Advocate Profile: Marsia Geldert-Murphey, P.E., M.ASCE
Marsia Geldert-Murphey, P.E., M. ASCE is the incoming chair of ASCE’s Public Policy Committee. As president and CEO of Sequoia Engineering & Environmental, Inc. she is responsible for overall management, development and growth of firm specializing in geotechnical engineering, environmental documentation & permitting, construction engineering and public involvement.
If you are interested in becoming involved in ASCE’s Key Contact program and promoting the profession through advocacy, you can learn more information and sign up at asce.org.
How did you become interested in and get involved in advocacy for your profession?
Many years ago at an ASCE conference I heard about the Key Contact program and felt it would be a great way to stay well-informed of legislation affecting our profession. However, I must confess initially I was not the most dedicated at reaching out to my legislators. As I advanced in my career, I began to see the effect certain legislation had on our profession and business and I became more engaged both at the local and state level.
What levels of government have you focused your efforts on? Is there something that prompted you to focus your efforts there?
Instead of focusing on a certain level of government, I simply stay appraised of proposed bills, executive orders and amendments that affect my livelihood and our quality of life. I try to keep other people informed which is much easier with social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. People are busy and want to focus on what they know, the workings of the government at any level can be intimidating or at times frustrating. So I want to make sure I increase the pool of knowledge and get as much information out to my network as possible. I have had several people in the industry thank me for keeping them up to date.
How do you gather information and prepare to do your advocacy work?
I am usually made aware of state and federal issues by ASCE’s Government Relations staff. I am always impressed with how quickly they will hear of proposed language, especially at the state level. Effective advocacy does require research. I review the language of the proposed bill and any position or summary papers out there. I reach out to my network of legislators, staffers and lobbyists to understand the intent, benefits and potential pitfalls of any proposed rules or legislation. I share
my feedback and make sure they understand the impacts good and bad.
What have you learned through your activities as an ASCE advocate and citizen lobbyist?
I have learned a couple things over the years. A small group of concerned citizens can actually make a difference. I have also learned that it is critical to stay informed and become involved. Well-meaning legislation can quickly pass through without a thorough understanding of the impacts to small business or our profession.
Has the experience helped you improve skills you utilize personally or professionally?
Absolutely, while most people would think advocacy is about persuasion, I believe it is about credibility and character, and I believe my involvement has enhanced my credibility in the industry. My advocacy work has also refined my listening and communication skills.
What has been challenging about being an advocate? What methods have you found effective in working through those challenges? What sort of pitfalls or setbacks have you encountered? And how did you overcome them?
The greatest challenge is understanding the political dynamics, particularly at the federal level. You cannot go into this being single-minded, you have to understand the broader interests at stake. The other challenge is the slow rate of progress, it can be very frustrating, and this requires stamina and patience. Some of the pitfalls I have encountered are simply the lack of political will to make tough decisions. I try to understand where the resistance is coming from, find common ground and form alliances around those areas we can agree on, and slowly gain traction from there.
What have you found rewarding about your efforts? Is there a particularly memorable experience you can share?
The most rewarding moments are when hard-fought-for legislation passes, with meaningful language still intact. The most memorable experience for me was sitting at ASCE’s Washington, DC office recently while in town for the Transportation Construction Coalition (TCC) Fly-in and watching footage of the President signing the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) into law. It was very fitting that I happened to be there with the ASCE Government Relations staff witnessing that signing, they worked very hard on our behalf for that legislation.
Have you felt that your efforts have made a difference?
Yes, our legislators want to hear from their constituents. Many people complain about the influence lobbyists have in Washington, however, they have never contacted their legislators. I have worked with legislators requesting endorsements of amendments beneficial to the civil engineering profession, so I know my efforts are making a difference.
What advice would you give to someone interested in getting involved in advocacy?
The most important step is sign up as a key contact at ASCE. The Government Relations staff are your boots on the ground and will keep you informed. Consider becoming an advocate champion within your Section or Branch to inform members and colleagues in your area.