Government Relations: Six Tips for Working With Uncle Sam

At Skylark, we work with the government. A lot.  You would think that our customers are our Seniors and those who love them.  You’d be right of course, but Uncle Sam pays us a lot of money each year.

We also work extensively with private individuals and insurance companies. 

There are some great advantages to working with the government: the business is relatively steady even during bad times and there is a steady flow of new clients.  We are also able to help individuals who would not normally be able to afford our services.

There are some disadvantages as well: payments are generally lower than what we receive from private clients, there are significant compliance issues, and the programs can be put on hold or discontinued.  Another big disadvantage is that they will audit your performance against a contract and ask for earned revenue back if performance isn’t properly documented or doesn’t meet expected standards.

Most of our government work is with Medicaid and the Veterans Administration.  We also work with local agencies at the city and county level.

Here are a few tips that we’ve learned the hard way:

  1. Competitive Advantage: Read and learn the regulations.  Many competitors don’t read the regulations and don’t know the rules of the road.  When working in a government contract, we’ll want to maximize the revenue opportunities as well as minimize expenses.  Without knowing the regulations, its next to impossible know what is possible as well as what is not.
  2. Find the government official who knows how to get things done:  Don’t expect special treatment, but there are individuals working in government who know how the system works and has the relationships to rise above bureaucratic red tape.  These individuals are awesome sources understanding how the regulatory environment is changing.  When you find these individuals treat them well.
  3. Government Relations: As a small business owner, you probably didn’t start your business to spend time with government officials.  Yet, as the CEO, I’ve found it vital to show up to speak at the state legislature to advocate for needed industry changes, meet government officials, serve on industry advisory committees, and the like.  As we grow, I will need to invest in professional government relations services (Lobbying) in order to stay abreast of our industry and advocate for our company and our industry.
  4. Compliance Program:  Develop your compliance program.  It’s for employees (are you ready for an immigration audit of your I-9s?); it’s for OSHA, the health department, state licensure boards, Medicaid, Medicare, the VA among others.  Compliance failures can bring down your company quickly.  Our best friend in compliance is the custom checklist.  We’ve also been working with our software provider to build compliance into the company workflow. 
  5. Join your industry association and make sure it has a great public policy arm:  This is intimately tied to the need to be involved in government relations.  Many state legislators do not want to just meet with an individual company.  They would rather meet with an association that represents many companies.  There are two many companies to meet with all of them, but if the association can consolidate an industry’s needs and communicate those interests professionally, there is an opportunity to impact public policy.  This is especially true the higher up in government you are looking.  It’s difficult but not impossible for an individual to make a difference at the city, county, or state level, but probably impossible to have an impact at the national level without that association backing.
  6. Long-term investment: A small-business owner needs to invest in their public policy efforts over a long period of time.  It’s not a one and done process.  In Skylark’s niche of the healthcare world, we woke up one morning realizing that our regulatory environment had changed.  It changed in an unfortunate and challenging way. 
  7. Be a good actor: It should be obvious, but be nice and polite.  Be a great resource to them. The employees, legislators, and staffers are often berated and not treated well.  Make it easy to help you.  If you yell, curse, complain loudly, and generally are a pain, your credibility will go downhill quickly.

Government work brings challenges and rewards.  Know the laws and the regulations.  There is a lot that can be accomplished by working through the system.  I didn’t quite understand the importance of government relations when I started the company, but it is an area of expertise that I spend a fair amount of my time on.

What else?  What involvement in government do you have in operating your business?  How do you manage the commitment?

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