Utah National Guard

Legislative Liaison Takes the Hill

 

Written by Shad West

Published March 21, 2007

 

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Col. Scot Olson, right, briefs military families on a pending piece of legislation at the State Capitol.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Col. Scot Olson, right, briefs military families on

a pending piece of legislation at the State Capitol.

SALT LAKE CITY — Amid the give and take of lawmaker and lobbyist in the State Capitol when the Utah House and Senate are in session, you will find Col. Scot Olson, legislative liaison for the Utah National Guard.

As a representative of the Guard, which is part of Utah’s executive branch, he is not pushing an agenda or a particular piece of legislation; rather, he is simply there to ensure that Guard interests are understood and protected by legislators.

Representing the Guard’s Interests

While most on the Hill do their business in suits or skirts, Olson stands out in his ACUs, or Army Combat Uniform, and it is just the way he wants it.

Olson says wearing the uniform is a conscious decision for two reasons. The Utah National Guard has troops serving in combat, so consequently the uniform of the day is the appropriate one to wear.

“I am a Soldier representing Soldiers,” Olson said.  “The ACU serves as reminder that we have troops in the field. Besides, this uniform stands out. If I were in a suit and tie I would blend in and so would our issues.”

A simple decision like the one to wear the uniform has benefited the Guard and its visibility on the Hill.

Staff Sgt. David Mabey, left, 144th Area Support Medical Company, leads the Utah Senate in the Pledge of Allegiance Jan. 15.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Staff Sgt. David Mabey, left, 144th Area Support Medical Company, leads the Utah Senate in the Pledge of Allegiance Jan. 15.

With Utah’s legislative session lasting just 45 days, Olson has to compete for face time with legislators. 

“They really have a finite amount of time,” Olson said. “And we have a lot of issues that need to be brought to their attention.”

Working the Issues

For legislators like Sen. Sheldon Killpack, R-Syracuse, a hectic schedule means issues sometimes muddle together, and often the first time he hears about a bill is when it’s on the Senate floor for debate.

“It makes a big difference to have the Guard represented here,” Killpack said. “There is so much going on that you don’t see the issues until they are right in front of your face.  At that time if I have a question I can grab Col. Olson and get the clarification I need.”

This year the number-one concern of Utah Guard’s adjutant general is maintaining educational benefits for retention and recruiting of Guard members, Olson said. The Guard is also trying to secure funds for facilities and veterans issues that include a nursing home and various outreach programs. Funding for the military museum at Fort Douglas is also provided by the Guard.

While the Utah National Guard gets about 96 percent of its funding from the federal government, the other four percent it relies on is provided by the State and is vital to keeping the Guard on the ready for both civil emergencies here and deployments abroad. 

The tally board in the Utah House shows unanimous support for the Special License Plate for Gold Star Families bill.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

The tally board in the Utah House shows unanimous support

for the Special License Plate for Gold Star Families bill.

“We are only trying to get four percent of our working budget from Utah,” Olson said. “National Guard Bureau provides the rest. However when it comes to facilities, the split is 75 percent federal and 25 percent state. So as we plan for the maintenance and construction of our facilities, that requires legislative action.”

Olson says the key is to present reasoned, planned replacement and extended life cycles of facilities and project reasonable growth to legislators.

“What it comes down to is credibility, and that boils down to knowledge and trust,” Olson said. “The more reliable and trustworthy my information is, the more [legislators] will listen to me on other issues.  With that type of relationship they will seek out our input on issues.”

Understanding the Process

When he isn’t providing testimony for various committees or briefing legislators on Guard issues, Olson is giving other Guard officers a crash course in Utah politics.

One of the essential tenets of senior leadership is understanding the relationship between the National Guard and the State. Many of Utah’s Guard officers haven’t experienced that working relationship.

Members of the Utah House applaud military Gold Star families after the vote on the special license-plate bill.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

Members of the Utah House applaud military Gold Star

families  after the vote on the special license-plate bill.

“I think it is important to demonstrate to our young officers how the branches of government work together and what our role is in state government and how we are responsible to civil authority for funding and programs,” Olson said. "So I decided that is was time to educate mid-level officers and let them experience and participate in the process.”

The program has been a success. What was originally planned for a single morning during the session stretched into two days each week.

“I was very surprised by the response,” Olson said.

Olson said his students went through an orientation where they tracked bills of interest and talked to legislators.

“It’s kind of a Civics 101, but it should help provide a foundation of knowledge to build on,” Olson said.

A Balancing Act

Because the Guard’s legislative liaison isn’t a lobbyist but an employee of the executive branch, Olson spends quite a bit of his time strengthening Guard ties with the Utah Legislature.

It’s the most important thing I do up at here—build relationships,” Olson said. “I’m gaining confidence and trust with the legislators both as individuals and the group as a whole. They know that they can take what we say at face value and trust. We are not overstating our needs.”

The Utah Senate considers legislation to support Utah's military members and families.

Photo by Maj. Hank McIntire

The Utah Senate considers legislation to

support Utah's military members and families.

Olson says credibility and trust helps legislators see the Guard’s requirements in a whole different light. “They know there is realism to our needs.”

He says he is optimistic about how the Guard has been treated this session, but he isn’t backing down on the Guard’s issues.

“Everyone loves you until they have to write the check,” said Olson, grinning. “The very last bill is the appropriations bill. It will be voted on at midnight on Feb. 28. I’ll be there to ensure we are fairly represented.”

Olson said he’ll continue to secure the interests of the Guard’s budget as well as provide resources for the legislators. But the one thing he won’t do is slow down.

“Because you can’t relax until the money is in the bank,” Olson said.