Mr. Smith Goes to Washington


Dr. Arun Majumdar, Under Secretary of the DOE, making the point why finding a way to stop sending $1Billion each day overseas is important. Duh!

This week four members of the Los Angeles Cleantech community went to Washington to tell our story.  Our Mr. Smith trip is an exploratory and ground-laying trip as we want to learn how “its” done (i.e. work the system), meet people that we can ask for help/information in the future, learn about programs that we can potentially participate in,  and generally get the lay of the land.  Moreover, we wanted to hone our narrative making sure as many people in Congress, DOE, Commerce, and the White House know about us as possible.

Week One — The Stats

For the number-crunchers out there, here’s the metrics of week one:

  • One conference (APRA-e Summit) of 1500 people and 200+ exhibitors
  • 13 formal meetings with Representatives, Senators (their staffs), DOE program managers and staff, EDA staff, SBA staff, the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and a couple of fellows from the World Bank.
  • Number of problems getting through security (EVERY one, most of which are my fault)
  • Number of grass hoppers eaten at dinner:  one (I will get even with Goodstein)

Setting up these meetings requires a Herculean effort by a lot of people.  Sean, Michael and their organizations (the Los Angeles Area Chamber and UCLA) took the lead in making these meetings happen.  Ian and the LACI team worked weeks trying to get ready, making sure we had background material and leave behinds for the entire trip.  Just coordinating our schedules was a heavy lift.

A Typical “Pitch Session”

Depending on whether you’re meeting with a member of Congress or an agency, the protocols vary.    Let’s take a member of Congress or their staff  as an example.  They go something like this for Team LA:

  • Find the office in the respective building (not as easy as you think).
  • Outside, give all our cards to our “lead,”  — Chair Swords — who presents all cards to the staffer in the reception, who then pastes the cards on a sheet of paper and gives them to the person we’re meeting with.
  • These meetings are typically 30 minutes max and usually take place in a group office.  We took one sitting in the reception area and two others in the Congress Member’s office.
  • Format:  Each of us would give our respective 5 minutes pitches, each with a difference  emphasis depending on who we were meeting with and which one of us started out.  We’re getting pretty good at filling in the gaps of each others’ narrative.  After the introduction, there is a Q&A session with the staff, most often focusing on “the ask,” if we have one.  Push the leave-behind across the table for future reference.
  • Key themes:  (1) Please support LA’s efforts to build a cleantech ecosystem  (2) Unique public/private partnership;  (3) Unequaled powerhouse of university research centers in LA;  (4) Unique LA region’s strengths  (5) New initiatives underway (LACI, new ED at CTLA, etc.)

Week One’s Highlights

  • You can’t come away from the ARPA-e Summit without feeling that no matter what else is going wrong with the world, there are a lot of smart people working on sustainability in the US.  This was a spectacular event attended by 1500-ish people.  More than 180 companies/projects displayed their technology, products and services.   Key speakers included Bill Gates, Secretary Chu, Fred Smith (Fed Ex), the Chairman of Walmart, and my nomination for best presentation — Dr. Arun Majumdar.
  • Sitting around a small table in Congressman Waxman’s staffer bullpen and making our first pitch and realizing we were a pretty damn good team.
  • The numerous evening gatherings with serious conversations late into the night.    There are a lot of passionate people working on sustainability issues in DC and it was good talking about things that matter.
  • And by far the best of all — the tour of the West Wing graciously arranged and given by Brandon Hurlbut,  Chief of Staff to DOE Secretary Chu.  Seeing the Oval Office in the flesh is something special.

Bill Gates and Secretary Chu have a "fire side chat" without the fire. One of many facinating discussions at the Summit.

Running down the hall of the Executive Office Building (EOB) on the way to another meeting.

Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council of Environmental Quality, was easily the most gracious and accessible of the high level officials that we met with during Week One.

The Team in front of the EOB.
Working lunch at the Rayburn House Office Building
There’s a lot of this in DC — waiting for the next meeting. Here Mark reads the WSJ at Commerce.
The Team after touring the West Wing.  We tried to act Presidential, but it was a challenge for some of us.
All work and no play make for a dull Los Angeles delegation.  This is the restaurant that MG put a fried grasshopper in my salad when I wasn’t looking.

The White House never sleeps and neither does Team LA

Next Week

This week has been practice for next week’s  Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s Access DC  event with more than 200 delegates and more than a dozen events.    These events literally start at a 7:00AM breakfast and last through a reception and dinner each night.


5 replies
  1. Sam and Jill says:

    FW, we are SOOOOO proud of you and LACI and what you’re doing for LA, America and the World! Very impressive and reassuring.

    PS Obviously Karen is in Mexico. She could have warned you about wearing that gray “Summer” suit in the dead of Winter 😉

  2. Lynn says:

    Glad it all went well and you are on your way home and then to retrieve your bride. You dress up pretty good 🙂

  3. Gregg & Tish says:

    Cool, next step, super lobbyist for the Green Coalition. Very cool, Freddie, keep up the good work.

  4. Jack(previous owner of one-eye) says:

    Fred, it is awesome what you are doing, I am impressed..I even told my nephew who is consulting on Solar projects in California to check in with you. Hopefully, we can come visit you in mexico when the project is done.

  5. Greg & Sindhu says:

    Congrats on finding a way to get those inside the beltway to listen to something meaningful.

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