Educate and advocate

Government relations refers to a broad spectrum of activities, from helping township officials develop a building code, to commenting on a proposed agency regulation, to an advocacy campaign for an issue in Congress. Lobbying is one element of that, which often involves leveraging relationships with government contacts to advocate for a position or to influence the outcome of an issue.

When made aware of industry expertise, government officials come to rely on it and seek a “go-to organization” to provide information. When officials are not aware and have no input from industry, the result can be detrimental to the industry. Therefore, education is critical.

Strength in numbers

The United States Industrial Fabrics Institute (USIFI) is a division of IFAI comprised of industry companies that have a manufacturing presence in the United States. One of USIFI’s missions is to protect and expand the Berry Amendment (Title 10, U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Section 2533a.) Enacted in 1941, it requires the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to procure certain items manufactured in the U.S., including textiles and tents.

In 2009, an agency of the DOD, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), began interpreting the Berry Amendment to include only the fabric part of tents, not the components included in the end product. To reverse it, USIFI put together a coalition of industry groups to work with congressional leaders to correct this interpretation by the DLA and permanently amend it to require that the components of military tents also be made in the United States.

The effort was successful. It is estimated that this fix of the Berry Amendment is worth $39 million in business to the industry. USIFI achieved this lobbying success by forming a coalition of interested parties and organizations, now called the Berry Amendment Textile Coalition. It includes USIFI, the National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) and the American Fiber Manufacturers Association (AFMA). Its current effort is to seek statutory language that would require a compliance audit of the Berry Amendment.

Recruiting champions

Many companies and organizations converge on Washington without ever appreciating the importance and value of recruiting congressional champions. There are several reasons why a member of Congress might wish to become a champion of a company or a cause. A common motivator is a company being in the state of that senator or the district of that representative. Educating the applicable member of Congress is key.

Consistent presence

In government relations it is not enough just to show up; one must show up consistently. Thousands of lobbyists and constituent interests are competing for the attention and time of members of Congress, congressional staff and federal officials. USIFI and the Geosynthetic Materials Association (GMA), a division of IFAI, use “fly-ins” or lobby days as a means to stay connected in Washington, D.C.

IFAI will host a lobby day on Capitol Hill for member companies in early 2014. This will be a first step for IFAI to educate federal lawmakers about industrial fabrics markets that IFAI represents: awnings, shade structures, marine fabrics, safety and protective fabrics, tarpaulins and narrow fabrics. Congress needs to know that the industrial fabrics industry is alive and well, producing essential products for businesses and consumers, and that the industry is a vital part of the manufacturing base of the economy, employing tens of thousands of workers—and voters.

IFAI initiates and participates in government relations at a variety of levels and involvement. Its divisions represent market segments in the industrial fabrics industry; a few divisions have government relations as their main focus. As the umbrella organization, IFAI is building a government relations program to the benefit of the industry.

Andrew Aho is IFAI’s director of technical markets.