Montgomery to hire lobbyist
Focus will be on attracting, retaining, expanding agencies
Montgomery County officials plan to hire a federal lobbyist to draw more government agencies to the county and help those already operating here to expand.
Steve Silverman, the director of the county's Department of Economic Development, said officials are interviewing several firms for the job.
The lobbyist would work on a contractual basis. It is too soon to tell how much the lobbyist's services will cost, but Silverman said it would be minimal.
The county is likely to hire the lobbyist by the end of the month, he said.
The county's lobbyist would navigate the U.S. General Services Administration's process for securing space for government agencies.
"With so much competition going on in the region, we need to make sure we have someone involved early on who understands the process," Silverman said. "All we're looking to do is have someone who knows the system and can keep us up to date on every step of the process so we are as competitive as we can be."
A federal lobbyist familiar with the GSA system could help prevent the uncertainty that surrounded the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Rockville lease earlier this year, Silverman said. The agency considered moving its 3,000-employee operation to Prince George's County before renewing its lease at the Parklawn building.
HHS announced last month it will pay $108.21 million to house the agency's offices in Rockville during the next five years.
Silverman said it was assumed that HHS would stay in Montgomery County from the start."That was a real wake-up call, that we were in a competition with Prince George's (County)," he said. "A friendly competition for an agency that has 3,000 employees."
Councilman Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said he supports hiring a federal lobbyist to help the county compete.
"Given the increased federal activity, it's something we're going to have to really focus on," he said. "(A lobbyist) would serve to help us in the long run."
In the absence of local business expansion due to the recession, counties are emphasizing growing federal agencies, Silverman said.
"The reality is that there aren't going to be very many large-scale, private-sector users looking for space," Silverman said. "There are not going to be a lot of companies looking for 500,000 square feet of space in the next few years."
Drawing and retaining federal agencies means an opportunity to increase the county's tax base and attract jobs, he said.
Montgomery County does have an Office of Intergovernmental Relations, headed by Melanie Wenger, that lobbies at the state and federal level.
The office has three lobbyists, and the county contracts with other lobbyists for specific federal issues.
Councilwoman Duchy Trachtenberg (D-At large) of North Bethesda said the council has not been given specific information regarding the plan to hire a federal lobbyist.
While the presence of federal agencies is important for the county, Trachtenberg said she has some questions about the cost and the scope of the lobbyist's work.
The council, which has ultimate fiscal authority, would need to approve any funding for a lobbyist, she said.
However, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said, it's possible the council would not need to approve the lobbyist if money for the contract already has been budgeted.
"No doubt we'll have an opinion," Trachtenberg said.