Holding public hearings is one of the most important duties of Congress. If you look at hearing schedules, you will see that Congress devotes a lot of time to them; several thousand are held each year. State legislatures and regulatory agencies also spend thousands of hours each year seeking public input.
Emergency physicians should welcome and actively seek opportunities to testify before Congress, state legislatures, and regulatory agencies on issues of which they have expertise. Legislators and policymakers are receptive to hearing your experience and input about proposed regulations or legislation related to emergency medicine.
Here are some tips on appearing as a witness at federal and state congressional hearings.
Identifying Opportunities to Testify
Opportunities to testify are often obtained more through persistent seeking, rather than waiting for invitations.
- Let congressional, state legislative or regulatory agency staff know you want to present testimony on a particular issue. Make them aware of your expertise and perspective. When a committee or regulatory agency announces its intent to hold a hearing, remind committee staff or lawmakers of your desire to present testimony.
- Advise appropriate elected officials of your interest in delivering testimony. They may be particularly helpful if they serve on the committee holding the hearing.
- Talk with associations and organizations and offer to testify on their behalf. Communicate your availability to your Chapter, your hospital, and other appropriate organizations. Ask them to help you get selected.
- Seek opportunities to testify in support of proposed legislation, rather than against it. This will help you build relationships with elected officials.
- If you are unable or not selected to testify in person, ask whether you can submit written testimony. Follow the guidelines in preparing and distributing written testimony. Be sure you meet any deadlines.
Preparing to Testify
If asked to testify before Congress, coordinate your activities with American College of Emergency Physician’s (ACEP) Congressional Affairs Department in the Washington DC office. ACEP staff knows the members of Congress, as well as their staffs, and can provide valuable information and strategic advice that can help guide you through the process.
To ensure that you respond to the needs of the congressional committee, make sure you understand the purpose of the hearing. Ask congressional staff to put the request for testimony in writing, along with any information concerning required number of copies of written testimony, etc. In addition:
- Consult with committee staff in advance—sometimes they will tell you what questions you are likely to be asked—they generally draft the questions.
- Inquire about other witnesses. It is often is helpful to know in advance if others will be testifying and their key messages. Hearings often are organized in panels to hear opposing points of views.
- Members of Congress and staff may ask you questions during the hearing that you are unable to answer, or they may give you questions in writing to respond to later. Respond promptly to such questions submitted for the record. Take the opportunity to offer additional comments on questions posed to you earlier in the hearing.
- After the hearing, ask to be sent a transcript of your remarks, which will contain your oral statement and question and answer responses.
- Although you are not permitted to rewrite your testimony, you are allowed to correct any mistakes in the transcript.
- After the hearing, follow up with the committee staff contact. Thank the staffer for his or her guidance during the process. Offer your assistance in the future.
Preparing Your Testimony
Effective testimony is accurate and well prepared. It is objective, broad and factual. If possible, develop your testimony well in advance of your scheduled appearance. To ensure that you follow the rules established by the committee hosting the hearing, request guidelines for preparing testimony. The rules may, for example, require limiting the length of remarks or providing advance copies of written testimony to committee members.
- Submit written testimony in the required format. Some committees require submissions on legal paper; others require submission on a computer disk.
- Include an executive summary of your written testimony that conveys the facts and clearly states your key messages.
- Include a brief introduction in both your written and oral testimony, stating who you are, who you are representing, and why you are there. Thank the committee chairperson and ranking members for the opportunity.
- Choose points with policy relevance. Keep language simple.
- Prepare your written testimony first. Although the length of your oral testimony may be limited by committee rules, your written testimony usually can be longer. In this case, first draft the written testimony, and then excerpt key points for your oral testimony.
- Provide your professional and personal experiences with the issue.
- Describe the effect of proposed legislation on your patients and your practice. Incorporate brief, graphic, real-life cases into your testimony.
- Research the other side of the argument. Be prepared to refute the opposition’s key points in your testimony or during the question and answer period.
- Incorporate graphs, charts, or other visual aids, if appropriate, that emphasize your messages. However, first notify the committee that you intend to have visual aids, and provide hard copies of these materials with your written testimony.
- Review your testimony with local or national ACEP leaders and associates in your Chapter to avoid misrepresentations. If you are speaking on behalf of ACEP, coordinate your testimony with the ACEP congressional affairs staff. You and ACEP must agree on the messages in your presentation before testimony is offered. State in your testimony that you are representing ACEP. If you are testifying as an individual, clearly state you are speaking as an individual, and do not include any Chapter affiliations or titles.
Delivering Your Testimony
A powerful oral testimony is clear, delivered with confidence, and demonstrates a thorough knowledge of the issue. Be brief. You will be given a certain amount of time usually about five to seven minutes to summarize your statement. Be aware it usually takes about two minutes to read one double-spaced page. This means a maximum of two to three pages for the summary. Find out in advance whether your testimony will be timed. The committee chairs are usually stringent about time and may ask you to stop testifying when your time has expired.
- Study the current legislation or regulation under consideration by the committee, as well as any available analyses. The effectiveness of your presentation could be negated by the simple question, "Have you read the bill?" or "Are you aware the bill has been amended?"
- Be well acquainted with all the materials in your prepared statement. Often both "friendly" and "unfriendly" questions will be asked. Be prepared to answer both.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. Then ask permission to write a detailed response at a later date. Never guess. The questioner may know the correct answer, and an incorrect guess could be devastating to your testimony.
- Arrive well in advance of the hearing. Use the time to obtain last-minute, advance knowledge of the committee’s membership, procedures, and the types of questions being asked.
- Don’t be disappointed if only a small number of committee members are present. Committee staff and agency officials are always present, and they will keep the committee informed of your testimony.
Distributing Your Testimony
To increase the effectiveness of your testimony, make sure it is distributed.
- Ask committee staff whether copies of your testimony will be available to hearing attendees. If this is not done routinely, ask whether you can bring copies for distribution. Make sure to ask how many copies are needed. For example, the House Ways and Means Committee requires your testimony on three legal-size, single-spaced copies; 200 standard-size copies; and an electronic version on a computer disk, formatted in Word Perfect 7.0.
- Provide advance copies of your testimony to appropriate elected officials.
- Distribute copies of your remarks. For example, your Chapter could distribute them to your hometown press as well as statewide newspapers and media, and state medical groups. Attach a one-page summary of your testimony as a cover sheet.
Developing Contacts with Elected Officials
There are a variety of ways to build relationships with elected officials. Building these contacts is not difficult or overly time consuming, but it does require diligence and perseverance. Again, never overlook the importance of building relationships with their staffs. Consider the following activities:
- Invite elected officials to visit your emergency department.
- Participate in ACEP’s 911 Network. For information on becoming a member of the 911 Network, call ACEP’s Washington Office at 800-320-0610. For information on participating in your Chapter’s program, call your Chapter president or state legislative liaison.
- Write letters to your Senators and Representative in Congress.
- Telephone the local and Washington, DC offices of your Senators and Representative. Speak with staff, as well as elected officials.
- Visit the offices of your lawmakers, both at home and in Washington, DC. Meet with staff as well as elected officials.
- Offer to serve as a resource to your elected officials on health and medical issues.
- Volunteer to serve on or organize a "health advisory committee" in your district for an elected official.
- Participate in reelection campaigns. Attend the annual ACEP Leadership and Advocacy Conference