Communication with Government Officials
Policy Number: 145
Contact with federal and state government officials and their staff
- Date Reviewed:
- January 2009
- Responsible Office:
- Office of Governmental Relations
- Responsible Executive:
- Vice President and Governmental Relations Officer
I. POLICY AND GENERAL STATEMENT
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (“university”) is a large, complex organization with a multifaceted mission of education, research, patient care, and community service. Effectively carrying out this mission necessarily involves a wide array of relationships and communications between employees and local, state, and federal officials. As both citizens of the nation, state, and region and members of the university community, employees may become aware of or involved with legislative and regulatory issues related to 1) their role in the university, 2) their area of expertise, or 3) their personal interests.
Contacts between employees and elected or appointed government officials are governed by state and federal law, this policy, The University of Texas System Board of Regents’ Rules and Regulations and direction from The University of Texas System (“UT System”) or university leadership as deemed appropriate to legislative circumstances. These policies are designed to ensure coordination and best practices before governmental entities; to ensure compliance with Texas law prohibiting legislative lobbying or political activity with state resources; and to ensure compliance with federal law.
To comply with the federal Honest Leadership and Open Government Act ("HLOGA"), the university and employees of the university who contact federal elected officials, federal legislative staff, federal agency heads and staff are required to provide a detailed accounting of such contacts. The HLOGA covers communications regarding federal legislation, administration of federal programs, federal agency policies or executive orders, and federal personnel nominations requiring Senate confirmation. Participation in federal peer reviewed or competitive grant processes are not covered by the HLOGA. This accounting includes numerous details of the contact, including all related costs of the contact, specific expenses and estimated time. Employee compliance with this policy will enable the employee and the university to appropriately report federal contacts and comply with federal law. Employees with such contacts should contact the Office of Governmental Relations for information on how to comply with this law.
Contacts relating to university business with elected and appointed officials and their offices are coordinated by the Office of Governmental Relations at the direction of the President and in collaboration with the UT System. Central coordination assures that one part of the organization is not working at cross purposes with another and prevents confusion on the part of government officials as to the university's priorities.
The three main types of contact are governed as follows:
1. Contact with local, state, and federal elected officials, their staffs and key agency personnel on matters impacting the finances, appropriations, operations, program policy or general operating policy: The university leadership has been entrusted with the stewardship of this university. Only the President and his designees will speak for the university to local, state, and federal elected officials and agency personnel in matters related to the finances, appropriations and operations of the university and its programs and state or federal legislative processes. All communications with government officials pertaining to matters of university institutional interests, legislative priorities, or related policy matters must be coordinated through the Office of Governmental Relations. As necessary and appropriate, the Office of Government Relations will coordinate with other university officials.
2. Contact with officials within employees’ area of expertise: As an educational institution in health care, the university includes many individuals who are involved in mission-related pursuits that are related to legislative or regulatory processes. Many times employees may be contacted by governmental officials or their representatives for information or consultation or to provide testimony at formal hearings. Employees may be involved in advocacy related to an extra-mural organization that has some relationship to the university mission or appropriations. While the university is enhanced through such overtures and encourages employees toward service to their fellow citizens, the university maintains the right to be informed of such contacts or relationships and to be involved, as appropriate, in such relationships. Further, these types of contacts may be regulated by state or federal law. The Office of Governmental Relations is available to assist the employee in navigating the legislative or regulatory process and for ensuring compliance with reporting requirements.
3. Contact with officials regarding personal interest: The university recognizes and appreciates the privilege of each employee as a citizen of this state and nation to express his or her own political opinions. The right to express one's own opinions and to seek to make that opinion known is inalienable. Employees who choose to exercise their rights as citizens must make every effort to indicate clearly that the position they take is an individual opinion and does not represent the opinion of the university. If an employee identifies himself or herself as a member of the faculty or staff of this university, he or she must clearly state that the opinions expressed are his own and not those of the university.
Employees may not utilize any state resource in any expression of their political views or personal opinions. This policy expressly prohibits university employees from using university funds, university materials, university telecommunications media and university staff support in communicating their personal opinions and views to government officials.
The officials covered by this policy are the executives of federal, state, and local departments and agencies, whether elected or appointed; members of Congress; members of the Texas Legislature; legislative agencies such as the Legislative Budget Board; state agencies; county and city elected officials and staff including the Harris County Commissioners Court and the Houston City Council; and the immediate staff of these persons.
The topics of communication covered by this policy are those pertaining to matters of institutional interests, state or federal appropriations, matters pertaining to the operation of the institution or institutional programs, legislative priorities, regulatory oversight, or related policy matters.
Many contacts and communications between employees and governmental representatives are unrelated to either political, legislative or regulatory processes and the overall institutional interests and priorities and thus are properly within the purview of individual faculty members or operating units. Examples include physician-patient relationships, contract and peer-reviewed or other grant-related issues, and routine business matters. There is no intent in this policy to restrict or hamper these beneficial working relationships that promote the institutional mission.
Before contacting any state or federal legislator or staff; state or federal agency or department head or staff; or city and county elected officials or staff on a topic covered by this policy, employees must first discuss the issue, the desired action and potential state or federal reporting requirements with a representative of the Office of Governmental Relations.
All employees must immediately inform a representative of the Office of Governmental Relations when he or she has been directly contacted by a government official or his or her staff members on a covered topic. Based upon the nature of the contact and its ramifications, Governmental Relations staff will consult with the President as appropriate and determine the most appropriate next steps or the response to an inquiry.
- Office of Governmental Relations