Government Affairs looks out for Johns Hopkins’ interests inside the Beltway and out
July 2013—Go looking for the Government Affairs office at Johns Hopkins, and you won’t find a smoke-filled room. In fact you won’t find a designated office at all, but rather a handful of spacious cubicles in a vast open space that’s shared with the Johns Hopkins University communications department, among others. There’s plenty of natural light, a view of the harbor and not a hint of dark wood paneling. It’s from this somewhat unlikely looking home base that the Government Affairs team lobbies lawmakers and agencies on issues ranging from research regulation to immigration to Maryland's hospital rate-setting.
Government Affairs is part of the Office of Government and Community Affairs (GCA), which builds relationships with government representatives at the local, state and national levels, as well as other nonprofits and the local community. Tom Lewis, the vice president of GCA, says that the mission of the government affairs part of the group is to support the Johns Hopkins’ mission by lobbying, meeting with elected officials and staff, and keeping track of what is going on in government on Capitol Hill, in Annapolis and in City Hall. But it is the opportunity to get faculty members, students and Johns Hopkins experts in front of policy makers that makes a tremendous difference. “We can help frame the message and help in other ways so it doesn’t get lost in the volume of information that goes in front of policy makers,” he says. While many research-related regulatory and funding decisions are made at the federal level, Johns Hopkins’ State Affairs office has helped to make Annapolis an active supporter of research in Maryland, with programs such as the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund and the Maryland Cigarette Restitution Fund Program, which funds cancer research.
As with the State team, for the Federal Affairs office, research issues are only one aspect of what keeps its three-and-a-half person team busy, says Director of Federal Affairs Beth Felder. The team isn’t able to comb through every bill before Congress looking for provisions that would affect Johns Hopkins. Rather, they generally rely on organizations such as the American Hospital Association and the Association of American Universities to highlight potential laws and regulations that would affect the university or health system. Felder says that on occasion faculty and staff will also bring issues to their attention, particularly those that affect a very specific area of research or health care. Once an issue is on the radar, the team often seeks advice from leadership or subject matter experts on the faculty to determine the best course of action, as well as how big a priority the issue should be.
Prioritization is important when the range of policy affecting Johns Hopkins is so large. There is research funding, of course: the budgets and practices of the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and even the research division of the Department of Defense all have an impact on the bottom line. There are research regulations, health care privacy laws, incentives for using electronic health records, and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement issues. The tax laws governing charitable contributions and organizations’ tax-exempt status are another area to keep an eye on. Even immigration policy is of interest to Johns Hopkins, since it affects how difficult it is for non-U.S. students and faculty to get visas.
When it comes to making Johns Hopkins’ voice heard on these issues in the federal arena, Felder says, her team often looks to forge alliances with potential allies such as advocacy organizations, peer academic institutions, and Maryland’s U.S. senators and representatives. In addition, she says, “because Johns Hopkins has a strong reputation worldwide, many members of Congress from outside Maryland appreciate our institution’s expertise. We can ask them to intervene to do something or not do something.”
But Felder emphasizes that her team isn’t here to do backroom negotiations for sweetheart deals; rather, she says, “We devote our efforts to issues that would benefit all academic medical centers and universities. It’s not our job to get people grants.”
One of the team’s successes, Felder says, was in helping to get safety- and quality-related language into 2010’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as a provision establishing an “innovation center” that enables health care organizations to test new payment and service delivery models. “We thought it was important that there remain opportunities to transform the health care landscape under the ACA, and we wanted to be part of the process of creating the new system and helping shape solutions,” she says. More recently, the team took an active role in creating United for Medical Research, an advocacy group making the case for increased NIH funding, and organized a group of Johns Hopkins trainees to participate in a rally in Washington. “One of our biggest concerns is that the efforts at deficit reduction don’t tie the hands of academic medicine,” Felder says.