One of our great rights as American citizens is to petition our government and communicate directly with those who represent us. As private citizens, we may communicate with elected officials on anything and as often as we choose. As public employees, however, state and federal laws and university policies govern these communications while working in our official capacities.
As the 112th General Assembly and 117th Congress begin their work, it is an appropriate time to be reminded of these laws, policies and best practices.
Advocacy as a Private Citizen
University employees advocating as private citizens should clearly indicate their advocacy as such. Advocacy as a private citizen is not to be done using university resources, including university letterhead and email addresses. Advocacy as a private citizen should not be done during working hours unless leave has been approved.
Tennessee law prohibits University employees in their official capacity from promoting legislative proposals or requests for state funding unless approval in advance has been received from the campus or institute CEO and the President’s office. The UT Office of Government Relations and Advocacy coordinates all aspects of official university interactions with government officials. The office is pleased to assist any employee with questions about this statute. Refer to this webpagefor additional details and contact information.
The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007, and other federal directives set forth the requirements for university employees while acting in their official capacities in communicating requests with members of Congress, congressional staff and identified members of the federal executive branch. Your activity may trigger federal reporting requirements, so before communicating in your official capacity, we ask that you review the following resource page and contact our office to ensure your efforts are carried out appropriately and effectively.
In response to these laws, UT has two policies to help enable compliance—Human Resources Policy HR0527 and Board Policy BT0017. HR0527 provides guidance to university employees about proper coordination and reporting of federal lobbying activities. Among other items, the policy states that university employees must not engage in lobbying activities, or give the appearance of engaging in lobbying activities, without specific prior authorization by the Vice President for Government Relations and Advocacy. The policy also explains that a university employee may express his/her personal views on personal time using personal resources, and may identify his/her profession or place of employment when doing so. However, in such circumstances, a university employee must make it clear that he/she is expressing personal views and not an official position of the university. BT0017 explains the protocol for submitting legislative proposals or state funding requests to the General Assembly on behalf of the university. The policy provides that university employees should not advance state legislative funding requests on behalf of the university without the knowledge of the President and campus chief executive officer. It is important that you are knowledgeable of these laws and policies that, depending on the nature of your engagement of a public official, may require you to report or seek authorization for certain activity.
Our nation is founded on the principle that every citizen has a voice and a vote, and university employees are encouraged to exercise these rights as private citizens. If you feel your job responsibilities warrant a university-related contact with a government official, discuss this with your supervisor and seek prior approval consistent with university policy, state and federal laws.
Government Relations and Advocacy