The federation system’s new lobbyist in Washington is setting his sights on modest goals.
That’s because he has no other choice.
Charles Konigsberg, who last week started his new job as the United Jewish Communities’ vice president of public policy, said that because there is more demand than ever for federal dollars, and those dollars are not as abundant as they used to be, federations have to focus on what can be done, not on what they wish could be done.
“The two goals of this office are to work closely with federations and the independent Jewish communities around the country to assess their needs and then to use the expertise we have here in this office to think strategically about how, within the constraints of the current federal budgetary situation, we can try to address those needs,” Konigsberg said in an interview Tuesday at his Washington office.
“It’s marrying the assessment of needs with the strategic possibilities.”
Federation-administered programs receive between $5 billion and $7 billion per year in federal and state grants, UJC officials said.
Once a need is identified, Konigsberg’s job is to work with federations to lobby members of Congress and advise them on how to approach state legislatures.
On Tuesday, after just a few days on the job, Konigsberg was still getting his bearings.
His office walls were bare and he chugged Diet Mountain Dew as he leafed through a stack of Encyclopedia Judaica volumes.
A lawyer by training, Konigsberg, 45, said his experience as a congressional staffer will help him identify federation programs most likely to get federal aid.
The UJC’s involvement in developing the Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is a typical example of how the UJC gets federal funding.
A few years ago, the UJA-Federation of New York identified aging Jews who were not ready to leave their longtime homes but who increasingly were in need of services. The federation’s solution: bring federal and state assistance to their communities.
Working through the UJC’s Washington office, New York joined with about a dozen other federations to work out pilot programs tailored to each community’s needs. The program has been so successful that it has attracted interest from non-Jewish aging groups, federation officials said.
“NORC was a new idea developed by federations who were really thinking strategically about how to increase assistance and develop approaches and ideas,” Konigsberg said.
“This is especially important right now, when budget deficits are at an all-time high and the domestic discretionary budget is being squeezed and will be very slim for many years to come.”
“In that kind of environment,” he said, “it’s extremely important to think strategically and smartly about how to partner with the federal government.”
Konigsberg said he already is thinking ahead, identifying major pieces of legislation for 2004 that could prove useful to the federations.
Among them are a multiyear transportation bill and a set of Homeland Security bills.
The transportation bill presents opportunities for providing seniors with help getting to their doctors, to community centers and to meet with friends. The UJC has taken the lead on senior transportation, Konigsberg said.
The Jewish community also is interested in how Homeland Security measures could help fund security for Jewish venues, he said, especially in light of attacks on Jewish targets abroad.
Konigsberg said such modest goals were better targets than the huge issues, like Medicare, where hundreds of organizations are vying for attention. He said he’s canvassing Jewish communities for other needs and ideas.
At times Konigsberg’s role will be reactive, said his assistant, Robyn Gershenoff Judelsohn.
“Congress comes out with something they want to work on or the administration comes out with a policy they want to see forwarded, and we have to do an analysis in this office to determine how in fact that is going to affect our federations,” she said.
Like his predecessor, Diana Aviv, who left the post in June, Konigsberg said he is worried that the Jewish community too often is pegged to a single issue: Israel.
“It’s unfortunate when the viewpoint is expressed that Jewish voters’ allegiance is expressed on only one issue,” he said. “Certainly, Israel is a major concern, but it is not the only concern.”
He said, “Jewish community federations are living examples that we care about the elderly and newcomers to America and the poor and the sick and everyone in need.”
Konigsberg has two decades of experience working the Capitol from both sides, as both a staffer and a lobbyist.
Konigsberg’s background will serve the Jewish community well, said Reva Price, the Washington lobbyist for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish community relations councils.
“Their job is to focus like a laser on the programs that bring money into the federation system,” Price said.
Price said that JCPA, which receives UJC funding, deals more with policy, and UJC with seeking federal funds.
“Our agendas on some of the domestic issues overlap, we try and coordinate so that we work together,” she said.
A major lesson of his years on the Hill, Konigsberg said, is the need for various groups in a community to work on a single message.
“From the perspective of being on the Hill, if you have two or three or four different groups from the same community coming in with different viewpoints, you really want them to work it out before coming in with their requests,” he said.
Konigsberg has also served in the executive branch, as an assistant director in the Clinton White House’s Office of Management and Budget, and as a director in the Bush administration’s Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs Senior Service Corps and AmeriCorps.
On the lobbying side, he was the executive director of the Parkinson’s Action Network until last month.
In dealing with the administration, Konigsberg said it was key to show bipartisan solidarity within the community.
“When we meet with the administration, we generally bring to them a delegation composed of representatives of the Jewish community from both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Konigsberg has been a high profile Jewish volunteer, helping to found the Capitol Hill Jewish Staff Forum, the first organization of Jewish staff members on Capitol Hill.
He has had leadership positions in the Association of Reform Zionists of America, the New Israel Fund and the American Jewish Committee, and he is a former vice president of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Md.
“To me, this is an absolutely ideal opportunity to combine my professional background and my Jewish community interests,” he said.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.