Trustees learn of Governmental Affairs' role at Penn State

University Park, Pa. -- In today's interest group-driven political environment, all programs need to have an articulate and effective voice promoting them in order to survive. Providing that voice is the main role of those who work in Penn State's Office of Governmental Affairs, the Board of Trustees learned today (Jan. 22). The office, led by Richard DiEugenio, special assistant to the president for Governmental Affairs, reports directly to the president and is responsible for formulation and articulation of University policies to state and national legislators.

"Daily personal contact with elected and appointed officials and staff in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., is an essential part of our operation," DiEugenio told the board. "The effectiveness of our office is based not only upon our knowledge of the structure and functions of the governmental entities, but also upon a keen awareness of the political culture and personalities involved in the political process."

DiEugenio also said since lawmakers understand that he and the others in his office speak for the president, his office is able to represent the University effectively to those lawmakers. However, it is critical that the president also establish a solid personal working relationship with key legislators. DiEugenio's office facilitates the development of these relationships.

Including DiEugenio, there are five full-time University lobbyists, with two focusing on Harrisburg, two focusing on Washington, D.C., and one assigned to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Those in the office have a combined 99 years of government and lobbying experience.

A vital part of the office's role is to get officials from Harrisburg and Washington to visit Penn State campuses, so they can see first-hand what the University is doing. It also is important when these officials come to University Park that they are able to schedule meetings with President Graham B. Spanier and to arrange other meetings as appropriate, explained DiEugenio. "This is especially true in our dealings with the vice president for research and the multiple research efforts supported by federal and state funding," he said.

Another key role for DiEugenio and his staff is to monitor legislative developments that may impact the University. "There are literally thousands of bills and amendments that we follow each year," DiEugenio said. "Our ability to provide accurate and timely analyses of proposals and the potential positive or negative impact on Penn State students, faculty, staff or research interests is critical."

In addition, DiEugenio helps coordinate the Penn State Grassroots Network, an initiative sponsored by the Alumni Association.

"Our efforts there are based on the recognition that legislators must hear directly from their voting constituents about the wisdom of the Commonwealth's investment in higher education and the significance of Penn State's programs to their own districts," said DiEugenio. The Grassroots Network educates Penn State alumni and friends about legislative issues important to Penn State in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., so they can help communicate Penn State's needs to the governor, state legislators and members of Congress. Currently, there are more than 39,000 members of the Grassroots Network.

Where appropriate, Penn State's Office of Governmental Affairs operates in conjunction with other institutions of higher education and state and national associations to form coalitions to advocate for specific legislative and/or public policy goals. A good example of this took place this past year as economic challenges led to an unusually difficult budget process in Harrisburg. Extensive coordination of Penn State's federal and state lobbying efforts was required.

"A highlight of this effort was when 15 members of the Pennsylvania Congressional Delegation — eight Democrats and seven Republicans — wrote to the U.S. Secretary of Education in support of Penn State's participation in the State Fiscal Stabilization Funding program," DiEugenio said. "We believe this level of support from our federal legislators was critical to the secretary's directive that Penn State be included in the Commonwealth's application for state fiscal stabilization funds."

In the end, which finally came in mid-December, Penn State's 2009-10 appropriation was $73 million greater than the level that had been proposed by the administration as late as June 24. This amount includes $16.9 million in federal stabilization funding to restore last year's 6 percent appropriation rescission. "This successful lobbying campaign eliminated the need for further and deeper program cuts and double-digit tuition increases over the next two years," DiEugenio said.

For more information about the Office of Governmental Affairs, visit http://www.govt.psu.edu/.

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Last Updated January 22, 2010