Seven Secrets for Negotiating with Government

How to Deal with Local, State, National, or Foreign Governments--and Come Out Ahead

 Seven Secrets for Negotiating with Government

Author: Jeswald W. Salacuse
Pub Date: January 2008
Print Edition: $24.95
Print ISBN: 9780814409084
Page Count: 224
Format: Hardback
e-Book ISBN: 9780814409725

Buy the book:

Buy the book thru Barnes and Noble. Buy the book thru AMAZON. Buy the book thru indiebound. Buy the eBook.
See other vendors.


• C H A P T E R O N E •

The Many Ways of Negotiating

with Governments

‘‘You can’t fight city hall.’’


You may not be able to fight city hall, but you certainly can negotiate

with it. In fact, short of successful armed insurrection, the only

way any individual or company can deal effectively with any government—

local, state, national, or foreign—is through negotiation.

If it’s true, as Edmund Burke has said, that ‘‘government is a

contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human needs,’’ it is

also true that governments do not necessarily provide for your

needs automatically. You have to negotiate to get them.

The Scope of Dealings with Governments

Dealings with governments by individuals and organizations cover

a wide variety of participants, a multiplicity of purposes, and a

broad array of processes. In this first chapter, we examine the

scope of dealing with governments by focusing on three key elements:

participants, purposes, and processes. They are the conceptual

building blocks for analyzing and thinking about any kind of

interaction with a government.

Participants in Dealings with Governments

Although governments and governmental units deal with each

other constantly, the focus of this book is how individuals and

non-governmental organizations can best deal with governments

to get what they want. In those kinds of interactions, there are

potentially three participants: a governmental unit; an individual

or organization; and the public. Let’s examine the special characteristics

of each one.

Governments as Participants

Any time you have to deal with a government, you are actually

negotiating with a governmental unit, rather than an entire government,

and in particular, with individuals within that unit. Governmental

units take many forms and have many names:

department, agency, board, council, court, legislature, or commission,

to list just a few. They are agents of governmental power, and

the power they exercise may be legislative (to the extent that they

make laws, regulations, or rules), executive (to the extent that they

apply laws, regulations, and rules to individuals and organizations),

or judicial (to the extent that they judge disputes concerning

these laws, regulations, and rules and their application). In the

United States alone in 2005, there were some 88,000 federal, state,

and local governmental units employing approximately 19 million

people, not to mention the countless governmental entities existing

in the 192 other sovereign states of the world. Consequently, unless

you are a hermit in the wilderness, you are bound to have to

deal with one of them at some time or other.

Governments as Ghost Participants at the Negotiating


Even when a government entity is not physically present at the

negotiating table, it may be lurking in the wings as a ‘‘ghost negotiator’’

that has a powerful influence on the parties who are actually

engaged in face-to-face negotiations. For example, any deal you

make with a private defense contractor will almost always require

U.S. government approval, and in most foreign countries any sizable

transaction at all needs a nod from the governing authorities.

So even if you are not negotiating directly with a government in

those situations, you still will eventually have to deal with one or

more governmental units if you hope to make the transaction you

want. In any significant negotiation, you should always ask two

important questions:

1. To what extent does a government have an actual or potential

interest in this deal?

2. How might that government intervene in the negotiation or

the resulting transaction to protect that interest?

Individuals and Organizations as Participants

All of us have to deal with governmental units at one time or other.

Some of us do it only occasionally. Others do it every day.We deal

with governments in our individual capacity and we deal with

them in our capacity as representatives of the companies and organization

that we work for. Whether we are seeking a building permit

from our local zoning board to put an addition on our house,

an authorization from the state to open a new charter school, or a

contract to sell software to the U.S. Defense Department, we have

to negotiate with some government agency to get what we want.

If you are in business, dealing with local, state, federal, and

even foreign regulators can be a constant task requiring you to

reach agreement with government agencies as diverse as the New

York City Department of Planning, the California Air Resources

Board, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and even the

European Union’s Competition Directorate General, to name just

a few. And if you want to undertake a really big project or transaction,

you normally have to negotiate with several government departments

to achieve your goal. For example, when the St.

Lawrence Cement Company decided to build a new $300 million

coal-fired cement plant in the Hudson Valley south of Albany in

1999, it faced the daunting challenge of securing seventeen permits

from various local, state, and federal departments and agencies

before it could turn over one shovel of ground. That meant it had

to engage in at least seventeen separate negotiations, a process that

would go on for years.1

In many other situations, you negotiate with a government not

to obtain a benefit, but to avoid or reduce a burden. At the end of

an IRS audit, you may negotiate hard to escape a tax penalty.

When you are stopped by a state trooper for speeding on the highway,

you may try to negotiate to avoid a ticket. And if you get in

real trouble with the law, you will likely find yourself engaged in

plea bargaining with the prosecutor since that is the way the vast

majority of criminal prosecutions end.

While we may like to think that we live in a world dominated

by private enterprise, where the state is increasingly ceding its economic

role to private persons and companies, governments, both

in the United States and abroad, are still powerful players with

whom all businesses and organizations must learn to deal. Governments

regulate and tax business activity. They buy from and sell

to private companies. They invest as partners in all manner of

deals. So being in business means you have to learn to deal with

governments. Organizations in the non-profit world, like charities,

universities, and museums, also deal regularly with governments,

whether they are seeking government grants, service contracts, or

just permission to operate. Indeed, if you are the leader of a state

college, municipal hospital, or a federal institute, you are engaged

in a constant process of negotiating with both the legislative and

executive branches of some government in order to obtain the

budget you need to function and at the same time preserve your

autonomy from government control.

Few organizations today have the luxury or even the possibility

of functioning without negotiating with some government unit

in some way. As a result, most substantial companies and organizations

have established and staffed sizable ‘‘government affairs’’

or ‘‘government relations’’ departments and offices whose primary

function is to deal with—that is, to negotiate with—governments.

In this connection, they also often have outposts in Washington,

D.C., Albany, N.Y., or Brussels, Belgium, in order to be close to

the governmental authorities they negotiate with.

Hired Help for Individuals and Organizations Dealing with


Regardless of what the law may say, it’s not easy for an individual

or a private organization to actually engage a government in

meaningful negotiations. Governments are usually busy, big, and

powerful. Despite their size, they often suffer from a shortage of

staff and resources necessary to accomplish the tasks they are supposed

to carry out. Consequently, the many persons and organizations

that seek their attention often find that dealing with a

government is a lengthy and in some cases futile process. Moreover,

for the ordinary citizen with a problem or an issue needing

government attention, it is often difficult to know which governmental

officials can handle the problem, where they are located,

how to contact them and secure a hearing, and if a meeting is

granted how to persuade them to take action in the citizen’s favor.

So even though the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the ‘‘right to

petition,’’ you may not have the knowledge, experience, contacts,

and resources to engage in meaningful and effective petitioning

that will allow you to advance your interests.

In order to overcome the special challenges of negotiating with

governments, many organizations hire third persons, such as lobbyists,

advisors, and lawyers, with the necessary expertise, relationships,

and access to help in government negotiations. Third

parties with special access to and knowledge of government have

probably existed to help in negotiating with governments since the

very idea of government began. Throughout history, courtiers,

scribes, hangers-on, royal relatives, and aristocratic mistresses

were always available for a fee or a favor to help bring a citizen’s

petition to the attention of the king.

Today, individuals and organizations spend billions of dollars

each year employing lobbyists, law firms, and public relations organizations

to help them with this ages-old task. As a result, these

third parties have become permanent fixtures in any significant negotiations

with government, and few companies would consider

undertaking governmental negotiations without this kind of hired


Search the full text of this book


Order Now!

For single copy purchases of any AMACOM title, you can connect directly to the online retailer of your choice, from the list below, to buy the title you have selected. Most of our links will take you directly to that title on the site, making your shopping experience easier. You can also visit your local retailer, and if the book is not on their shelves they can special order it for you.

Retailers: Please contact us to change or add a listing.

Buying in Bulk?

We have very competitive discounts starting at 5 copies, as well as personal service, for bulk orders. Simply contact our Special Sales Department. Call 800-250-5308 or 212-903-8420 and ask for Special Sales. You can also email: