Policy Action Group

PHS retirees who are COA members are invited to participate in our informal Policy Action Group. The idea is that PHS retirees, free of the lobbying restrictions facing active-duty PHS officers, can advocate on behalf of the PHS Commissioned Corps, using their own careers as examples of the value of the PHS to states, the nation, and the world. COA asks retiree activists to arrange face-to-face meetings in their Congressional Districts, with their congressional representatives or their key staff or both. COA provides backup information and helpful tips.

Interested in joining the COA Policy Action Group? Contact Judy Rensberger at 301-731-9080, ext. 7014, or jrensberger@coausphs.org

Lobbying: What is it?

Simply put, the word “lobbying” means trying to influence elected officials to take up (or crush) a cause, or to vote a certain way. Lobbying is done by “special interests” ranging from the huge, moneyed corporations that contribute millions to political candidates (e.g., Big Tobacco) to tiny non-profits such as COA. Large non-profits may have “Political Action Committees” to funnel money to candidates. Small non-profits contribute nothing to candidates, but often band together in like-minded coalitions to make their voices heard.

Who Can Lobby?

Active-duty PHS officers do not lose their rights as American citizens when, or because, they wear the USPHS uniform. But certain restrictions apply…

Are you an active-duty officer? If so, there’s a laundry list of things you cannot do. You cannot, for example, offer to testify at a congressional hearing unless you are invited, by name, and the congressional request goes through proper channels. You cannot write letters or send e-mails or make phone calls to any member of Congress except your own…and you cannot even do that during the workday, from your workstation, or using government computers, telephones, or e-mail accounts.

But on your own time, and using your own equipment, you may write to your elected members of Congress. You have two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative. You may express your opinions and tell them how you want them to vote. You can (and should) identify yourself as an active-duty PHS officer and make clear you are a constituent. But you should never suggest that you are speaking for the PHS Commissioned Corps. You speak only for yourself.  

The simplest way to communicate with your members of Congress is through their websites.

Another way is via snail-mail. This may seem quaintly old-fashioned, but the advantage is that you can deliver a copy in person to your local Congressional District office and make your pitch on the spot.

Are you a PHS retiree? If so, you are free of all of the above. You may lobby as much as you please. You may organize retiree group visits to congressional offices, or drop in on your U.S. Senators if you happen to be in Washington, DC. You may attend Town Halls or fund-raisers or whatever. You may be as political as you wish. In fact, COA encourages retirees to become activists in their Congressional Districts.

Follow-up

The conversation went well, according to CAPT Pedersen. The district staff offered to facilitate communications between COA and the Congressman’s Washington office. COA staff and Cincinnati Branch members are following up on the TSA issue.

If you are interested in joining COA’s grassroots effort, please e-mail Judy Rensberger at jrensberger@coausphs.org with ADVOCATE in the subject line. Thank you!

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