How to Win with Bureaucrats and Politicians Effectively
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article plays into upcoming legislation and real issues that we need to pay attention to (see The Repair Act), which we will discuss in later articles.
Our Jeeping lifestyle depends on government – land managers, federal bureaucrats, agency representatives, and law enforcement officers in the field where we Jeep. Learning to deal with the government is critical to keeping our trails open and our sport alive. Here’s my take based on 32 years of government service (Calif. Fire Service and US Army).
Government (agencies) thrive on meetings. We have to be there.
It’s all about bureaucrats.
Here are seven tips for dealing with bureaucrats (and understanding government) to make a little headway with them. But first, I want to be clear that I do not consider bureaucrats the enemy; quite the opposite. We need them to manage our public lands, and we need to help them. Here’s how.
- Seek First to Understand: Before you convince a bureaucrat of your opinion or needs, you should consider trying to understand where they’re coming from. Once you know (not necessarily agree with) their position, you can better find ways to negotiate with them.
- Listen: Probably the essential trait anyone can have for any dealings with people, but it’s especially true with gov’mt officials. They must believe that you’re hearing their side of the story before they will relinquish any ground. And if you’re not listening, they’re likely not to give any ground out of a personal reaction. But, more importantly, you need to play lawyer a bit. In other words, the more they talk, the more you find loopholes and trails. I mean paper or word trails that allow you room to maneuver during negotiations or meetings.
Let’s take an example: suppose you want to convince the local District Ranger to open a road. During talks/letters, she says, “Sorry, I can’t open that road because of our Draft Travel Management Plan.” You say: “I see; may I have a copy of the Draft Plan, please, for my records and review?” She says: “No, it’s against our policy to hand out a draft of this document.” You say: “I see; may I have a copy of the policy for my records, please?”
Get where I’m going? Listen well enough to see the loopholes, methods to keep getting information, and other ways to get to your desired end results. In this case, if the policy were not obtainable, you’d naturally give that person a chance to back-peddle and eventually give you the darn Plan that you wanted in the first place. Let them save face if at all possible. If you burn one, it’ll eventually come back to bite you. However, in extreme cases, you may have to jump up the chain of command and give them a thorough administrative thrashing.
- Persist: Yes, it pays to persist. If you haven’t dealt with a big bureaucracy before, it’s like getting a job. You’ve got to stay at it. Write, follow-up call, write again, ask, listen, ask, etc. Sometimes it’s easier to give in than to fight a persistent user. Come to think of it, I believe that many anti-access advocates get their way with precisely this tactic!!! Another way to look at this is to admonish yourself not to accept the first three no’s.
- Respect: It always pays to be respectful to public officials, even when you’re ready to explode with anger. You’ll win in the end. On the other hand, if you lose your demeanor and become disrespectful, they have every right to cut you off and sink your ship in the bureaucratic process. They ARE public servants; we pay their salaries, but they’re no less human than you or me. So, we need to maintain our calm. If you end up in a legal proceeding and can show that a public servant lost their cool while you kept yours, you’ll gain some significant ground.
- Deliver: If you’re working with bureaucrats in a project or planning process, deliver what you promise; and don’t promise what you can’t deliver! Make sure if you say you are going to do something, you do it. You’ll always look good.
- Know the Jargon: To be effective in speaking the language of a bureaucrat, you should take a little time to learn their rank system, the chain of command, and jargon. Not everyone is a Park Ranger. USFS rangers are called District Rangers or Forest Rangers. Park Service folks use the term Park Ranger, as does BLM and the Bureau of Reclamation. Fish and Game folks are Wardens, Lieutenants, Captains, biologists, or other related words.
- Due Dates: When you’re working with or negotiating with agency officials, let them do their job; give them a reasonable time to do it, but PIN THEM DOWN. In the Plan example above, you might ask: When could I have a copy of the plan? The official might say, “I’ll send it to you.” Then you would pin down that person by saying, “Great, when can I expect it so that I can mark my calendar?”
Knowing the jargon is critical. “36 CFR” on this sign is government talk for, “you better know what Code of Federal Regulations” means. It’s the law by which you can end up in court for violating.
Volunteers working with law enforcement officers on the Rubicon Trail.
If you can do it, let the bureaucrats pick the due date. That makes it their complete responsibility and self-imposed requirement.
NOTE: This list isn’t complete by any means, but if you use these tips, you’ll find yourself winning more than losing.
During the 2008 All4Fun, off-roaders flooded a public meeting with State Senator Salazar, to express our disapproval of a new proposed Wilderness area. It’s not always a vote, but it is always about our voices being heard!
Let’s stop losing trials to bureaucracy, bureaucrats, or politicians simply because we do not know the game!
- Seek first to understand.
- Know the jargon.
- Due dates.
Understand what is going on; learn the lingo; listen carefully, and deliver what you promise! Public servants manage our public lands but often need our help getting to the best management practices. So be in the game with them (when you can)!