10 Ways to Get Good Advice from Federal Advisory Committees

Agencies devote considerable effort to planning, scheduling and staffing thousands of committees. Here’s how to get the most out of that effort.

Across the federal government, about a thousand committees governed by the Federal Advisory Committee Act and an untold number of additional committees meet each year to offer advice to improve government performance. Federal leaders devote considerable effort to planning, scheduling and staffing these committees. What does it take to get the best results?

Good advice is more than ceremonial consultation or reliable cheerleading for agency proposals. Good advice will:

  • Alert leaders to issues or evidence the agency should consider.
  • Help leaders understand how and why key stakeholders will respond to agency action.
  • Add specialized expertise to the agency’s ongoing deliberations.
  • Help agency staff understand and balance trade-offs.
  • Make explicit the standards of evidence appropriate to make decisions.

Good advice can come from individuals, as well as committees. To justify all the work associated with convening a committee, government leaders should promote the exchange of diverse views and learn when consensus is possible.  

For a committee to deliver on that capability, the agency needs to provide the right context. These 10 strategies can help to set the agenda, facilitate productive meetings, select the right members, and follow up afterward.

Set the agenda:

1. Be concrete about how the committee can add value to the agency. Satisfy statutory requirements, of course, but also articulate the topics and questions where an external Advisory Committee has something to offer that will be different from expertise that is already available in-house.

2. Build agendas collaboratively with the committee chair. On the agendas of each meeting, include issues of high interest to committee members. This increases the sense of collective ownership of the committee’s work.

Have productive meetings:

3. Orient members to serve the interests of not just of the current agency leader or their own constituency, but of the agency’s broader mission to serve the public. Setting this expectation begins with the letter of appointment, and needs to be reinforced in the norms of the meetings.

4. Bring members up to speed with candid and thorough advance material, so that meeting time is not dedicated to briefings but to active discussion. Make the meeting time matter.   

5. Meet regularly enough to get the work done and to sustain the attention of members between meetings. Meeting quarterly is usually often enough, but if quarterly meetings aren’t feasible, consider ways to stay in touch with committee members between meetings.

Select members who will contribute:

6. Select members based not just on expertise, but also on the ability to play well with others, and the capacity to exercise judgment in the public interest. Sometimes people with the most visible reputations or the strongest connections are unable or unwilling to participate constructively.

7. Solicit nominations for membership from key external stakeholders to stretch beyond the usual suspects.  When the agency relies only on its own networks for advisory committee members, it limits the pool of talent from which it draws. Soliciting nominations broadens and strengthens the set of potential advisors, and signals openness to stakeholders inside and outside the agency.

8. Appoint members to a term of service that is long enough to get up to speed and contribute, but not so long that it prevents getting fresh perspectives at regular intervals. Two year terms may be too short to learn the ropes and then add value. A longer term may promote more sustained involvement. Staggered terms help to retain institutional memory, so that some members continue while others rotate off.  

Follow up:

9. Follow up on the committee’s advice by conveying promptly whether input and recommendations have been accepted by agency leadership and the reasons why. Provide regular feedback to the committee about when and how their advice has made a difference.

10. Check in regularly to be sure that members believe that their time on the committee is well spent. In word and deed, express respect and gratitude to committee members for their service.

It’s important that agencies follow the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act for open meetings, disclosures of conflicts of interest, and balance in committee membership. But compliance alone is insufficient. These 10 strategies will allow agency leaders to get the most value out of the effort they invest in an advisory committee. By making the best use of the talents of committee members, agency leaders get better advice in the present, and make it easier to recruit talented people to serve on committees in the future.  

Janet A. Weiss is a professor of public policy and business at the University of Michigan.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.