Federal Relations Office Strives to Educate Campus on Lobbying Regulations

Amid all the legalese and jargon-heavy language in regulations covering federal lobbying disclosure laws, Georgia Tech Office of Federal Relations Director Robert Knotts wants administration, faculty and staff to remember one thing: his contact information.

Two years ago, Congress amended the laws and rules regarding disclosures of federal lobbying and honoring certain groups of officials. One of the main changes in the law is that it has more “teeth,” according to Knotts. Failure to comply could result in a maximum fine of $200,000 and up to five years in prison.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding—it’s complicated,” said Knotts, who serves as the Institute’s in-house lobbyist in Washington, D.C. “This change is an attempt to increase governmental transparency. The problem is people hear the word lobbying, and they think, ‘that’s not what I’m doing.’”

Since Georgia Tech is registered as a federal lobbying entity, Knotts explains that the Institute falls under the disclosure rules.

If any member of the Institute—on behalf of Georgia Tech—works to influence legislation before Congress or seek funding from certain covered federal officials, it is required that resources used to do so are documented by Federal Relations.

“I’m required to report the cost involved for that meeting, from travel and presentation expenses to salary of those involved,” he said. “Each quarter, I make a good-faith effort to report how much Tech is spending.”

Among its other responsibilities, the Office of Federal Relations files these quarterly reports disclosing any Institute lobby efforts before the federal government, as well as semiannual disclosure reports on efforts to honor covered federal officials. Knotts points to a campus visit by alumnus and then–Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics John J. Young Jr. During his visit, Young was given a Presidential Citation and plaque from former Institute President Wayne Clough. Knotts was required to capture the cost involved with the Institute’s honoring him, as the under secretary of Defense is considered a covered official.

“In the executive branch, the bar is set much higher, usually meaning presidentially appointed officials,” he said. “In Congress, everyone is a ‘covered official,’ from the person who answers the phones to legislators’ assistants.”

The Institute is also required to disclose state lobbying expenditures with the State Ethics Commission. The state lobbying reporting obligation rests with the Office of Government and Community Relations.

Visit the Georgia Tech Office of Research Compliance Web site for a link to download forms on reporting federal lobbying activities.

Knotts is available to answer any questions a faculty or staff member may have. He is available at knotts@gatech.edu or at 202-756-3670.

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