Handling federal affairs, coalition-building
The crisis will trigger (in a well-run federal agency and department) establishment of a government crisis-response team whose actions will directly impact the company. Agency subject matter experts and political leaders may literally gather in a war room-like setting and by teleconference to gather situation-status information, identify problems and solutions, and impose their view of the best federal response.
The crisis is also likely to trigger highly political activity, as various members of Congress take advantage of the situation, either by defending a local company that they represent or by using the situation to demagogue, seek media attention, call for hearings and push policy reforms.
It is essential that the company have a government affairs and public communication strategy that incorporates extensive knowledge of food safety law, policy, and regulations to maximize communication and confidence in the company’s own response, minimize demonization of the company, use government support constructively, and protect company revenue in the long run.
Working closely with our partners in this collaboration, FaegreBD Consulting would immediately take some of the following steps:
- Work with USDA, HHS and FDA political leadership (and the White House if this were a serious national-level crisis) to keep them apprised of developments and ensure an open line of communication, making sure the company could avoid surprises associated with politically motivated retaliation. A well-run agency will take advantage of the additional information from the company as a good way to have cooler heads prevail if the media are stirring up wild scenarios.
- Work with congressional representatives/senators of the company to ensure they have full information and are positioned to support the company in its response.
- Work with congressional committees that have jurisdiction over agriculture and FDA issues to keep them similarly apprised of developments and to defuse the immediate rush to new legislative solutions. The committees also will consider setting up “oversight and investigation” inquiries that will involve subpoenas of documents or company management for congressional briefings or public hearings. Early engagement with the committees to defuse overreactions will be essential. If hearings are in fact held, the company will need additional assistance in drafting written testimony and preparing a witness to answer questions on the record.
- Work with the government affairs and communications teams of the company to ensure that public communications/messaging to all audiences (including the media, public generally, social media) is consistent with the government messaging.
It is essential that the company establish a federal affairs crisis response that is rooted in a deep knowledge of the food safety-related issues at hand, that understands the agency’s own crisis team and the other federal actors’ response in such a situation, and that delivers timely information, credibility and results.
Dr. David Acheson is the managing director, Food and Import Safety Practice, at Leavitt Partners. Vince Ventimiglia is a senior vice president with FaegreBD Consulting’s health and life sciences practice. Kim Walker serves as the head of the Faegre Baker Daniels’ national Food, Agriculture and Biofuel practice, focusing his practice in the food, agribusiness litigation and antitrust areas.