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University of Michigan is among many U.S. college that maintain lobbyist offices in Washington D.C. to be near the seat of power. 

UW-Madison needs to raise its profile in Washington, D.C., to better compete for federal grant money, officials say.

They do could worse than to take a page from the University of Michigan — which has had an office in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol since 1990 — on how to better position itself for the all-important access in D.C.

A recent article in The Michigan Daily, the student newspaper at Ann Arbor, zeros right in on the importance of being there:

“It’s in the District of Columbia — not Ann Arbor — where the University has constant access to legislators, policymakers, the White House and congressional staff. The University’s Washington staff members are well positioned to advocate on the University’s behalf. In Washington, friends of the University have the clout to attach a crucial amendment or adjust a vital regulation. Though they might not know it, University faculty, students and administrators are depending on a staff over 500 miles away — for research dollars, flexible student loan policy and lenient immigration laws,” the Daily reports.

Michigan was a pioneer among universities in establishing a lobbying office in D.C., but most top universities have at least one now, say UW-Madison officials.

UW-Madison plans to open a D.C. office early next year with a newly hired director of federal relations who, instead of working on campus and visiting D.C., would instead rub elbows with heads of federal granting agencies that set the direction for research, as well as lawmakers whose policies affect the flow of research dollars in the capital city, full-time.

Michigan’s executive director of federal relations, Michael Waring, and Cindy Bank, the office’s assistant director, have run that university’s D.C. operation for more than a decade, cultivating relationships in a city that runs on networks, the Daily reports.

“The University is almost like a big corporation in a sense,” Waring told the paper. “It has lots of pieces, and the federal government intersects with those in a lot of ways.”

Issues like higher education policy, taxation, immigration, cyber security and health all effect universities, says Waring.

But it's in the high-stakes competition for federal research dollars that Michigan, like other major universities, works to leverage its access, connections and track record.

UW-Madison needs to do a better job competing for federal money against the “heavy hitters,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank told faculty this week.

The new office will be one step. Blank is also suggesting that administrative roles in research and the graduate school be tweaked to reflect the growing complexity and importance of research as a revenue source for the university.

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