Fighting for Tech Transfer on Capitol Hill

Mike Waring
AUTM Advocacy and Alliances Coordinator

One of the important ways AUTM serves its members is through its advocacy work in Washington, DC. Direct and regular contact with key lawmakers and congressional staff is crucial to having our voice heard by Congress and by the key federal agencies that regulate tech transfer. And some of the same strategies we use in DC can also be useful for AUTM Members in your interactions with university federal relations officers.
On April 20, AUTM CEO Steve Susalka and I spent an entire day visiting with numerous House and Senate staffers who oversee the key committees that have direct impact on technology transfer. We met with aides for the House and Senate Judiciary Committees who are engaged in intellectual property issues, as well as staff for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. It was those science committees that ultimately helped enact the new tech transfer funding programs at NSF as part of the Chips and Science Act passed last year.  We finished the day with a key staffer for the House Appropriations Subcommittee that funds the National Science Foundation, which is administering those new programs.
In all of our meetings, our goals were twofold. First, we were either making or renewing personal relationships with staffers who are the direct link to their bosses. While meeting with lawmakers is always useful, having a strong connection with their designated staffers is essential for AUTM to have a “seat at the table” when issues that affect tech transfer are being considered. The first rule of business is always “know the customer,” and part of our mission was to make sure AUTM is known by them and that we have a line of communication back to them moving forward.
Second, we used these meetings not only to share our views on issues, but also to listen and collect intelligence on the issues those committees are pursuing. What topics will their bosses be holding hearings on or legislating about? What resources does AUTM have to help them frame the issues? Can we participate as a witness at hearings so that lawmakers can hear directly from AUTM representatives about our views on those important issues? We discussed all of these topics and more as we worked our way around Capitol Hill.
I am pleased to report that all of our meetings were well received. It is clear that AUTM is a known commodity for these policy staffers, and our opinion matters to them. They welcomed our visits and were interested in hearing AUTM’s views on those key priorities. This is the framework that AUTM will need to maintain moving forward as Congress works on potential legislation of interest to our profession. The same goes for the White House and for federal agencies.
There is an old adage that you cannot effectively lobby in Washington about legislation until policymakers understand your business. Once they have that understanding, they can then see the issue through your eyes and understand why you are either for or against various policy proposals or bills. Such education is always the first step in DC, and it should be the goal for you and your federal relations officers when discussing issues facing tech transfer.