Andrew Semmel: How to Negotiate Anything- Lessons Learned From the Capitol Leaders Program

by PSA Staff | December 8th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Executive Director Dr. Andrew Semmel discusses PSA’s Harvard Negotiation Program and its potential for building bipartisanship. Article written by Rebecca Gale and published by  Roll Call.

Capitol Leaders Program

Forty House and Senate foreign affairs and national security staffers came together recently at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs to learn the necessary skills to overcome gridlock in Congress. The program was organized by the Partnership for a Secure America and Harvard Law School’s Program on Negotiation. The bridge to bipartisanship, it seems, will be built by cooperative staffers.

The bridge to bipartisanship, it seems, will be built by cooperative staffers.

But can such teamwork lessons be applied more broadly outside of a Harvard-sanctioned setting and in the halls of Congress? Yes, says Andrew Semmel, executive director of the Partnership for a Secure America. He shared his insights with Roll Call in a lightly edited Q and A.

Q: So you got 40 staffers in a room, evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. How easy was it to cut through the rancor and find consensus?

A: On day one, we focused on several exercises and case studies that challenged the idea of negotiation being a zero-sum game — the “you win-I lose” calculus. Dissecting successful historic deals based on a collaborative model — including German reunification, the U.S.-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, and various corporate negotiations — helped establish a mindset on how to approach complex negotiations.

We believed, from the start, that most staff were tired and frustrated by congressional gridlock and low productivity and were eager to learn new skills and ways to improve the legislative process. We’re convinced, from our observations and analysis, that our initial beliefs were correct.

Q: The 40 staffers all came with foreign affairs backgrounds. Do you think foreign affairs is an issue area where partisanship is rampant? Why?

A: Foreign affairs is an area where partisanship exists, but it is not as rampant as in other policy areas. Policymakers generally have more latitude on foreign affairs than in domestic policy because voters are more disengaged on these issues.

Q: What surprised you most about the program?

A: “Active listening” was a surprisingly dominant theme over the course of the program. Humility, too, goes a long way in generating trust and strong relationships among negotiators. Case studies of the best negotiators demonstrated this time and again.

The other biggest surprise was the consistency of participation by staffers recruited for the program. We maintained a strict attendance policy, and they continued to arrive prepared and eager to engage with instructors and each other.

Q: What do you think was the greatest takeaway from the program?

A: That it is possible to create value during a negotiation so all parties can walk away with more than they thought they could achieve. The goal should be to increase the “size of the pie” first, and then negotiate dividing up the pie second.

Q: Why staffers? Do you think the partisan divide is greater at the staff level than at the member level?

A: U.S. congressional staff are more influential than in any other national legislature. Staffers are the gateway to members and help shape members’ views, priorities, and votes. To tackle gridlock and improve the culture of Congress, it is as important to work at the staff level as the member level.

The partisan divide may be less at the staff level. Staffers often live in or around D.C., enjoying more opportunities to interact across the aisle outside of the office. Fortunately, this provides fertile ground for building bipartisan relationships.

Q: How did you find staffers for the program?

A: For this program*, we recruited staffers responsible for national security and foreign policy issues in committee and personal offices — half Democrats and half Republicans, half House and half Senate.

Q. What would you recommend for staffers who want to improve their negotiation skills?

Negotiation skills are like any other skill — they improve with use. A staffer who is interested in improving his or her skills should proactively and consciously engage in negotiations wherever they occur. Remember to actively listen to understand the other party’s underlying interests behind a position, offer ideas for “expanding the pie” in a deal, and prepare, prepare, prepare with research on the issue and the other party. Help those across the table reach an agreement that works for you and them. Finally, keep in mind the words of Italian diplomat Daniele Vare, who said negotiation is “the art of letting them have your way.”

Q: Did staffers explain their reasons for partisanship? What was a common theme that emerged?

A: Staffers are as frustrated as many Americans by meaningless partisanship that yields no results. Many staff follow the lead of their members, and there is hiring selectivity that reinforces prevailing views. Compromise has become a dirty word. Staff (and members) must realize that today’s adversary can be tomorrow’s ally, and building good relations is central to success.

Q: With the wave election ushering in new staffers this January, what is the best piece of advice you would give them on how to negotiate most effectively?

A: Forging strong relationships with staffers from other offices — especially across the aisle — will be absolutely essential. Ninety percent of the work of a successful negotiator is building good rapport, credibility and trust with your counterparts within and between parties. But don’t wait until you need something to reach out to people. Establish those connections and solidify relationships even before there’s a negotiation on the horizon. Find out who the important players on your issues are — what offices, what committees — and reach out just to introduce yourself. Make an effort to meet them in person. Lunch lines, staff trips and after-hour social activities all play a part. This is very time consuming, but you will make a great impression and position yourself well to become an influential Capitol Hill staffer.

*Staffers interested in participating in a future negotiation session should contact Nathan Sermonis at sermonis@psaonline.org.

Lee Hamilton: Lobbyists the New Fourth Branch of Government

by PSA Staff | November 19th, 2014 | |Subscribe

PSA Board of Directors Member and current director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, Lee Hamilton, discusses the influence of lobbying groups in American politics. The Rock River Times Op-Ed

The Power of Lobbyists 

Because of its power to influence public affairs, the press has long been known as “the Fourth Estate.” But I think the media may have been displaced. These days, it’s lobbyists who seem to carry the most clout in Washington.

Here’s a case in point. When Congress closed at the beginning of August for its end-of-summer recess, it faced wide-scale derision for having accomplished next to nothing during the year. In fact, the Pew Center ranked the session as the least productive in two decades.

But it wasn’t entirely unproductive. Just before they left town, members of Congress did manage to get three things done: they passed a Veterans Administration reform package; they increased aid to Israel; and they kept highway construction projects around the country from losing funding.

Why did these three measures find success when so many others did not? There’s a two-word answer: powerful lobbyists. Veterans, supporters of Israel, and the combined weight of highway construction interests and state and local governments are among the most influential forces in Washington.

Last year, some 12,000 active lobbyists spent $3.24 billion on trying to influence the federal government, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. I don’t know of any other country where lobbyists have those kinds of numbers, spend that kind of money, or get the kinds of results they’re able to achieve here — in Congress, in the executive branch and, increasingly, in statehouses around the country.

But even among all those lobbyists, some stand out for their effectiveness. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), veterans’ groups, the AARP: all are very good at obtaining laws and policies in their interests and blocking laws and policies they consider harmful.

I don’t mean by this that they’re all-powerful. They don’t win every battle. But they do win most of them.

How do they do this? To start, lawmakers have to get elected. Good lobbyists don’t just provide large amounts of money for campaigns, they provide early money and expert help. They donate, they introduce you to other donors, and they help you establish connections that can help during your campaign and later on. Early money in politics is better than late money. Candidates remember that sort of thing. They also remember that if you oppose these organizations’ views, they’ll come at you hard.

Good lobbyists and their organizations also provide information in easily digestible form. They’ll assign particular staffers to develop relationships with members of Congress — people who can write a speech or testimony or legislative language quickly. They and their colleagues are sophisticated observers of public affairs who know whether, when, and how to approach government policy makers, along with the particular policy maker who can help them best.

They are deeply knowledgeable about the process of government and have a wide network of friends on Capitol Hill, in the agencies, and in members’ districts — often, their most effective voices aren’t Washington lobbyists, but the grassroots networks they’ve built back home. They understand that at heart, lobbying is about establishing relationships long before any particular issue affecting them comes up, so that when they go to talk about a bill, they’re going in to see a friend.

They build relationships in several ways. There are all kinds of approaches to members — the annual policy conferences to which members of Congress flock, the sponsored trips and meetings in out-of-the-way resorts where a lobbyist can get a few days of a member’s undivided attention. But the best lobbyists are also friendly, approachable people who know how to talk to members and policy-makers of both parties.

The best lobbying groups also have a lot of money and resources not just to woo policy makers, but to shape public discourse. They make good information available to their advocates, and make sure that the advocates who speak for them on television, online, and in newspapers are well informed. They know that part of the battle is to shape public dialogue.

The best lobbyists are masters at making the system work for them. My guess is that their influence over policy surpasses the media’s clout, and they have now become the fourth branch of government.

Lee Hamilton was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.

Tara Sonenshine: A Fulbright Is Not a Political Football

by PSA Staff | October 1st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Tara Sonenshine sits on the Partnership for a Secure America’s Board of Advisors. She is a former under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs and currently teaches at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs.This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

A Fulbright is Not a Political Football

Every now and then Congress shows wisdom as in the recent decision by the House and Senate to reject a request from the Obama administration to cut funding for the famous Fulbright program from $237 to $204 million.

What’s a Fulbright and why should you care?

The Fulbright is the most competitive and highly sought academic fellowship in the world. Think of it as trade — the trading of great minds in the stead of peace.

The Fulbright premise is tried and true — built on a simple, highly effective concept of international exchanges among scholars to foster better understanding and relations among nations. The Fulbright program provides small grants to help American students and teachers learn and work abroad and foreign students and scholars to visit the United States. As Senator J. William Fulbright, the program’s founder, said in 1945, “a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion… increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and fellowship.”

With over 355,000 alumni from over 155 countries, the Fulbright Program is important, symbolically and substantively for the United States at a time when we are trying to win more friends and fight more enemies. The Fulbright program awards approximately 8,000 grants annually. Roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 US scholars, and 900 visiting scholars receive awards, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals. In this exchange of knowledge comes the chance to build stronger civil societies based on common values and interests.

So why would anyone want to cut a program that builds and maintains robust educational, scientific, economic, and political partnerships; knowledge transfer; and competition in the global marketplace?

Well, in a world of economic choices there is always a temptation to save “cents” at the expense of “sense.” Mistakenly, some in the government thought of shifting resources from in-depth exchange programs like Fulbright — which last a full year and extend around the globe — to shorter programs targeted on regions like Africa or Asia. Taking an axe to a government program might sound appealing unless you know the facts:

Firstly, the Fulbright is not exclusively a U.S. government program. It uses cost-sharing and partnership agreements with other countries — some of which are America’s long-standing friends and most important allies in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, and in the Western Hemisphere. In many of the countries engaged in these exchanges, Fulbright Commissions administer the program. Their budgets come from multiple sources — the U.S. Department of State and other governments as well as private charitable donations. In many countries with Fulbright commissions, partner countries spend more funding Fulbright opportunities for U.S. students and scholars to go abroad and more for their own students and scholars to go to the United States than the U.S. government does. We should not undermine their confidence in the U.S. commitment to the program with $ 30 million cut that would jeopardize those revenue flows.

Geography matters. It is also important to keep the reach of Fulbright educational exchanges broad, not narrow. Shifting the diplomatic lens away from Europe, for example, during a period when we are building coalitions of the willing to fight ISIS, deal with the instability in Ukraine, and counter transnational threats makes no sense. This is a time when we need transatlantic cooperation through dialogue and exchange.

The Fulbright program yields some of the greatest peace dividends. Among its alumni are 29 former heads of state or government, 53 Nobel Prize winners, and 80 Pulitzer Prize winners from all regions of the world. Those who invest in the Fulbright program invest a full year because learning about another country takes time. Shorter programs that offer less substantive immersion for foreigners do not necessarily create lasting change. Cutting corners on education never quite works.

Lastly, there is an American economic imperative to invest in international education including bringing scholars from the around the world to the U.S. According to the Association of International Educators, international students contribute over $24 billion to the U.S. economy each year, and the Fulbright Program is one of the most respected programs among international educators in the United States and abroad.

The Fulbright program must stay fully funded. Stay tuned for more budget action as Congress makes final decisions on the FY15 appropriations bills although the way things are going, there may not be a final budget until the end of the year. In the meantime, America has to do it work to strengthen ties with other nations and promote international cooperation. Fulbright is one small way to maintain the world’s largest multilateral investment in public diplomacy.

Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

by PSA Staff | July 14th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton: Are we doomed to polarization?

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. He is also Co-Chair of  PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times.

We Americans are trapped in a political dilemma. We all like representative democracy, but we don’t much like the way it’s performing.

The reason for this dissatisfaction is clear. Polls in recent years detail a polarized nation, divided both ideologically and politically. This is, as the Pew Research Center put it recently, “a defining feature of politics today.” In the public’s eye, Washington gets most of the blame for this. (more…)

Lee Hamilton: Why I still have faith in Congress

by PSA Staff | June 11th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. Lee Hamilton is also the Co-Chair of PSA’s Board of Advisors. This article originally appeared in the Rock River Times

Lee Hamilton: Why I still have faith in Congress

It’s depressing to read poll after poll highlighting Americans’ utter disdain for Congress. But it’s my encounters with ordinary citizens at public meetings or in casual conversation that really bring me up short. In angry diatribes or in resigned comments, people make clear their dwindling confidence in both politicians and the institution itself.

With all Congress’s imperfections — its partisanship, brinksmanship and exasperating inability to legislate — it’s not hard to understand this loss of faith. Yet, as people vent their frustration, I hear something else as well. It is a search for hope. They ask, almost desperately sometimes, about grounds for renewed hope in our system. Here’s why I’m confident we can do better.

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Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

by PSA Staff | February 28th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Thomas Pickering is a retired ambassador and former Under Secretary of State. He is currently a member of PSA’s Advisory Board. This article was co-authored by Nicholas Kralev. The article originally appeared in USA Today

Take Politics Out of Diplomacy

Diplomacy is easy and anyone can do it. This is the message U.S. presidents of both parties have been sending the American people and the world for decades. They have done so not verbally, but through their actions, giving away ambassadorial posts as rewards to unqualified people only because they were top fundraisers during the presidents’ election campaigns.

As old as that issue is, it has received renewed and greater attention recently, following last month’s embarrassing Senate confirmation hearing of President Obama’s nominees as ambassadors to Norway and Hungary. Sen. John McCain’s public shaming of those nominees, hotel magnate George Tsunis and soap opera producer Colleen Bell, for not knowing basic facts about the country where they are supposed to serve or about U.S. interests in that country, has sparked important media commentary.

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Lee Hamilton on Congress: An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

by PSA Staff | February 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is a member of PSA’s Advisory Board and the director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally published on Glen Rose Current.

An Alternative to the Imperial Presidency

In his State of the Union speech to Congress last month, President Obama drew widespread attention for pledging to use his executive authority to advance his priorities. He insisted he intends to act with or without Congress, and listed well over a dozen actions he plans to take by executive order.

“Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families,” he said, “that’s what I’m going to do.”

(more…)

Why 9/11 Can Happen Again

by PSA Staff | February 21st, 2014 | |Subscribe

Gary Hart is a lawyer and former senator from Colorado. He currently serves on PSA’s Advisory Board. Norman Augustine co-authored the article. This article was originally published in the Los Angeles Times.

Why 9/11 Can Happen Again

In February 2001, a bipartisan federal commission on which we served warned that terrorists would acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption. “Attacks against American citizens on American soil, possibly causing heavy casualties, are likely over the next quarter-century,” the Hart-Rudman Commission said. “In the face of this threat, our nation has no coherent or integrated governmental structures.” We added: “Congress should rationalize its current committee structure so that it best serves U.S. national security objectives.”

We identified 50 ways to improve national security, none of which was implemented before 9/11. One recommendation — to create a single agency to deal with homeland security — was not acted on until a year and a half after those tragic attacks.

(more…)

Hold the Congratulations for Congress

by PSA Staff | January 24th, 2014 | |Subscribe

Lee Hamilton is co-chair of PSA’s Advisory Board and Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years. This article was originally posted in the Union-Bulletin.

Column: Hold the Congratulations for Congress

Now that Congress has its immense, $1.1 trillion bipartisan funding bill in hand, Capitol Hill is breathing easier. They ended the specter of a government shutdown for the moment, and funded the federal budget for most of the year. The media has been commending Congress for finally doing its job.

This praise works only in the context of recent history, however. The bill that congressional leaders produced is hardly a triumph. Instead, it’s another example of Congress’s stubborn determination to deal itself out of the budgeting process. Let me explain.

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The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

by PSA Staff | November 1st, 2013 | |Subscribe

Ryan McClure is an attorney, intern at Partnership for a Secure America, and foreign policy blogger focusing on U.S. foreign policy in East Asia.  He can be followed on Twitter @The BambooC.

The Need for Bipartisanship on U.S.-Burma Policy

The United States’ relationship with Burma has greatly changed in a brief period of time.  Just three years ago, Burma was a pariah state subject to severe American sanctions.  Today, sanctions have been lessened and the Burmese president is welcomed at the White House.  The reason for these changes is Burma’s quasi-military government’s decision to carry out political reform toward a more democratic system.  However, political oppression and human rights violations continue.

The Obama Administration, while aware of these abuses, persists in rewarding the Burmese government for geo-strategic reasons.  Because of this, Congress must press the Administration to institute a more deliberate policy that rewards Burma with economic and diplomatic engagement only when concrete, sustained benchmarks have been met.   (more…)

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.