With the request period for Community Project Funding and Congressionally Directed Spending (colloquially known as “earmarks”) coming to a close, now is the time to get a head start on preparation for the next time Congress collects earmark proposals – especially for those who feel they may have missed the boat this time around. Earmarks are provisions in legislation that allocate funding for specific local projects or initiatives. They are an important tool for lawmakers to direct resources to their constituents and advance their policy priorities. Navigating the earmark process can be a complex and challenging task, but with careful planning and the right partners, success is attainable. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your earmark request:
1. Identify your priorities: Before submitting an earmark request, it’s essential to outline your funding priorities. Consider the needs of your community and the issues that can be addressed with (a reasonable amount of) federal funding. Identify multiple projects or initiatives that will have the most impact and make a compelling case for why they should receive funding. Keep in mind that “shovel ready” projects with at least some funding secured ahead of time are more likely to be prioritized.
2. Understand the rules and guidelines: Earmarks are subject to strict disclosure requirements and must meet certain criteria to be considered for funding. Familiarize yourself with the guidance published by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, as well as guidance on specific funding accounts. This guidance can change based on who controls each chamber. Also, be sure to keep track of deadlines to submit requests. As many hopeful applicants for federal funding discovered this year, the request period for earmarks passes quickly, especially if you haven’t adequately prepared.
3. Work closely with your congressional champion and local officials: Building relationships with key government stakeholders is critical to navigating the earmark process. Without recognition of the importance of your proposal by your member of Congress or Senator, as well as State and local officials, your earmark request is likely dead on arrival. Establishing strong relationships with these individuals will help you navigate the process more efficiently and increase the likelihood of your earmark request being approved.
4. Build a coalition: Identify other organizations and individuals who share your goals and work with them to build a coalition that can voice support for your project. Documentation of support from local planning boards, development organizations, businesses, and chambers of commerce demonstrates local backing and provides evidence that a project is bona fide. In fact, such documentation is frequently a requirement for a request to receive funding (see tip #2). Having a coalition also allows for the leveraging of collective resources in developing a more competitive request.
5. Be persistent: Navigating the earmark process can be an arduous process, but it’s important to remain persistent. Keep pushing your proposal forward and make sure it receives the attention it deserves. Remain open-minded to suggested revisions and modifications, and be prepared to make a strong case for why your proposal is deserving of funding.
6. Seek expert advice: Don’t hesitate to reach out to consultants or advocates who are familiar with the ins and outs of the earmark process. Success in the legislative process often comes down to relationships and institutional knowledge. A compelling project could go unfunded if the request isn’t communicated properly.
Navigating the congressional earmark process can be challenging, but it is possible to achieve success with the right strategy. Identifying your priorities, understanding rules and guidelines, building relationships and coalitions, being persistent, and seeking expert advice can improve your chances of securing federal funding that will strengthen your community.