Federal Lobbying Regulations
The federal Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 imposes certain reporting obligations on MIT and federal lawmakers and staff. This law includes a requirement to file quarterly reports of all lobbying contacts, as defined in the Act, and efforts in support of such contacts by persons representing MIT. The law does not have any ramifications for personal political activities by members of the MIT community.
What is Lobbying?
Lobbying activities include oral, written or electronic communications on behalf of MIT to certain government officials regarding:
- formulation, modification, or adoption of Federal legislation
- the administration or execution of a Federal program or policy
- formulation, modification, or adoption of a Federal rule, regulation, Executive order, policy or position of the United States Government
- the nomination or confirmation of a person subject to confirmation by the Senate.
Lobbying may also include contact with government officials with regard to the negotiation, award or administration of a specific sponsored programs proposal, prior to receipt of the award. Such contacts are prohibited under MIT policy. Please contact RAS immediately if you or your staff are aware of any potential lobbying for a specific project. This does not apply to routine contact with agency technical or program officers.
To fulfill MIT’s obligation under the Act, Research Administration Services sends out a memo each quarter to all Department, Lab and Center heads requesting information regarding potential lobbying activities, including an estimate of the time spent on such activities, and prepares and submits the quarterly certification to Congress. Note that when accounting for your lobbying activities, you should also include time (specify in hours or days) and out-of-pocket expenses spent preparing and planning such activities. Individuals who have helped in your preparations should also complete a report, whether or not they participated in the actual lobbying contact.
Only lobbying on behalf of MIT is reportable. This means that students are excluded from filing a report as they are not agents (employed) by MIT. In addition, activities related to an employee's personal, professional, or civic interests, as long as they are not done on behalf of MIT, are not reportable and should not be included in this Report of Lobbying Activity. In other words, it is not considered lobbying under this rule, if faculty and researchers are presenting their own professional opinions, and specific state that they are not representing MIT. We suggested using the following disclaimer whenever possible:
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this [paper/speech/presentation] are my own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Massachusetts Institute of technology.
Lobbying activities do not include:
- a speech, article, publication or other material that is distributed and made available to the public through a medium of mass communication
- a request for a meeting, a request for the status of an action, or other similar administrative request
- testimony given before Congress or submitted for inclusion in the public record
- information provided in writing in response to an oral or written request, or in response to a request for public comments in the Federal Register
- information required by subpoena or civil investigative demand
- written comment filed in the course of a public proceeding - made by the media if the purpose is gathering and disseminating news and information to the public
What does this mean, practically?
If the government asks you to provide technical or professional services, that is not lobbying. You might want to protect yourself by asking "this would not be considered lobbying, would it?"
A university administrator may describe general outstanding research characteristics of the institution, or even describe the wonderful work going on in a Department or School, but may not say to a government official "I'd like to describe the activities of Professor Y and encourage you to consider making an award for this research,” if Professor Y has a proposal pending to the agency to which the administrator is talking.
Further, it is MIT’s policy that no one who is paid with federal funds, or using grant funds for travel expenses, may urge an agency to support a specific sponsored program or proposal for funding. It is acceptable to ask "when will a decision be made on my project / proposal?" It is not acceptable to describe why your proposal should be funded rather than some other one.
It is not the intent of the regulation to prohibit the normal interchange between a faculty member and a program officer at an agency. However, there is no clear line marking where optimistic discussion of research progress ends and discussion of a new or renewal award begins. Federal program officer have received training on this matter and should know when to cut off discussion, but the responsibility is a joint one. If you are unsure, contact the Office of the General Council at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Research Administration Services at email@example.com.
MIT has a long-standing policy that prohibits the knowing acceptance of grants and contracts funded via Congressional action. Such awards are known as "earmarks" and funding is not generally the results of peer review. Earmarked funds are often a way to secure funds for new buildings, and for major equipment needed for cutting edge research, but institutionally MIT avoids seeking or accepting earmarked funds.
It is not always obvious when funds have reached MIT from another institution through the earmarking process. In the past several years, we have identified a handful of programs where the funds that came to MIT through a competitive process were actually earmarks for another organization and MIT was a subrecipient from that organization. It is, noentheless, MIT policy not to accept earmarks and, where this is known, it is important that the institute (via RAS) be notified.