What Are You Missing?

2020 was a year full of uncertainties and the COVID-19 pandemic forced almost 70 percent of public affairs professionals to dramatically shift the way they do their jobs. That is according to a new survey of over 300 public affairs professionals representing every industry of the global economy conducted by FiscalNote and CQ Roll Call.

Despite all the uncertainties of this past year, the trends impacting public affairs professionals seem all too familiar. The survey found:

  • Teams are staying small, with nearly half of public affairs teams comprising three or fewer people, and nearly 70% comprising six or fewer;
  • Regulatory uncertainty is increasing, with more than 50% of respondents identifying regulatory activity as the biggest shift (besides COVID) impacting their industry;
  • And there is not enough time in the day to cover the expanding volume of issues you need to monitor and understand.

It is this last trend that gets at the crux of the challenges facing public affairs professionals. The four biggest challenges facing respondents to the survey were, “Team size too small” (50%), “Volume of issues you need to monitor” (46%), “lack of budget” (45%), and “not enough time” (41%). So if you feel stretched thin and overwhelmed, at least you know you are not alone. In fact, FiscalNote noted in its report on the survey results, “Over 77 percent of respondents said that the number of public policy issues their organization is tracking has increased [in the past year], with almost 40 percent saying that the number has increased significantly. Contrast that with the earlier responses that teams are staying small, and you’re left with a staggering amount of information that organizations need to discover, monitor, and report on to internal and external stakeholders.”

It is no wonder, then, that the top stressor (59.4%) among the public affairs pros surveyed was “Fear of missing something related to legislation/regulation,” closely followed by “political environment” (58.3%) and “time constraints” (55%). Nearly eight out of ten public affairs professionals believe they sometimes or often miss key updates, and one out of ten is too overwhelmed to even know if they missed something. That means just one out of ten public affairs pros thinks they never miss a thing.

That fear is exactly why we launched Delve five years ago. Since then, effectively leveraging competitive intelligence for public affairs has quickly become a best practice.

Given the small size of many public affairs teams, they may not have the capacity to track and analyze crucial developments – especially when their time is best spent translating that analysis into action to advance the objectives and interests of their organization or clients.

That’s where Delve comes in – our team of rigorously trained analysts leverages innovative techniques and cutting edge technology to ensure we don’t miss a thing that matters to your interests, while distilling those insights into an actionable, easily digestible format. This approach is how our insights change your outcomes.

The Platform Revolution

Here’s What You Need To Know

Driven by the emergence of new technology and online connectivity, the world is in the midst of the next economic revolution. As of 2018, 7 of the 10 most valuable companies in the world were a part of the platform economy. This rapid ascent has put private sector entities, primarily in the technology sector, in a position to make societal decisions that were once decided by communities themselves, often through elected representatives. This shift has significant implications for the business community as economic success  is no longer driven by access to and ability to leverage information, but control over the platform through which that information flows.

This new reality was made clear by the swift reaction by various platforms to the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. It began with Twitter’s announcement that President Trump would be permanently banned from its platform, and in the hours and days that followed, major tech companies seemingly acted in unison to de-platform and blacklist the President of the United States and many of his supporters. Beyond the obvious tech platforms, some in the media are calling for a more expansive de-platforming. A Forbes executive warned companies against hiring former Trump spokespeople, and CNN’s Senior Media Reporter, Oliver Darcy, suggested telecommunications service providers be pressured to deny access to media networks whose content does not meet his approval.

As public affairs professionals and industry leaders watch these developments unfold, it has brought into clearer view the political and reputational risks stemming from the emergence of the platform economy. Reaction to the recent de-platforming’s was swift. While many of Trump’s most staunch opponents celebrated the moves, world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the unprecedented actions “problematic,” and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny slammed the moves as an “unacceptable act of censorship.” From being forced to adjudicate de-platforming demands to the threat of being de-platformed yourself, here’s what you need to know to navigate the challenges ahead.

What Is the Platform Economy and Why Is It Important?

Most of us utilize the platform economy daily for commerce and connection. Companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, and PayPal, all belong to this emerging economic system that utilizes online networks to facilitate digital interactions as a means to sell products, provide services, facilitate payments, and bring about an ever-widening array of connections between users.  These platforms represent a major shift in the way industries and companies conducted business – creating digital space for groups to conduct commerce and build communities of interest.

However, as these platforms continue to grow in size and influence, they have simultaneously assumed a larger role as the arbiters of what is right and wrong. Several years ago, we warned, “the tech industry is increasingly vulnerable to activist pressure and government intervention on a range of issues.” Among those issues, we highlighted the growing divide between the individuals calling for big tech to do more to remove offensive speech and others attacking these attempts as censorship. Since then, the divide has widened, and the pressure has grown even as technology platforms have taken over more areas of our lives and commerce.

The vast troves of user data collected by these tech giants, coupled with the algorithms they deploy allow them to act as the “gatekeepers to the economy” in which they can determine what products and services can be provided to whom. Participants in this new platform economy must also worry that their livelihoods can be taken away from them at any moment if big tech are the ones deciding what is right or wrong. We saw this play out recently with Parler, the “free speech alternative” to Twitter and Facebook, in which Amazon Web Services stopped hosting the app while Google and Apple removed it from their app stores. Regardless of the particulars in Parler’s case, it highlights the power of these platforms to decide who wins and who loses in the platform economy.

What’s at Risk for Platform Companies?

Much of the recent debate has been about Section 230, which protects Internet service providers and tech platforms from being held liable from what their users say online. While Democrats and Republicans agree Section 230 needs reform and President Trump made repealing the rule a rallying cry for his campaign, doing so would likely make platforms more restrictive, as they would no longer be shielded from liability. Regardless of the outcome of this debate, platform companies will face increased public scrutiny and pressure to act on the commerce and conversations that happen on their platforms at the risk of alienating segments of their users. If this alienation leads to reduction in active users, the value of the platforms and their business models could be disrupted.

Platforms that have, even when begrudgingly, inserted themselves as the arbiter of what is and is not deemed acceptable participation in society are already beginning to recognize the peril such a role brings. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, even acknowledged that his decision to ban President Trump could have major ramifications, stating the ban “sets a precedent I feel is dangerous: the power an individual or corporation has over a part of the global public conversation.” In 2017, the Supreme Court ruled in unanimous fashion against a North Carolina law that would have banned convicted sex offenders from using social media. In the ruling, Justice Kagan argued social media has “become a crucially important channel of political communication,” lending credence to the argument that these platforms could face regulation similar to  public utilities that are required to be open and accessible to all.

What’s at Stake for Those Who Rely on These Platforms?

As we have seen, the emergence of the platform economy has major implications for businesses and private citizens. These platforms have provided an opportunity for businesses to expand and connect in ways never before seen and have given a voice to private citizens that may have previously been unheard. Yet, as these platforms have continued to grow in size and popularity, they can create reputational and political risk for business and individuals who rely on these platforms. Companies that have spent years, or even decades building their reputation can now be destroyed in one viral moment, and if the court of public opinion rules that your brand is not “woke” enough, then you run the risk of being canceled or de-platformed. As the debate surrounding the platform economy continues to unfold, it will be crucial for public affairs professionals to stay ahead of the knowledge curve to best prepare their clients for what comes next.


The Gig Is Not Up…Yet

Here’s What You Need To Know

In the 2020 general election, voters considered 120 statewide ballot initiatives on matters ranging from legalizing heroin in Oregon to taxing oil companies in Alaska. But perhaps the biggest changes came in measures governing labor practices. From Florida’s passage of a $15/hour minimum wage to California voters’ overwhelmingly passing Proposition 22, which overturned legislation that strongly curtails the state’s booming “gig economy.” Business advocates warn that such overhauls are not only disastrous for jobs and the economy at-large but also could fundamentally disrupt the way people interact in the labor marketplace. Despite the win at the California ballot box a few weeks ago, these desired policy changes should have public affairs professionals on high alert, as any major overhaul of independent contracting parameters could affect a wide array of industries and interests.

Here’s what you need to know about the fight over the gig economy in California and what it could mean nationally.

California Legislators Set Fire to the Gig Economy. On Election Day, Voters Extinguished Some of the Flames.

Easy as ABC?: Earlier this year, Governor Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) signed California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) into law with the gig economy in mind. The bill codified the ABC Test, first outlined in the California Supreme Court’s ruling in the controversial 2018 court case Dynamex Operations West, Inc. vs. Superior Court. The court’s ruling provided a possible three-prong assessment to determine if a worker classified as a contractor should instead be designated an employee. Once AB5 cemented the ABC Test as law, gig economy workers in California could no longer be considered independent contractors unless their employers met exacting exceptions – though its implications reached well beyond those technology platforms. The final version of the bill did provide industry-specific carveouts successfully negotiated by certain opponents to the measures, including professionals in more than a dozen industries ranging from doctors to travel agents. However, notably excluded from these carve outs were app-based ridesharing and delivery services.

Your Ballot Measure Has Arrived: In response to AB5’s passage, DoorDash, Uber, and Lyft each committed $30 million to pass a ballot initiative that would exempt rideshare and delivery drivers, while others like Instacart activated their team members to help win public support. The coalition argued that it had already made good faith efforts to guarantee better benefits for contractors, like a minimum $21 per hour wage while on a trip, sick leave, and even endorsed a drivers’ labor union. However, lawmakers’ insistence on classifying these contractors as employees, these companies said, could limit the flexibility their drivers enjoyed and greatly curtail their ability to earn a living. Activist groups set up demonstrations to express their displeasure at the companies’ response, even attempting to stage protests at the homes of Uber executives. After months of passionate campaigning from both sides, rideshare and delivery companies were victorious, and Proposition 22, which created exemptions for their shared industry, passed with a more than 17-point margin.

20th Century Labor Laws Won’t Work in Modern Times. So, What’s Next for the Gig Economy?

Proposition with Conditions: Proposition 22 provided narrow exemptions for workers at large rideshare or delivery companies, like Uber and DoorDash. They have already committed to employing a similar strategy if faced with similar state-based or national legislation. But, for millions of other contract workers in California who don’t meet current exemptions, AB5 remains a major obstacle to finding and keeping work. Some are using social media to strategize about ways to get around the law. Meanwhile, professional coalitions, like the International Franchise Association and a hotel owners association, are gearing up for well-funded battles against the law in court. These organizations view union efforts to dismantle the gig economy as part of a larger strategy to significantly reshape labor practices in the U.S. by passing long-hoped-for policy initiatives, like compulsory membership, card check, higher payroll taxes, and more employer-sponsored benefits.

Future Fights Ahead: Groups mounting challenges to AB5 understand that this policy debate will not only impact the millions of workers in the nation’s largest state, but that California can be a leading indicator of policy initiatives across the country. Prominent Democratic lawmakers, including President-elect Joe Biden, have already vocalized support for the law and indicated they would like to see it adopted nationwide. Biden has also endorsed the federal PRO Act, which would make it more difficult for workers to be classified as independent contractors. Estimates project that these changes could cost already struggling businesses up to an additional $12.1 billion annually. However, with the chances for a divided government seeming likely, the PRO Act is unlikely to pass in the Senate. Still, California Attorney General, Democrat Xavier Becerra, who is responsible for defending AB5, is widely regarded as a top tier pick in a Biden Administration. If he were picked to be U.S. Attorney General, Becerra could muster the might of the U.S. Department of Justice to beat back any attempts to prevent measures similar to AB5 from passing in other states while encouraging stronger federal enforcement on the use of contractors. A Biden Administration is also likely to reverse the direction of a Trump Administration proposed rule that would make it harder to win employment rights for independent contractors. However, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has already vowed to fight to  make the Prop 22 model a national standard and told investors that Uber will  “loudly advocate” for similar measures in states across the country.

How Public Affairs Professionals Can Prepare: While an industry may not at first seem to be caught in the crossfire, new rules on contractors could affect more than 13 million workers who create $1.6 trillion in annual economic output, amounting to about They come from every industry, from aestheticians to farmers to maintenance workers to medical professionals. It would also undermine the significant shift in how people and companies interact in the labor marketplace that has been under way thanks to the rise of online, mobile platforms that connect willing workers with companies and individuals willing to pay them for work on demand. Public affairs professionals must monitor not only the ongoing organizing of activists in key states, but also deliberations over how the incoming president may shape this debate. Competitive intelligence is the key to anticipating these challenges, rising to the occasion, and winning when it really counts.

Five Ways To Stay Ahead During the Transition

It may be some time until we know for sure who will be sworn in as president on January 20, 2021, but behind the scenes both candidates’ teams are preparing for the transition in earnest. Even when the election outcome is clear, “The Swamp” is never murkier than in the heat of a presidential transition. That poses a challenge for public affairs professionals helping their organizations anticipate the impact of the next administration.

In 2016, Delve launched “The Administration Project,” a unique policy and personnel analysis service that gave our clients the expert insights they needed to thrive in a new and often surprising administration. We learned a lot from this venture, and we’re passing that knowledge to you. Here’s what you need to know to successfully navigate the transition and big policy debates ahead:

Read Beyond the Headlines

In the days and weeks ahead, ballot counting and ongoing litigation will dominate the headlines, but both Trump and Biden are already deep into planning their transitions. Even once the counting ends, what you read in Twitter punditry and bite-sized newsletter updates may signal a common theme, but they don’t often tell the full or real story. So, beware of following the media’s focus, framing, and editorializing. Often, political reporters begin with a narrative, write a story around it, and then seek sources who, no matter how “in the know” they really are, confirm the reporter’s assumptions. Add in editors seeking headlines that get people clicking and sharing, even if those headlines overstate or misconstrue the supposed news in the story, and it can be hard to discern what news matters to you. With younger and more inexperienced journalists now dictating a lot of public discourse thanks to a range of trends in the media industry, much of modern media coverage lacks the institutional knowledge to provide an accurate depiction of perennial events like a transition. So, while others may focus on the sensational headlines, public affairs professionals will need to pay attention to what’s practical to them – even if it is buried deep in the story or actually in a primary source rather than the news.

Filter Out the Noise

The transition presents a classic Washington silly season, and any silly season is going to be, well, silly. Because we know this likelihood, it shouldn’t surprise us when the next few weeks and months are filled with tabloid-style political melodramas, complete with breathless quotes from anonymous sources, wild speculation from those who should know better, and supposed clashes that may only exist on Twitter. To better discern what’s real and what’s a distraction, stick close to reliable sources beyond the media while ensuring you understand the relevant institutions and their histories. What do presidential transition teams look for when determining key posts? With a near-certain GOP majority in the Senate, how will that shape what kinds of appointments the next president can make? What policy changes can an administration actually achieve within the parameters of their executive authority? By considering these questions, you will have an advantage in forecasting who might fill key administration spots or what policies really are on the docket. If you’re overwhelmed with trivial things that we’ll all forget in a few days’ time, you’ll miss the critical opportunity to get ahead. Commit to using your time for the things that matter.

But Make Sure You Don’t Miss a Thing!

While it may seem counterintuitive to filtering out the noise, these two tips go hand-in-hand. With a better grip on what’s important, you’ll have more time and brainpower to dedicate to the things you really don’t want to miss. After all, fear of missing a critical development is a major concern for public affairs professionals. To overcome that fear, be sure to look beyond news clips and TV hits. See what different industry coalitions and activist groups are saying. Tap into the social media accounts of reliable, plugged-in sources of influence. Is there a pattern or trend? Are there places you should be looking often and others you can ignore? You should also develop a plan to organize your work and stick to what you know you’ll need to know. News that matters does not come fully formed until it is too late to act on it. Organizing the drips and drabs of news as they come out from disparate sources lets you connect the dots faster. This will help you avoid the race to catch up to breaking news that fades or reacting to things that really don’t matter. Following a wide variety of sources while filtering out the noise can be overwhelming, so you might consider leveraging a competitive intelligence partner to keep you ahead of the curve.

Understand Motives and Agendas

Once you know what you should care about and how you’ll analyze information as you receive it, it’s important to factor in what motives and agendas could be at play throughout the transition. We know the media and their sources all have their own objectives, and they’re eager for a variety of audiences to be persuaded by their efforts. Common agenda-setting in press coverage may mean that a source’s quote is misrepresented or missing key context. There’s also a possibility that a quoted source, named or anonymous, isn’t actually an informed one, but instead, just someone eager to talk to a reporter. Don’t forget: anyone in Washington can feign expertise or connectivity to people in power. So, when you learn of a new name floated for a particular post, read beyond the headlines and ask yourself: is this a trial balloon for a legitimate candidate, or is this just a dutiful staffer anonymously stroking the ego of his or her boss? A trial balloon may indicate real interest on the side of either the administration or the prospective job candidate. Or, it might the administration testing the public or industries’ tolerance for another pick altogether. To avoid getting swept up in the craze, analyze whether or not a candidate is a good fit on paper, has the right personality for the administration, and if he or she could survive a Senate confirmation fight.

Map the Influencers

It’s not always the marquee names who shape public policy. Much of the media speculation and industry and activist groups’ attention may focus on Cabinet picks, but sub-cabinet and staff-level appointees are far more likely to make a meaningful impact on the rules and regulations that affect key industries, particularly those tapped for “beachhead” or “jump” teams parachuting into agencies to figure out what’s what and shepherd in the new administration’s agenda. To figure out who these people might be, watch the bundlers, buddies, and backers – political friends and allies who an administration trusts to give them direction in filling the thousands of posts that are open, as well as campaign staffers and volunteers who earned spots by getting the boss elected. Understand not just who these allies are, but who stands in the wings behind them. Knowing a president’s kitchen cabinet may be obvious, but all of those kitchen cabinet members have their own kitchen cabinets as well. Consider how Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) helped guide the Trump Administration’s environmental appointments, recommending fellow Oklahoman Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and then helping Pruitt staff the agency with his own trusted staffers – including Pruitt’s successor Andrew Wheeler.

The Art of the (Trade) Deal

Here’s What You Need To Know

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump was able to leverage already growing angst on trade to advance his quest for The White House. Now, after nearly four years of trade wars, supply chain disruption, and sanctions, America has its greatest trade deficit in 14 years. Complicating matters is election year uncertainty about what the next presidential administration – be it a Trump second term or a transition to Joe Biden – will mean for how companies conduct business at home and abroad.

This uncertainty clearly has C-suites concerned, with a 2020 Conference Board survey of CEOs from around the world ranking trade disruptions as their second biggest external worry. In the U.S., corporate executives say it’s their fourth biggest worry, tied with the related issue of global political instability. This pain is felt here at home, according to the Mercatus Institute, which determined that uncertainty about shifts in trade policy has resulted in an approximate $53.4 billion decline in foreign direct investment flows to the U.S.

There is no question trade policy instability – already exacerbated by the pandemic – will keep public affairs professionals on their toes in the coming administration, no matter who wins. For the industries and coalitions impacted by trade, the debate is more than just tariffs and saber rattling. The future of America’s supply chain and relations with key allies and competitors around the world is at stake. To help these professionals anticipate what is next in the trade debates, here is what you need to know.

The Trade Wars Have Only Just Begun

European Friends in Diplomacy, Foes in Trade?: While Joe Biden vows to end the “artificial trade war” launched by the Trump Administration against the EU, experts argue his trade policies would actually make matters worse, citing Biden’s penchant for “preferential treatment for U.S.-made goods, a long list of subsidies to domestic industries, and a ban on foreign companies from government procurement,” policies that Foreign Policy notes are often “widely abused by governments and corporations, and often lead to a spiral of retaliation by other countries.”

Fighting the Red Dragon: Both candidates are vowing increased pressure on China but have different ideas on how to get it done, a phenomenon the Los Angeles Times dubbed the “same diagnosis, different prescription.” The biggest difference, the Times explains, is that Biden would seek more international backing for any retaliation against China, while Trump acts independently. Of particular interest is what will happen to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade deal initiated by President Obama while Biden was vice president and from which Trump withdrew. Because so many Democratic lawmakers and leftwing activists opposed the TPP, it is uncertain whether Biden would consider reviving U.S. participation.

WTO Woes:  President Trump has been very critical of the World Trade Organization, arguing repeatedly that the international body had been too soft on China, and his administration has, “undermined the organization’s highest dispute-resolution forum, the Appellate Body, by locking the nomination of new judges until in December [2019] it was no longer able to operate.” In retaliation, 17 WTO members, including the EU, Brazil, and China, set up their own parallel WTO court without the U.S. Undeterred by repeated measures from the WTO to stifle American action, Trump continued to criticize the organization and promised to act in American interests. While pro-trade advocates had hoped Biden would be a better ally than Trump, critics warn he won’t fix the system, but instead, advance policies similar to those from Trump.

The Next President Wants You to “Buy American”

A Trade Consensus … Sort Of: In the 2016 election, Donald Trump stressed the importance of rebuilding American industries. In 2020, both he and Joe Biden are making it a large part of their platforms. In fact, even Democrats once skeptical of protectionist measures enacted by the Trump Administration, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), are embracing a “Buy American” approach, urging Biden to consider maintaining some of the previous administration’s tariffs if he is elected. While their ideas may be different on how to transform trade, it seems that, at least for the foreseeable future, “Buy American” is politically popular (75 percent said they would support such policies) and will be around for a while.

It’s Still All About China: With the Trump Administration’s laser focus on China as the coronavirus culprit, a second Trump term would inevitably feature new punitive actions against the Asian nation. These actions extend far beyond tariffs, with President Trump banning federal contracts with companies that use Huawei and other Chinese companies and issuing an executive order attempting to force a sale of Tik Tok and restrictions on WeChat. The public overwhelmingly supports an anti-China approach, with record numbers of Americans holding unfavorable views of China. Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, 77 percent said they thought tariffs were an important way to discourage U.S. companies from moving abroad. While both parties are open to tariffs, Republicans offer businesses via regulatory reform and tax reform as a carrot, while Democrats instead prefer fees and fines as a stick.

Coronavirus Spurs Continued Supply Chain Scrutiny: Harvard Business Review called the pandemic a “wake-up call for supply chain management.” Indeed, coronavirus has exposed how fragile our supply chain is, especially for delivering resources critical to public health and national security. The Department of Defense has long warned about the problem, with experts citing China’s role in manufacturing and distributing vital drugs, equipment, and supplies. Now, both political parties want to incentivize repatriation of critical industries to the U.S. The Biden campaign has announced a variety of rules it will implement, including filling the Strategic National Stockpile with American-made goods as much as possible. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration says supply chains should be entirely in the U.S. Critics argue that these measures are needlessly costly, while supporters insist it’s in the best interest of jobs and national security for the country. In either case, a variety of interests will want their voices heard, from labor unions eager to have a say in what those jobs look like to corporations trying to make sense of what tax, regulatory, labor and trade conditions may arise.

Sanctions May Shift From Snapbacks to Solidarity, but They’re Here To Stay

Iran Deal Drama: Much to the chagrin of European allies, the Trump Administration has acted aggressively to stop Iran’s global threat, backing out of the controversial Obama era Iran Deal, which the administration described as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United State has entered into.” In 2019, the Trump Administration notified the U.N. Security Council that it would “restore virtually all of the previously suspending United Nations on Iran,” using a “snapback” provision in the deal used by the Obama Administration to assure wary Senators. This move drew the consternation of fellow U.N. Security Council members, and few allies have joined the renewed U.S. sanctions regime. Meanwhile, critics argued that restrictions on doing business with Iran make things difficult for the banking and energy sectors, while some scholars and progressive activists have promoted lifting sanctions to benefit both Iran’s and America’s economies. More hawkish voices continue to advocate against any step to normalize relations with Iran, a state they feel is hostile to American interests, allies, and security. While Biden has already promised to “offer Tehran a credible path to diplomacy,” there are no indications that Trump would back down from his strong stance on Iran.

Dealing with Bad Actors: Sanctions on countries engaged in human rights offenses and illegal economic practices are also likely to continue in the next term. The Trump Administration enjoyed broad bipartisan support for its sanctions on Venezuela, and Joe Biden says he’ll push for more sanctions against Maduro’s regime if they can be accomplished multilaterally. While existing sanctions are focused on thwarting public sector economic activity for the socialist regime, some worry that pressures could bleed into the private sector, affecting international businesses and important American trading partners, like India. America also has enacted sanctions upon China for a myriad of offenses, including its military aggression, illegal trade practices, and its ongoing persecution of religious minorities, including Uyghur Muslims. Sanctions are also being used to address China’s forceful takeover of the once-independent Hong Kong.

Russia, Russia, Russia: Meanwhile, many in Washington remain concerned about Russia’s growing influence in the world. Title III of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), sanctions Russian oil and gas, defense and security, and banking sectors in response to the country’s aggression in Ukraine and interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Democrats want to take that law a step further with the Defending Elections against Trolls from Enemy Regimes (DETER) Act as another way to punish Russia for what they feel was undue influence in the previous presidential election by banning these individuals from entering the U.S. Given the likelihood of continued Russian – as well as Iranian and Chinese – interference in the current election, the next president will be forced to weigh further sanctions on nations fundamentally at odds with American values while fortifying America’s and the world’s economies as they recover from the global pandemic.

Going at It Alone or Building Consensus: Conventional wisdom and history suggest it is effective to have multiple parties join in sanctions efforts. For the Trump Administration, wielding power via sanctions often meant “going at it alone.” With Democrats more interested in building international consensus, this could mean reversing key efforts by the Trump Administration that lacked support from other countries. This wildly different approach will greatly affect the ability of industries to forecast how policies may change with a new administration, and in particular, what thresholds will need to be met for major overhauls in trade policy.

Prepare for the Coming Upheaval

In an increasingly globalized marketplace, trade policy has never been more important – in politics and in business. The variability from one administration to the next, and an ever-changing list of friends and foes on either side of a policy, makes navigating these challenges even more difficult for the public affairs professionals representing industries doing business at home and abroad. Competitive intelligence is the key to seeing what’s around the corner and being prepared to meet it head-on. Delve stands ready to help you tackle the trade upheavals ahead – and anything else the next administration will bring.

You Will Have 78 Days

Here’s What You Need to Know

Labor Day signifies the home stretch to the election, but here at Delve, we are already thinking about what happens next. After the election comes policymaking that will impact a range of businesses and other interests – both in the frenzy of yearend deals and beyond. To help public affairs professionals prepare, this fall TL;DR will focus on the key challenges and opportunities companies and industries will face after the election is over and as the next administration (and Congress) prepares to govern.

To kick off this series, we focus on the 78 days between the 2020 general election and the 2021 presidential inauguration. If the election results are contested or uncertain, the country could be torn apart – and other policymaking put on hold while the results become clearer. There is also likely to be a “lame duck” legislation session with a potential rush of consequential legislation. Plus, the presidential transition – whether to a second Trump term or the new Biden administration – will spark jockeying to shape policy agendas and the personnel appointments that advance and undermine them.

All of these pose risks and opportunities for public affairs professionals, so to maximize your organization’s impact in those 78 days, here’s what you need to know.

If You Think the Presidential Campaign Is Contentious Now, Imagine What It Will Be Like if Election Results Are in Doubt

The Never-Ending Election Night?: With historic numbers of mail-in ballots expected in the 2020 general election, some experts warn that it could take “weeks” to decisively determine an election winner, while others are saying that come election night, it may appear that President Trump could have “won,” only for Joe Biden to be declared victor once mail-in votes are all counted. As our nation treads uncertain waters, the distrust in government and the news media will leave a void, and many will turn to more trusted institutions to fill it.

Electoral Uncertainty Could Force Corporate America To Choose Sides. Amidst the chaos of an unclear result, many Americans, or at least the online activists who profess to speak on their behalf, will demand action. With companies far more trusted than government and increasingly comfortable speaking out on social issues, there will be considerable pressure for companies and their CEOs to speak out and take sides on who won, both directly and through signaling partisan alignment on issues like “voting rights” and election integrity. In an age when “silence is violence,” many consumers will expect trusted brands to take a stand, even when it seems illogical to get involved in politics. A failure to act – or at least signal agreement with the most vociferous voices haranguing them – could result in social media backlash, boycotts, and even pain in the stock market.

Companies Should Prepare Now For The Onslaught. This potential scenario means that public affairs professionals will need to prepare business leaders across the country to have an outsized voice in the weeks between the election and when the winner is announced. To do so, it will be crucial to have a thorough understanding of who your stakeholders are – from political and community leaders to policymakers to financial markets to employees and customers – as well as where they are likely to stand in this debate. Shaping your messaging and engaging these stakeholders cannot wait until the uncertainty have arrived. To add more confusion, while planning for such vulnerabilities, public affairs professionals must also consider how they will navigate and engage two possible transition teams – a prospect unseen in twenty years.

What Congress Hasn’t Finished by September Will Be Taken up in the “Lame Duck.” Public Affairs Professionals Need To Be Ready.

Lame Ducks Can Still Hold Surprises: The headlines for the lame duck are likely to focus on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded and other must pass spending bills like the National Defense Authorization Act and the Water Resources Development Act. However, it is what happens below the headlines that can keep public affairs professionals on their toes. The rush to finish legislation before the term ends is ripe for last minute provisions that can catch advocates off guard if they have not properly assessed the landscape and put the right monitoring program in place. Industries must anticipate that policy fights thought vanquished by one side are seen as unfinished by another. With the right Congressional champion, such fights can return in a blink amidst the lame duck deal making.

The Presidential Transition Is Already Underway – Are You Prepared?

As Nominations Replace the Horse Race as Media Obsession, Companies Can Shape The Next Cabinet: It is safe to say that both the Trump Administration and the Biden campaign are already plotting the course for the next presidential term and which allies could fill key executive and judicial posts. When The White House switches party control, cabinet secretaries, including those in seemingly apolitical posts, will always be expected to resign with the notable exception of Secretaries of Defense during active wartime, and even re-elected presidents tend to have considerable post-election turnover. Political prognostication and leaks from campaigns, transition teams and likely administration officials will be ubiquitous. To ensure their interests are protected before nominees are announced, public affairs professionals need a strategy to connect with decision makers backed by thorough vetting of possible nominees and careful monitoring of new developments. Once a nominee is announced, it may be too late to stop them.

Nomination Fights Have Become Professionalized Advocacy Operations – Make Sure You Are Ready to Win: The days when presidents nearly always enjoyed the privilege of appointing whomever they wished for cabinet and judicial positions – absent a glaring character or professional failure – have long since passed. Now, no matter who wins the presidency in November, each of his nominees are likely to face an onslaught of criticism and organized, well-funded efforts to thwart their nomination. Highly connected groups of activists, buttressed by tens of millions of dollars in political funding, stand ready to disrupt hearings, flood Congressional switchboards, and make media plays to get their way. Supportive organizations and their activists will also do their part. Meanwhile, public affairs professionals also have an important role to play in this process. To the Senators considering nominees and the general public watching it all unfold, the voices of respected industry coalitions really do matter, and it can affect perceptions of a nominee as he or she proceeds through the confirmation. Because things happen so quickly, public affairs professionals must be prepared to navigate any potential nominee, as well as anticipate how his or her nomination could go.

Stay Calm in the Mad Dash With the Right Insights

The 78 days between the 2020 general election and the next presidential inauguration will bring Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year celebrations. They’ll also bring a policy mad dash when the “lame duck” session welcomes contentious legislative negotiations and last-minute deadlines, as well as a media frenzy on potential appointments for a new presidential term. In today’s fast-changing political environment, public affairs professionals cannot wait until the election is over to think about what comes next. They must see whatever sits waiting for their organization around the corner, whether it is an opportunity or a challenge. Delve’s insights can help them do so.

A Fair Hearing

Here’s What You Need To Know

Watching the four major technology industry CEOs be called before a Congressional committee this week, public affairs professionals inside and outside the Beltway could only think, “There but for the grace of the news cycle goes my boss.” Indeed, that hearing was just one of several prominent hearings held this week that highlighted a challenging recent trend to which public affairs teams must adapt to protect their companies’ and industries’ reputation and policy interests.

Congressional hearings as theater is certainly not new, but like many other aspects of today’s civic discourse, the rancor has reached new depths. From how and why hearings are held to how Members of Congress use (and “reclaim”) their time for questions to whether witnesses even get to answer those questions to the speed and volume of reporting and messaging around a hearing, the spotlights on seats at the witness table produce more heat (and less light) than ever before.

To ensure their principal is prepared for this hot seat, public affairs professionals need to dig deeper to ensure they understand their side’s vulnerabilities and challenges, anticipate the motivations and messages of the legislators, and be fully aware of the other stakeholders and advocates looking to use the hearing to their advantage. Because hearings happen in an echo chamber, not a vacuum, here’s what you need to know to navigate them successfully.

Congressional Hearings Have Changed – So Must Your Strategy To Survive Them

For most of history, Congressional hearings have been largely focused on legitimate fact-finding. Lawmakers would interview witnesses as they sought to understand current events, solve a problem, or craft legislation. These days, however, Congressional hearings provide lawmakers uninterrupted camera time in the hopes of creating a viral moment their allies and supporters can highlight well after the hearing concludes. And during the Trump Administration, much of the posturing in hearings is meant to prove or disprove the validity of executive action or statements, even when the witnesses are from the private sector.

Disconnecting Congressional hearings from their legislative purpose also means witnesses can be called up time and time again to keep the spotlight on an issue, leaving little hope that a matter is closed once a long day of hearings is done. To be prepared for a marathon of scrutiny that may never end, public affairs teams must have a long-term strategy grounded in consistent, actionable intelligence. Getting and keeping the information advantage offered by such intelligence means following these three rules of hearing survival.

The First Rule of Hearing Survival: Know Thyself

Vet Your Witness: Smart witnesses know they should have as much knowledge about their own vulnerabilities and challenges as they do about the others in the committee room. These concern not only the individual testifying but also the organization and industry they represent. Lawmakers, fellow witnesses, and the press may call into question educational and professional qualifications, social affiliations, political leanings, media controversies, social media posts, or articles written long ago in different times. An edgy Facebook post may have gotten laughs in 2008, but it may be out of bounds in 2020. “Liked” a tweet to bookmark it for later reading? Get ready for it to be viewed as an endorsement of another Twitter user’s views. These days, nothing is off limits, and no one is given the benefit of the doubt. Witnesses must accept this reality and anticipate potential challenges it could pose. A thorough vulnerability analysis of the principal and organization ensures there are no surprise questions or fumbles that could have been avoided.

Assess Your Organization and Industry: Lawmakers and the press may also dig deeper into the state of the organization a witness represents, forcing them to deftly and truthfully respond to inquiries about employee welfare, investment practices, hiring standards, profits, executive compensation, and international relationships. Here, again, political contributions and advocacy of the witness, organization, and its affiliated industry can come into question.

A witness should also be prepared to address past organizational or industry problems, as well as provide concrete examples of how these wrongs have been righted and how leaders have taken accountability to correct the course. Throughout preparations and the hearing, public affairs professionals should keep in mind how their organization and industry are currently being viewed by lawmakers, stakeholders, the public, and the press. If current views are negative, they must develop messaging that is not merely defensive, but instead, explains its merits and justifies the validity of their testimony. Without a clear-eyed assessment of your risks and challenges, you cannot survive such questions in a public hearing unscathed.

The Second Rule of Hearing Survival: Read – And Research – The Room

Understand Legislators’ Motivations and Expectations: Hearings are usually intended to generate headlines. So in addition to the obvious logistics of a hearing, public affairs professionals should consider the motivations and expectations of those calling the hearing – whether they are to drive a public narrative, glean actual knowledge about a topic, or merely use the witness as a proxy for the opposing party or administration. There are also interest groups – labor unions, trial lawyers, advocates, industry coalitions – who want hearings called and who provide lawmakers with materials to frame the debate. It is often these same groups with whom a witness’s organization frequently interacts, whether positively or negatively. Keeping a careful watch of these stakeholders’ and advocates’ ongoing activities, messaging, and tactics can give a witness a better grasp on why a hearing is taking place and how others might want to use it.

Know Who is on the Dais: Beyond the hearing setup, witnesses must be keenly aware of the personalities and agenda at play on the dais – who is friend and who is foe, and who has hidden interests or connections? Lawmakers may have a specific policy passion that guides much of their political philosophy and work on the Hill, and naturally, they may have their own conflicts of interest, too. Lawmakers also have sizable research teams, both in their personal offices and on the committee staff, not to mention the materials provided from advocates and lobbyists, so they will be ready to ask the hard questions. Not only should witnesses be prepared to answer those questions, but they should also know why they are being asked.

The Third Rule of Hearing Survival: Echo Chambers Require Echoes

Lights, Camera, Action: For many lawmakers, hearings present a rare opportunity for uninterrupted camera time. This new reality can transform committee hearings from fact-finding missions to live performances, complete with dramatic displays and pithy one-liners, often at the witness’s expense. In recent weeks, Americans have seen firsthand the manic tendency of lawmakers to “reclaim [their] time,” giving a witness few or no seconds to answer a question or respond to an accusation made about them.

Unfortunately, lawmakers sometimes have little to no basic knowledge about a topic of a hearing. They typically rely upon notes and prepared questions from staffers, but they might not understand answers a witness gives or the complex issues they are ostensibly trying to explore. To save face, some lean into bombastic and fact-less tirades, leaving the witness no choice but to sit silently as he or she is smeared. If a witness is prepared, he or she won’t be rattled. Instead, the witness will fully expect a lawmaker or fellow witness to act on behalf of a particular agenda and will know how to anticipate, pre-but, and navigate it.

Identify Who Really Drives the Narrative: While they might not have an actual seat at the table in the committee room, there are other players to consider in a Congressional hearing. The media can frame a hearing however they’d like, often looking for “gotcha” questions that embarrass a witness or a sensational exchange that may get clicks without including any substantive content. In the era of soundbites and Twitter quips, a quote can be sliced and diced without context to create a totally imagined reality. Thorough, insightful research can help a principal better prepare by increasing his or her awareness of how the subject matter, an organization, or a witness is likely to be portrayed by the press.

Prepare to Preempt: While activists may not always be in the committee room, they can still shape what happens, whether with in-person protests or by flooding social media feeds with hostile messaging. Effective competitive intelligence is more than watching when it happens. It requires tracking previous activities, projecting their future plans, and anticipating risks to those they target. It also means fully grasping the extent of their influence, as well as questioning their credibility. They, too, have biases and vulnerabilities to consider. 

Use These Rules To Adapt. Public Affairs Is Now Survival of the Smartest.

“Always be prepared” is more than the Boy Scouts’ motto. It is how smart public affairs professionals regard the work they must do to be ready for such a moment long before it arises. Organizations need to know what their friends and foes say about them, and they should be prepared to address any attack that could come their way. That takes more than monitoring media mentions. It means understanding how their detractors talk about them, organize against them, and plan to make life difficult for them. This requires a long-term investment in competitive intelligence. By the time you think you need it, it may be too late to learn all you need to know.

Delving in Together: Government Keeps Governing, Even in a Crisis

In public affairs, what you don’t know can hurt you. As we are bombarded with so much information during the coronavirus pandemic, it can be hard to keep track of it all. That is why, now more than ever, Delve is committed to helping government relations professionals maintain an information advantage, even as COVID-19 overshadows other developments that would typically be front page news.

Because the analysts here at Delve are dedicated to ensuring you don’t miss anything that matters to your interests, we wanted to fill you in on what is been happening inside governments – outside of their COVID-19 response. While we might all be stuck inside for a few weeks more, at every level and in every jurisdiction, governments are still governing, courts are still ruling, and advocates are still making their cases. One need look no further than the energy and environmental policy arena to see just how much governments have continued to do even in the midst of a global pandemic.

We have been tracking these under the radar issues to understand the changes governments have made that affect energy and other companies so that you, too, may anticipate what could lay ahead for your industry.

  • Keystone XL Pipeline Court Drama Continues: Last week, a federal judge invalidated a critical permit for construction of the long-awaited Keystone XL Pipeline. Chief Judge Brian Morris of U.S. District Court for Montana ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers “failed to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service to see if the updated nationwide permit would endanger animals and plants protected by the Endangered Species Act,” Politico reports. The permit, which the Corps had renewed in 2017, would have allowed pipelines, cables, and other utility lines to make multiple crossings of federally protected waters without a lengthy individual review of each maneuver. Environmental activists are celebrating this ruling as yet another obstacle they’ve successfully imposed on TransCanada in its 15-year battle to construct an oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to southeast Texas. Jared Margolis, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the ruling “makes it clear that the Trump administration can’t continue to push dirty fossil fuel pipelines while ignoring the devastating impacts they have on the environment,” but project backers say they’re as determined as ever to take it across the finish line.
  • Energy & Utility Regulatory Changes on the Horizon: Federal regulators at the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced last week that they plan to scale back some inspection and reporting rules for oil pipelines in efforts to alleviate the regulatory burden on oil companies. PHMSA says their rule changes would “clarify reporting requirements for pipeline inspections, streamline rules for oil spill response plans, and relieve some accident reporting requirements,” Morning Energy reports. Environmental activists aren’t happy with PHMSA’s plan, and they have until the public commenting period closes on June 15th to rally their forces in opposition to the proposed regulatory reform. Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced in mid-March that it has opened a new rulemaking docket to improve how it sets incentives for building transmission lines. In its announcement, FERC explained it wants to establish a new cost-benefit analysis that would help the commission quantify the return on equity (ROE) given to transmission builders. FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee says this new system will transition the commission from its “risks and challenges” approach to one “based upon benefits to consumers: ensuring reliability and reducing the cost of delivered power by reducing the cost of congestion.” Comments are due 90 days after the proposal was published in the Federal Register.
  • Back to Frack … Or Not? In March, a federal judge upheld the Trump Administration’s repeal of an Obama Administration rule that regulated hydraulic fracturing on public lands. According to Politico, Judge Haywood Gilliam of the U.S. District for Northern California accepted the argument from the Trump Administration, which “argued that the fracking rule unnecessarily duplicated state regulations and burdened the oil and gas industry with ‘unjustified’ costs.” This ruling is a major blow to environmental activists who had received support from California and other states in their never-ending quest to stop hydraulic fracturing. However, activists saw a win in Michigan, where their nearly two-year-long fight to put a fracking ban on the November 2020 ballot won the latest round in an ongoing court battle.
  • More than Hot Air On April 1, 2020, the EPA confirmed it plans to allocate $22 million in funding to the study of “carbon capture.” The agency endeavors to discover a way to remove carbon dioxide directly from ambient air. The project is a collaboration between the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science and DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, and it will “span the spectrum from fundamental research in materials and chemical sciences to field testing of prototypes,” according to Daily Energy Insider.
  • EPA Advances Changes to Air and Water Rules: The EPA announced last week that it has changed its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule to provide relief for four struggling Rust Belt coal plants. The modification will help coal production facilities in Pennsylvania and West Virginia by allowing them to burn low-quality coal refuse, “waste abandoned from years of mining and burning coal in their states.” According to Utility Dive, “these plants did not meet acid gas and hazardous air pollutant emissions standards” set by the Obama Administration, “but on April 9, the [Trump Administration] EPA issued a final rule creating a subcategory for those plants.” Meanwhile, the Trump Administration published its Navigable Waters Protection rule to the Federal Register, so the 60-day clock is well underway for public commenting on the proposed measure. The proposed changes, which narrow the number of streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act, is expected to draw widespread criticism and even lawsuits from blue state governors and environmental activists.
  • States Advance Climate Goals: Oregon Gov. Kate Brown issued a “cap and reduce” executive order to fight climate change after Republicans in the legislature successfully prevented passage of a “cap and trade program.” Oregon Public Broadcasting noted the order “contains ambitions that are at once equal to and much broader than that bill.” On the solar front, Massachusetts enacted new rules to help the state “meet its climate goals and help the solar industry as it deals with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.” The new regulations for the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) program will “double its capacity, expand eligibility criteria for low-income solar projects, and encourage the adoption of energy storage technology,” WBUR reports.  And in Virginia, the new Democratic majority in the legislature “narrowly passed sweeping legislation designed to overhaul how the state’s utilities generate electricity.” The Clean Economy Act codified the “100 percent carbon-dioxide-free energy goals outlined in an executive order from Gov. Ralph Northam in September 2019” and effectively eliminates the oversight authority of the state’s corporate commission over the regulation and approval of electric utilities and directs the state to rely exclusively upon renewable energy by 2050.

This small sampling demonstrates how government’s constant stream of activity never stops affecting industries. Leaders in the energy and utilities fields, especially those dedicated to public affairs and government relations, must remain vigilant as the ever-changing landscape morphs even in the midst of lockdowns during a global health crisis — and so, too, must professionals representing all industries, as no sector is immune to the kinds of judicial, legislative, and regulatory actions detailed above.

Need help navigating these uncertain times? We’re here for you. Simply reply to this email, and we’ll be happy to help you think through how best to tackle current challenges while preparing for future ones, too.

Delving in Together: Regulatory Relief Will Lead the Recovery

Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young fame once wrote, “Rules and regulations, who needs them? Open up the door. We can change the world.” While the hippie crooner likely had other ideas in mind, he wasn’t wrong in his claim that excessive regulatory burdens stifle innovations for our country, our communities, and our lives.

Never before has this struggle been clearer than in the coronavirus crisis. We have seen federal, state, and local governments roll back rules that stalled the delivery of medical services or blocked access to important products. We have also discovered that rules governing particular industries might do more harm than good. And we have learned that many day-to-day regulations meant to direct human behavior are perhaps unnecessary after all.

While the country of course needs some degree of regulation to safeguard our people and our economy, the pandemic pause of regulations offers the promise of sanity and simplification in the future. As policymakers take a closer look at which of these rules are actually useful in serving American interests and which stand in the way of meeting America’s needs, we’ve compiled a greatest hits album of pandemic-related regulatory relief.

The federal government has reversed dozens of rules since the coronavirus pandemic began.

  • Freeing health care workers to cross boundaries – online and IRL (in real life): As the deadly reality of COVID-19 became apparent, the federal government acted swiftly to ease rules on the health care industry, hoping to extend more options for patients and providers. To provide support for coronavirus hotspots in dire need of qualified medical personnel, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) waived state licensure requirements for health care providers wishing to serve where they were most needed. Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that seniors could now take advantage of a wide range of telehealth services, irrespective of where they lived. HHS also encouraged the use of telehealth options, permitting health care providers to use video platforms like FaceTime and Zoom to safely serve their patients.
  • Getting supplies and technology to those who need it: In mid-March, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began allowing private companies to advertise COVID-19 tests directly to the general public in efforts to address test kit scarcity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also granted permission for Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. territories to purchase personal protective equipment from foreign suppliers, a reversal of a nearly century-old regulation enacted by the Hoover Administration.
  • Flexibility in flight and on the open road: In the midst of an unprecedented public health crisis, the reliable transportation of vital goods has become especially important. As a result, the Department of Transportation has lifted hours of service regulations that will create greater flexibility for truck drivers delivering medical supplies, equipment, or food. Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has eased liquid limitations to allow passengers to travel with up to 12 ounces of liquid hand sanitizers in their carry-on bags until further notice.
  • Educational flexibility works: Widespread closures of college campuses have caused the Department of Education to rethink its rules governing higher education. They announced in mid-March that they had granted “broad approval” to schools wishing to be exempt from federal standards on calendars and course schedules as they enacted “distance learning” programs to open virtual classroom alternatives. Acknowledging the unique financial pressures on students, the Department of Education also permitted colleges and universities to extend current financial aid eligibility for students who qualify for federal work-study and Pell grants, even if they aren’t on campus.

States and cities led by both Republicans and Democrats also embraced regulatory relief.

  • It turns out adults are responsible enough to buy alcohol and takeout: With hundreds of millions of Americans stuck at home, the restaurant industry stood ready to provide meals – if only they could. In many places, regulations on delivery, takeout, and the sale of alcohol made it difficult. So, governors and mayors stepped in. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that bars, restaurants, distilleries, and wineries could offer alcohol for takeout orders. In New York City, City Hall waived a rule that prevented delivery workers from using e-bikes to transport orders. And in Boston, city officials waived existing regulations to allow all restaurants to offer takeout, even if they did not have a license to provide the service.
  • Trucks that deliver booze are also capable of delivering food: In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott reversed a longstanding rule that prevented alcohol delivery trucks from delivering supplies to grocery stores. In doing so, he provided another way for grocery stores to keep their shelves stocked. In another move to ease transportation regulations, Governor Abbott waived certain commercial trucking regulations to “expedite commercial vehicle delivery of more supplies.”
  • Expanding patient access to health care providers: Echoing efforts from the federal government to loosen the regulatory stranglehold on the health care industry, state governments also offered relief to the medical field. In New York, Governor Cuomo expanded “scope-of-practice” rules to permit physician assistants, nurse anesthetists, and nurse practitioners to perform jobs they’ve trained to do without additional supervision. In Washington, the government is allowing out-of-state health practitioners to practice without a license from their state. To deal with increased pressure on pharmacies, Pennsylvania now permits out-of-state pharmacies to ship goods into the state, while they also allowed pharmacy supervision to be conducted by phone or computer. While patients cannot see their providers, the Alabama Board of Pharmacy is temporarily allowing pharmacies to process emergency refills on essential medications. And in North Carolina, their Department of Health and Human Services temporarily lifted a rule requiring hospitals to receive permission from the state government to add more beds, the first reversal of the state’s “Certificate of Need” laws in decades.

With political will, some of the sound policy solutions detailed above could become more than short-term remedies, cutting red tape that has long delayed or prevented the delivery of patient-centered care. However, more common-sense regulatory rollbacks are needed for the recovery, most immediately to fortify our health care industry. For example:

  • Reform regulations to expand access to care: A number of scholars have pointed to further regulatory strangleholds that limit access to care by restricting medical professionals’ ability to practice. Competitive Enterprise Institute experts suggest states expand their “scope of practice” laws, which would allow qualified health care workers to perform functions that will be curtailed due to an anticipated physician shortage. Cato Institute is even more ambitious, arguing that licensure laws should be reformed to the point that they’re eliminated all-together. On the technology front, Cato Institute calls for the FDA to expedite its emergency use authorization of a new ventilator, as bureaucratic delays have stymied innovation and can cost lives.
  • New lifesaving drugs need a streamlined regulatory process: Hoover Institute scholars Charles L. Cooper and David R. Henderson argued in The Wall Street Journal the FDA should revoke its efficacy requirement for new drugs to speed up the delivery of vital therapeutics. They point to a regulation enacted in 1962 that forces companies to prove both the safety and efficacy of new drugs. Before, companies had only been required to provide assurance that new drugs were safe for patients. Now, this two-hurdle system delays the availability of medicine as researchers await clinical trials that confirm new medicine is not only safe but also conclusively effective at treating an illness. Experts say that if individual patients and their providers feel that proposed regimens are safe for use, they should be allowed to try them.
  • Loosen rules on diagnostic tests so professionals can perform more of them: If coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s the value of widespread testing to control the outbreak of a virus. With testing, health care professionals can treat and isolate infected people, protecting the general public as the sick patient recovers. That’s why the Competitive Enterprise Institute says FDA regulators should stop requiring premarket approval for laboratory-developed diagnostic tests. “The FDA has used its enforcement discretion to waive the premarket review requirement for tests developed and used exclusively within a single laboratory, known as ‘laboratory developed tests’ (LDTs). However, when the Secretary of Health and Human Services declares an official public health emergency, the agency does require premarket approval for LDTs, though it will grant an expedited Emergency Use Authorization for LDTs that meet the necessary criteria…The FDA should permanently waive the premarket approval requirement for LDTs, and Congress should write the exemption into the statute.”

All of this regulatory relief did not happen in a vacuum. These positive steps were made possible in part by industry representatives passionately making the case to decisionmakers that, if unhindered by superfluous rules, the companies they represent could better contribute to our country’s public health and economic security. Policymakers agreed.

By removing regulatory barriers, government officials are implicitly acknowledging that a number of regulations on the books are not necessary to safeguard the American public. Instead, cumbersome rules can inhibit progress, especially at times when it is needed most. In the weeks ahead, policymakers will make further regulatory adjustments to meet the immediate needs of those they serve. And after this crisis is over, they should thoughtfully examine which rules can be permanently revised or repealed so that our country and our states are never in this position again.

While policy experts have largely focused on reducing unnecessary regulations in health care, expect rules governing a variety of industries to be reviewed in the months ahead to aid in the economic recovery. As policymakers develop new regulations and update current rules, informed and trustworthy public affairs professionals have an opportunity to make the case for responsible reforms to help revitalize their companies, coalitions, and industries. Those who have consistently invested in such efforts are best poised to shape these reforms and thwart unnecessary regulatory overreaches to this pandemic.

Delving in Together: Government Affairs on the Frontlines

Delving in Together: Government Affairs on the Frontlines

Making A Difference For Your Industry

If anyone questioned the power and importance of effective advocacy, the past few weeks should put that doubt to rest. As The Associated Press declared this week, “in the Washington lobbying world, business is booming,” noting their “analysis of federal lobbying filings shows the number of companies and organizations hiring lobbyists shot up dramatically across the months of February, March, and early April.”

Many of those increasing their presence in Washington are focused on the pandemic, and while some see the rush as a “potent example of the power and sway Washington’s permanent influence industry can hold during times of crisis,” we saw something of greater note: the clear return on investment provided by informed, savvy, and proactive public affairs and government relations efforts. While the day-to-day impact of these efforts may seem hard to quantify, the response to the coronavirus pandemic has provided meaningful, tangible examples of how, now more than ever, companies’ investment in advocacy is a necessity for survival.

In past crises, such as the Great Recession, government relations took a hit, with companies cutting back or even zeroing out their Washington offices. In this pandemic, however, there is hope that companies and industries will instead recognize the critical importance of building and maintaining meaningful relationships with policymakers over the long term. So to help bring about this recognition, below are what we think are some of the key lessons about public and government affairs highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.  

Government Relations Is Relational, Not Transactional.

Despite the misconceptions promoted by the media and certain “watchdogs,” government relations is about building long-term relationships, not about transactions. History shows that companies and coalitions who invest in advocacy on a long-term basis are better poised to achieve their policy goals than those who don’t.

One such example is Wells Fargo, who faced intense public backlash and scrutiny from policymarkers over the past several years as a result of controversies surrounding some of its past banking practices. In 2018, the federal government responded by imposing a lending cap on the bank until policymakers could determine they had improved their corporate governance and established controls to protect consumers. In response, Wells Fargo bulked up its efforts, focusing on broad community engagement while dedicating more than $5 million last year alone to rebuilding trust with lawmakers in Washington.

These strong connections proved vital when the bank, which now finds itself along with other banks across the nation serving as a critical lending partner for small business loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, quickly reached its lending cap. Thanks to its investment in external affairs infrastructure, Wells Fargo was in a position to quickly petition the federal government for regulatory relief to keep desperately needed funds flowing to its small business customers, even as the financial services industry struggles to manage the critical needs of consumers and issuing new loans under the program.

Smart advocacy Is Constant.

There is often temptation in the corporate world to see government relations as a cost center rather than an investment. Often, lobbying and advocacy teams are called upon to deliver desired legislative or regulatory changes or address a particular issue, but then see efforts reduced and stopped entirely when there are no imminent threats or critical needs. However, some companies and coalitions choose instead to maintain their efforts for the long-haul, and they find themselves in a better position to mobilize when crisis strikes unexpectedly.

One such example is the craft beverage and distilling community. Geared up to fight for tax breaks in the Craft Beverage Modernization Act and its extension in 2019, these entrepreneurs were well-equipped to advocate for additional tax relief as America’s craft beverage companies and distillers provided the critical public service of transitioning their production to the creation of needed hand sanitizers.

The Distilled Spirits Council, which dedicated $4.23 million to federal lobbying in 2019, pushed lawmakers to waive typical federal excise taxes on alcohol for distillers who shifted their facilities to produce hand sanitizer during the coronavirus shortage. For brewers and distillers grappling with diminished demand for their products due to coronavirus restrictions, this reprieve from excise taxes, which amounted to nearly $10 billion in 2017, will be a huge help.

Anticipate Vulnerabilities Before You Seek Help.

In the coronavirus pandemic, we have also learned that even the most effective government affairs and public relations efforts can’t solve policy problems if an organization is fundamentally at-odds with lawmakers on important issues. And worse, if they’re unprepared or unable to remedy those differences, they can be caught flat-footed in an emergency.

We saw this clearly with the federal response to the cruise industry, whose executives had been among the most outspoken about their desire for aid in the coronavirus legislative package. While President Donald Trump heaped praise upon the industry in his daily coronavirus press conferences, bipartisan opposition emerged, with lawmakers from both parties expressing frustration that cruise companies were demanding a bailout from American taxpayers while maintaining their headquarters in countries like Panama, Liberia, and Bermuda to avoid U.S. taxes and regulations. Many lawmakers felt that extending relief to organizations with such practices would be unfair to industries who paid U.S. taxes and lived under U.S. laws and regulations. This skepticism left cruise companies seemingly unprepared to make the case for support in the stimulus package.

The denial of aid stood in stark contrast to the airlines, who faced demands from House Democrats to accept aggressive carbon emission reductions if they wanted aid. Airlines had launched large-scale awareness campaigns prior to the coronavirus about their efforts to cut emissions. Anticipating this vulnerability helped them keep these demands from becoming a part of the recovery legislation. cruise companies have made no such promises to the public.

The Bottom Line

Consistent investments in government relations matter. Companies and coalitions who prioritize these efforts not only accomplish long-term policy aims but also remain poised to tackle new challenges as they arise. And public affairs professionals must anticipate potential roadblocks to policy goals and find ways to navigate around them, especially in times of crisis.