APWA public policy advocacy and government affairs
Judith Mueller

APWA President

Editor’s Note: The following presentation was given on September 11 by President Judith Mueller at APWA’s Congress in an education session entitled, “Hot Topics in Public Works: Legislative and Regulatory Update.”

Good morning, everyone, and welcome. I would like to thank you for being here this morning. I’m pleased to have this opportunity to talk about a few of the hot issues facing public works and the public policy advocacy initiatives in which APWA has been involved.

Everyone here this morning certainly understands and appreciates the importance of infrastructure and public works services and their direct link in supporting the quality of life our citizens enjoy in each of our communities. And while we as public works practitioners know this, all too often policy-makers and the public at-large do not share the same understanding, and rarely give it much thought until there is a crisis to deal with. There are many indications that this is so. The nation, for example, still underfunds its infrastructure maintenance and improvement needs, and a sizeable number of our citizens still do not fully understand the costs and the extent of the commitment required to keep these valuable programs and services operating.

APWA has long recognized the need to maintain a strong public policy advocacy voice in Washington, DC and in the states. It was one of the three key goals identified in the strategic planning process last year. As adopted in the five-year strategic plan, that goal states: “APWA will be acknowledged as the public policy advocate for the public infrastructure.”

The value APWA and its members place on advocacy is reflected in the time and effort APWA members devote to ensuring the public works voice is represented in key policy debates-whether it is by writing letters to lawmakers, elected officials or regulatory agency administrators, in building coalitions, by speaking to Congressional staff or members of the media, or by serving on federal advisory committees.

The need for a strong public policy advocacy voice has never been greater than it is now, and there has never been a more critical time to speak in support of important principles relating to effective and responsible public works management-principles such as flexibility, reasonable regulations, local control and sufficient and reliable funding streams for infrastructure. Our challenge is to make sure that we continue to communicate these messages to decision-makers, policy-makers and opinion-leaders, because they make decisions that affect and influence what we do as stewards of the public infrastructure.

Why is it so important that our voices be heard? We are seeing in many areas, for instance-particularly in the environmental arena-increasing regulations and mandates on local governments, often imposed without adequate, or even any, resources to assist in compliance, or without a full understanding of all the impacts on public works and our communities. The goals of the regulation often are good, but sometimes the full impacts are not completely understood or taken into account by regulating authorities. Our job as advocates is to explain the impacts and offer our assistance in improving them.

In areas where we have seen dramatic changes in public policy to the benefit of public works infrastructure and the public good, there is always a need to remain engaged to ensure the continuation of such policies. A good example is reflected in what we are seeing with respect to transportation funding out of the highway trust fund. APWA worked to help achieve the federal transportation funding guarantees now in place as a result of TEA-21, billions of dollars in guaranteed funding that flows to state and local transportation programs. The establishment of those guarantees represented a significant change in budgetary policy at the national level, by restoring integrity to the trust fund and reversing an all-too-frequent practice of keeping transportation investment levels below levels sustainable by trust fund revenue. Although the guarantees remain intact today, pressure has been exerted on more than one occasion since the enactment of TEA-21 to undermine or alter the integrity of the trust fund. Those guarantees remain preserved in large part because public interest groups such as APWA, and their members, explained why they were important to state and local transportation programs.

When policy-makers and the public understand the issues affecting public works, they make the right choices. Survey after survey shows strong public support for public works infrastructure and the vital services we provide, when the public understands the value and benefits derived from the investment made in these programs and services. When you have the support of the public, you have the support of elected officials. Our job as advocates is to help all concerned, the public and elected officials, better understand those benefits.

I have always considered public policy advocacy an important member benefit. As incoming APWA President, I am committed to advancing and supporting our advocacy efforts, and building upon the successes of this past year and prior years. I would like to congratulate Jerry Fay, APWA President, and John German, this year’s Government Affairs Committee chairman, for their leadership and contributions in ably moving APWA’s advocacy agenda forward and making a real difference in making our voices heard.

Let me add that APWA has in place a long-range plan to implement the public policy advocacy goals of the strategic plan, guided by APWA’s government affairs committee with support from APWA government relations staff in the Washington, DC office. Please feel free to contact the DC office to find out how to become involved in member advocacy efforts. APWA staff members are also available to discuss the implications or impact of a public works issue, whether legislative or regulatory. And of course, always feel free to contact the DC office to talk about an advocacy issue you see arising in your state or community or to obtain assistance on how to advocate on behalf of particular concern.