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American University Launches Program on Legislative Negotiation

Group with AU President Sylvia M. Burwell and Professors Bettina Poirier and David Barker

American University (AU) is pleased to announce the launch of The Program on Legislative Negotiation (PLN), a new program that addresses the gridlock in Congress and in state legislatures, so that legislative bodies can better respond to today’s challenges and improve public trust in these institutions. The PLN is a joint endeavor of American University’s (AU) Washington College of Law (AUWCL) and the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at the AU School of Public Affairs (SPA). This innovative new program is supported by a $1 million grant from The Madison Initiative of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

The PLN’s four primary objectives are to:

  1. Provide negotiation training for legislative members and their staffs
  2. Train students and professionals through experiential learning programs
  3. Facilitate and apply research on effective legislative negotiation
  4. Build a community of scholars, journalists, policymakers, and others who share these goals

American University formally launched the Program on Legislative Negotiation with a kickoff ceremony on the University’s main campus, on May 20, 2019.

“American University is thrilled to have the strong support of the Hewlett Foundation to help overcome legislative gridlock and improve negotiation skills at all levels,” said AU President Sylvia M. Burwell. “This program will be administered by negotiations and legislative process experts, including seasoned staffers from both sides of the aisle who have found common ground on Capitol Hill over the past decade. We are excited for the Washington College of Law and the School of Public Affairs to make a lasting impact through this new joint program.”

“In this era of polarized politics, it’s essential for Congress as well as state legislatures to find better ways to work together,” said Hewlett Foundation Program Officer Jean P. Bordewich. “We are delighted to support American University’s new Program on Legislative Negotiation to equip those legislatures with the tools they need for pragmatic, cross-party problem solving on issues that affect Americans across the country.”

Bettina Poirier, who is currently a professor and a senior affiliate in the Program on Law and Government at AUWCL, will serve as director for the Program on Legislative Negotiation as well as a trainer in the program. Poirier is a former high-level Capitol Hill staffer with 15 years of experience in senior roles in the House and Senate. Other trainers include former senior bipartisan congressional staff, including Chris Bertram, a former Republican staffer serving in both the House and Senate, as well as negotiation experts who also teach at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Poirier is the lead principal investigator for the program. David Barker, professor of government and director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at SPA, also serves as a principal investigator on the program, as does Jayesh Rathod, associate dean for experiential education and professor of law at AUWCL. The Program on Legislative Negotiation will be housed at American University Washington College of Law.

The work of the program over the course of the grant will also feature:

  • AUWCL/SPA legislative negotiation courses for legislative members/staff, professionals, and students
  • An AUWCL/SPA $100,000 research grant program and research conference on the study of more effective legislative negotiation
  • Six core and advanced legislative staff trainings on Capitol Hill developed/piloted by the Harvard Kennedy School and taught by PLN bipartisan former senior House and Senate staff, and faculty who also teach at the Harvard Kennedy School
  • Up to six lunchtime lectures hosted by PLN focused on developments in legislative negotiation attended by members of the legislative negotiation community


“Washington College of Law’s long tradition of innovation, our focus on experiential learning, and our location in the nation’s capital make us an ideal home for this outstanding new Program on Legislative Negotiation. This partnership with the Hewlett Foundation will enable us to become a national hub for this emerging area of scholarship.”

-Camille A. Nelson, Dean and Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law

“We are so excited to have the opportunity to contribute to this new field of study. What sets this new negotiation program apart is its focus on effective negotiation tools in the legislative context. The program will provide the resources needed to study and teach what makes legislative negotiation different and what can be done to significantly increase the likelihood of success.”

-Bettina Poirier, Director, American University Program on Legislative Negotiation

“At the School of Public Affairs, it is in our DNA to train public servants and promote effective policymaking. Through its trainings on the Hill, its new courses for students, and its investment in broadening research in this area, the Program on Legislative Negotiation will play an important role in the legislative process in Washington DC and beyond. We are thrilled to take this on.”

-Vicky Wilkins, Dean, American University School of Public Affairs

“At a time when legislative policymaking in the U.S. is close to broken, negotiating skills have never been so critical. The PLN will be path-breaking in at least two ways. It will provide practical training that is grounded in the best research and delivered by those with decades of hands-on experience. It will also help build an edifice of knowledge on the subject of legislative negotiation that, perhaps surprisingly, is still in its infancy.”

-David Barker, Director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, Professor of Government, American University