The Major Factors Influencing Federal Education Legislation
Robert Andringa prepared this list of what influenced federal education legislation in 1976 when he was minority staff director, House Committee on Education and Labor. For those of us who fancy our policy analysis as directly influencing how laws are made, this is a humbling lesson. - Tom
"The following list of major influences shaping federal education laws was put together in consultation with other Hill staff, but I take full responsibility for whatever reactions it generates! The variables are listed in the order in which I see their importance at this time.
1. Personal judgment and values of usually no more than 6-10 Congressmen and staff.
Some major bills have many issues…each issue is normally shaped and resolved by a small handful of people, later ratified by the full House and Senate…“judgments and values” are influenced by personal experience and the effect of the other items on this list.
2. Strong views of respected and trusted friends.
Each Member has a few trusted friends with knowledge in some particular area…these are friends from his hometown, experts with whom he has developed a friendship over the years, other Members, staff, etc.
3. Assumptions about the economy and budget.
These assumptions influence a Member’s interest in creating new programs or in cutting back on program authorities…also his or her sense of priorities among various educational needs.
4. Public opinion and the popular media.
Most Members do not support ideas which they feel do not have, or could not get, general public support…many shape their perceptions about educational needs by reading popular, rather than specialized, publications…the few people most involved in a legislative area do read more of the specialized newsletters and journals.
5. Strong views and efforts of major interest groups.
The education lobby is not one of strongest in Washington…yet major associations and coalitions can force consideration of issues they feel important…sometimes consensus among interest groups is important and sometimes a weakly developed consensus backfires.
6. Descriptive information about federal programs.
Most of this comes from the executive branch and a few educational associations…Members relate this to what they personally expect a program to accomplish.
7. Congressional hearings.
Attendance is often low, but “key Members” are usually present…educators often present long, dull papers full of jargon…many witnesses are not willing to be completely candid in formal, on-the-record sessions...field hearings [are] more important, although they are infrequent.
8. General Accounting Office reports and other independent reports on programs.
GAO studies get acceptance because GAO is [an] arm of the legislative branch and its studies are done in cooperation with Members…same applies to Congressional Research Service…sometimes other non-federal studies of existing federal programs are given similar credibility.
9. Policy research studies and reports.
These are often too long, full of jargon or statistics few understand…few people on the Hill have time to read such things…some studies use old data or come up with ideas Members have long since rejected…most influence from these reports must come indirectly through the other items on the list.
10. Administration views and lobby efforts.
Congress naturally puts this factor low when the majority party is different from that of the President…proposals often reflect budget constraints rather than sound educational policy…recommendations are often submitted too late in the process…recommendations of [a] technical nature to improve current programs have [a] much better success rate.
11. Program evaluation studies.
Most of these done by the U.S. Office of Education under contract…many are too late and use data that are too old…many studies try to quantify results that can not easily be quantified…most studies [are] done in isolation from other similar studies and miss the “big picture”…but there have been a few exceptions."