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Policy for Contacting Federal Officials

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Severe civil and criminal penalties apply to individuals and organizations who fail to accurately track and disclose contacts with federal officials. As an entity that engages in lobbying efforts and interacts with members of Congress, federal agency staff, and executive branch officials, the University of Texas System must comply with regulations contained in the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 (LDA) and the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (HLOGA). These laws require the UT System to track all system and campus “lobbying contacts” and “lobbying activities” – terms defined below – to the Clerk’s office on a quarterly basis. The UT System Office of Federal Relations (OFR) is responsible for tracking, certifying, and reporting all covered interactions on behalf of all UT System personnel. 

To download the Contact With Federal Officials Reporting Form, click here.

Background

The Office of Federal Relations serves as an advocate and conduit for contact between the University of Texas administration and faculty and officials in the federal government; specifically, the President of the United States, his Cabinet Officers, agency personnel, members of the Senate or House of Representatives, and their staff. This includes invitations to campus, requests for appointments with legislative or senior executive branch officials regarding legislation, and rules or policies made on behalf of the University.

It is not the intention of the Office of Federal Relations to limit communication between university faculty and administration with federal representatives. Delegation members receive a multitude of requests each day for government assistance from a diverse constituency. The purpose of this policy is to provide a mechanism by which our institutions' requests can be carefully coordinated while focusing on our campuses' highest priorities, and providing a tracking system to ensure compliance with federal lobbying regulations.

Individuals seeking further clarification or in need of additional guidance should contact OFR at 202.955.9091.

What Triggers the Need to Report?

  • Lobbying Contacts include letters, phone calls, emails, and face-to-face meetings made on behalf of a UT System institution with covered executive branch and legislative branch officials intended to influence a covered official on appropriations; pending legislation; rule changes; regulations; Executive Orders; programs; positions of the U.S. government, administration or execution of federal programs or policies (including federal contracts and grants); and nomination or confirmation of a person for a position subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate. This includes any contact that is made in Washington, on campus, or at any other location. Lobbying contacts do NOT include contacts made as part of a professional association (and not on behalf of the UT System) or contacts regarding the administration of a previously-awarded federal grant.

  • Lobbying Activities are defined as “lobbying contacts and efforts in support of such contacts, including preparation and planning activities, research and other background work that is intended, at the time it is performed, for use in contacts, and coordination with the lobbying activities of others.”

  • Additionally, LDA requires the UT System to disclose certain other expenses and non-financial contributions that involve covered federal officials. Examples include contributions and/or expenses paid 1) for events honoring a covered federal official, 2) to an entity named for or in recognition of a covered federal official, 3) to an entity established, financed, maintained or controlled by a covered federal official, 4) to a presidential library foundation, 5) for a meeting, retreat or conference held by or in the name of one or more covered federal officials. Expenses related to the hosting of a reception in honor of one or more covered federal officials, or to purchase a ticket to a charitable event where a member of Congress was honored, or to award an honorary plaque or degree, must now also be reported. Sponsored travel involving covered officials or the giving of non-financial gifts are also subject to restriction. Please see related sections below for more information.

  • Several activities are exempted from the definitions of lobbying activities, including Congressional testimony, communications made through any medium of mass communication, scheduling appointments, and information provided as part of a rulemaking process or at the request of a legislative or executive branch official. Exempt activity does not have to be reported on the UT System Contact With Federal Officials Reporting Form.

Who are Covered Federal Officials?

The need to report a lobbying contact only applies when a covered official, such as a member of Congress or congressional staff, is present. Covered officials include legislative, executive, and military personnel as indicated below.  

A covered legislative branch official is defined as any of the following:

  • members of Congress;

  • an elected officer of either House of Congress;

  • any employee of a member of Congress, a committee of either House of Congress, the leadership staff of either House of  Congress, a joint committee of Congress, and a working group or caucus organized to provide legislative services or other assistance to members of Congress;

  • all officers of the House and Senate (Clerk of the House, Secretary of the Senate, etc.), and other highly compensated employees ($114,200 and above for 2008). Please check with us if uncertain about eligibility.

  • Those designated in section 109(13) of the Ethics in Government Act as an “officer or employee of the Congress.”

A covered executive branch official is defined as any of the following:

  • the President;  

  • the Vice President;

  • any officer or employee in the Executive Office of the President;

  • generally the top three levels in an agency (agency Heads, Deputies, Assistant Secretaries, Assistant Administrators) but there are exceptions;

  • any officer or employee serving in a position in Level I-V of the Executive Schedule;

  • all Generals and Admirals;

  • any member of the uniformed services whose pay grade is at or above O-7;  

  • “Schedule C” employees (positions in which the incumbent serves at the pleasure of the agency head, such as an  Undersecretary or Director); and

  • political appointees regardless of title.  

Who Must Report their Federal Lobbying Contacts?

Any UT System or UT component institution employee that makes a “lobbying contact” with a “covered federal official” must complete the UT System Contact with Federal Officials Reporting Form before the quarterly deadline for each reporting period (described in “Reporting Deadlines”). Generally, the University President and Vice President for Research have designated specific individuals to lobby on behalf of the University. However, OFR recognizes that from time to time it is often appropriate for faculty or staff to make federal lobbying contacts on behalf of their institutions. Due to the significant restrictions on the use of either federal or state funds to engage in lobbying activities, and the various requirements relating to the manner in which lobbying activities must be reported and conducted, UT System faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to notify both their campus administrators and the UT System Office of Federal Relations in advance of any proposed lobbying contact or activity.

Examples of Covered Interactions

Example A: A research faculty member of a university travels to Washington to meet with congressional staff to discuss the need for continued programmatic funding support for their research field. This constitutes a lobbying contact and all of the faculty member’s allocatable expenses (e.g. plane ticket, salary and benefit costs, etc.) will be reportable.

Example B: A group of university officials involved in nanotechnology research decides to honor two members of Congress with "Nanotechnology Legislative Leaders of 2008" plaques. The university officials are aware that the senator has checked with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics regarding his or her ability to accept the award and attend the coffee, and the representative has checked with the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. The university officials pay a caterer $500 and a hotel $200 to partially fund the event. The university officials would report that they paid $500 to the caterer and $200 to the hotel on the next quarterly disclosure report for the purpose of an event to honor or recognize the members of Congress with the plaques.

Example C: A university buys a table at a dinner event sponsored by a 501(c) organization to honor a member of Congress, but the university is not considered a sponsor of the event under House and Senate gift rules. The university president pays the $150 individual ticket cost to attend the dinner, but is not considered a sponsor of the event under House and Senate gift rules. The purchase of a table or ticket to another entity's event, in and of itself, is not sufficient to be considered paying the "cost of an event." Supplemental facts might require reporting the cost of the event. For example, if (1) the university or its president undertake activities such that either become a sponsor of the event for House and/or Senate gift rule purposes; or (2) the university or its president purchase enough tickets/tables so that it would appear that they are paying the costs of the event and/or would not appear to be just ticket or table-buyers, then the university and its president would need to report the costs incurred by either (as the case may be) for the event, noting the member of Congress who was the honoree.

Reporting Deadlines

Disclosure reports are filed on a quarterly basis. The deadlines for submitting forms to UTS Office of Federal Relations are:

Q1 (January 1 - March 31) April 10

Q2 (April 1 - June 30) July 10

Q3 (July 1 - September 30) October 10

Q4 (October 1 - December 31) January 10

Calculating Lobbying Expenses

LDA requires the UT System to make a good faith estimate of its lobbying expenses, including hard costs for travel, printing, payments to outside consultants involved in lobbying assistance, and the value of the time spent by UT System and campus employees engaged in federal lobbying activities.

*Note* Federally-funded sponsored project funds must not be used to pay for federal lobbying activities.

LDA also requires the UT System to disclose certain contributions and/or expenses paid 1) for events honoring a covered federal official, 2) to an entity named for or in recognition of a covered federal official, 3) to an entity established, financed, maintained or controlled by a covered federal official, 4) to a presidential library foundation, 5) for a meeting, retreat or conference held by or in the name of one or more covered federal officials. Expenses related to the hosting of a reception in honor of one or more covered federal officials, or to purchase a ticket to a charitable event where a member of Congress was honored, or to award an honorary plaque or degree, must now also be reported.

Member of Congress Gift Restrictions

Members of Congress and their staff may not accept a gift of any kind unless it falls under a small list of limited exceptions. These exceptions include:

  • gifts paid by and on behalf of a State or Local Government (e.g. a gift made by a UT System component as an institution, not a personal gift by a UT System employee);

  • items valued at $10 or less, such as greeting cards, baseball caps and T-shirts;

  • free attendance to a “widely attended event”. A widely attended event includes conferences, dinners, receptions, and other similar events where 1) the event is open to individuals from throughout a given industry or profession, and there is an expectation that at least 25 persons will attend, other than the covered official(s); 2) the invitation is from the sponsor of the event; and 3) the member or staff reasonably determine that attendance at the event is related to her or her official duties;

  • food and refreshments of a nominal value that are not offered as part of a meal or offered at events (other than “widely attended event”). For example, an organization may offer coffee and bagels or appetizers and beverages as part of a policy briefing as long as the refreshments are not lavish, and not part of a meal function;

  • items of a commemorative nature, such as plaques or trophies, if they are intended as part of a presentation to a member or staff;

  • books or other materials of an informational nature;

  • gifts provided on the basis of a personal relationship or friendship, where there is a history of reciprocal gift giving or hospitality. A person giving a gift based on the personal friendship exception should not receive reimbursement for the cost of the gift or meal from his/her  employer or should not take a business tax deduction for the cost incurred.

Covered Official Travel Restrictions

House and Senate ethics rules impose significant restrictions on privately-sponsored travel for members of Congress and their staff. These covered officials are typically prohibited from accepting reimbursement from a registered lobbyist for “officially connected” travel (including meetings, speaking engagements or fact-finding trips). As a state entity, the UT System is exempt from the House and Senate travel restrictions. However, if the UT System jointly sponsors travel with a private entity (e.g. a private university) for a member of Congress or staff, the rules applicable to the private entity would apply to the jointly-sponsored travel. Some covered officials may seek to obtain written certification from trip sponsors and furnish a copy to the Senate Ethics Committee or House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct before engaging in travel sponsored by an external entity.

If you have any questions about HLA, HLOGA, or federal regulations regarding interactions with federal officials, please contact Katie Berger at kberger@utsystem.edu or call the UT System Office of Federal Relations at 202.955.9091.