvals from FAA, I met repeatedly over three years with Greg Cline, FAA’s senior pavement engineer, to create the language in the document. The result is that we converted an outdated coarse aggregate specification that favored cast-in-place concrete to precast-specific language that opens the door across the country for precast concrete drainage structures on FAA projects.
In addition, we were able to add a QA-QC component that specifically requires the NPCA Plant Certification Program (or an equivalent) as a mandatory requirement. The FAA Advisory Circular covers 19,000-plus airport authorities, including hundreds of major hub airports. It is likely to create a domino effect through the Department of Defense, which references the FAA spec, and other federal agencies. The circular specifies precast concrete for all underground drainage structures for the first time.
The new circular came on the heels of a 5-year Congressional reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Act, which earmarks $96.7 billion for aviation, a portion of which will go to infrastructure improvements at airports across the United States.
The result of all this is that we helped FAA to modernize and align its specification circular and also opened doors for precast concrete manufacturers to submit bids – and gain acceptance – much easier than in the past. It was a positive outcome for both the FAA and for the precast concrete industry. And that’s what lobbying is all about.