Editor: Mr. Cushing, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?
Cushing: Upon graduation from college in 1984 I joined a company which is now Boston Capital Development. Boston Capital is the largest for-profit syndicator of affordable housing. In 1986, in contemplation of the Tax Reform Act of that year, which significantly changed the laws on affordable housing, Boston Capital was instrumental in the creation of the low income tax credit. At the time this was implemented as a transition rule, but with improvements made over time, it became a permanent part of the Internal Revenue Code in 1993. That effort provided me with an appreciation of what could be accomplished through transactional lobbying. With an understanding of politics, business and capital, it is possible to create opportunities in government that serve a common purpose. That is the origin of what I do today. In the late 1980s I also worked for Senator Bob Dole, serving as Director of his National Finance Committee during his 1988 Presidential campaign. After that campaign, I established a lobbying and legislative firm, The Commonwealth Group with Bob Crowe, who was based in Boston.
Editor: Please tell us about The Commonwealth Group. What did you and Bob Crowe seek to accomplish with this undertaking?
Cushing: I had known Bob Crowe from his work with Boston Capital. We joined forces to pursue transactional lobbying from Boston and Washington, DC.
Editor: How did The Commonwealth Group and WolfBlock get together?
Cushing: Some of the same motivations that went into forming The Commonwealth Group were instrumental in forming the joint venture with WolfBlock. The Commonwealth Group had a government relations consulting and lobbying presence in Massachusetts and Washington, DC. Wolf Block was in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware, but did not have a presence where we did. In the 1980's, through my work with Senator Dole, I came to know Charlie Kopp, a former Managing Partner of WolfBlock. We had worked together over the years on a few projects. As WolfBlock was looking to develop a presence in Washington, we reviewed the potential synergies and concluded that an alliance - meant to enhance each firm's capabilities with those of the other - would be mutually beneficial. Over a two-year period, Wolf- Block co-located with us in Washington, and Stuart Shorenstein, a partner from the New York office, came down to Washington, as well as an associate from the Wilmington office. The collaboration worked so well - on both a personal level and professionally - that we determined to come together formally in March of this year. That has resulted in the formation of WolfBlock Public Strategies LLC to engage in public policy and corporate advocacy. One area of experience is the emerging U.S. Homeland Security market.
Editor: What is the U.S. Homeland Security market?
Cushing: Before there was a Homeland Security Department, we were actively engaged in "homeland security" issues, representing both private sector and public sector - cities and counties - clients in Washington. For example, in the late 1990s, we successfully represented a company working to develop a smallpox vaccine. And our work with local governments gave us an understanding of first responder issues. The events of September 11 created a different dynamic, both in Washington and internationally, and because of our prior efforts we were well positioned to serve this market. Let me draw a distinction between Homeland Defense and Homeland Security, however. Homeland Defense concerns large weapons systems and involves long-term procurement cycles. It is DC-centric in the sense that almost all of the decision-making stems from the federal government in Washington. Homeland Security, however, is very decentralized. As an example, over the past three years, the Department of Homeland Security has provided in excess of $10 billion for first responder equipment and training, but this federal money was passed down to the states, with approximately 80 percent of this amount sub-allocated to local jurisdictions. The procurement decisions, accordingly, are focused on individual states and cities. With an on-the-ground presence from Boston to Washington, WolfBlock covers a number of significant jurisdictions. In addition to being a decentralized market, Homeland Security is made up of broadbased and diverse constituencies. There is a strong volunteer element, for example. A large number - about 85 percent - of the critical infrastructure is privately owned. Our public sector experience and strong ties to the private business community is of particular advantage in the post-9/11 security market.
At the same time, Homeland Security, while not exclusively DC-centric, does have its Washington and federal government orientation. We deal with the EPA, with HHS - which handles about 68 percent of the biodefense funding - and a number of other agencies on an ongoing basis. Aprincipal value is that our long experience in a "new" market enables us to help clients avoid the risks inherent in government transactions - i.e. digging dry wells and wasting precious time.
Editor: And the clients that WolfBlock Public Strategies seeks to serve?
Cushing: The clients are very diverse. We work with clients engaged in authentication technology - the manufacture of document authenticators, for example - and with the leading companies in facial recognition technology for border control. We represent a small company which manufactures a laser bullet that permits "dry fire" training, something that is very inexpensive compared to using live rounds and is also environmentally friendly. Another enterprise came to us with an excellent camera control technology, which is now part of the PROTECT system used to protect the nation's subway systems. From four employees it has grown to about 40 and appears to be on the threshold of even more growth. At the same time, we are working with large publicly-traded companies with both established and innovative technologies. We also have a number of Israeli clients, and their technology is of great interest to this market.
Editor: Would you share with us your thoughts about how the clients of Wolf- Block Public Strategies can best position themselves to service this market?
Cushing: We are most helpful in working with a client in the development of a reference customer base. That entails getting that first deployment at an airport, or the initial federal agency purchase, as a foundation for future business. We work with the client to determine the appropriate setting in which to showcase its product or service, whether an airport, a seaport, a transit setting or in a first responder situation. There are also geographical considerations. For clients engaged in maritime work, for example, Rhode Island, Norfolk, Virginia, or Florida may be a good incubator for a particular product. The point is that a client must focus its capital and its time on the most appropriate opportunities, those which result in reference customers capable of helping to push the business forward. Our contribution is in helping to identify and secure those opportunities.
Editor: Can you give us an overview of the best practices in marketing in this particular arena?
Cushing: One of the most important things I have seen is the need to offer a solution, and not merely a technology. Another has to do with timing. There are seasons to the process, and it is essential to speak to the right people at the right time. Connecting with the right people at the wrong time - and vice versa - is not conducive to success. Solid marketing materials are important as well - materials that are crisp and concise and not so exhaustive that they are selfdefeating. It is also important to understand the mindset of this market. Government is, almost by definition, risk adverse, so it is essential for the client to have established a validation of its technology. An established customer base is just about the best validation a client could have, and the absence of such a base is probably the principal reason why someone coming from overseas with a good product - but lacking U.S. investors or installations - finds it so difficult to make that initial sale.
Editor: You mentioned your Israeli clients. Please tell us about the proposed collaboration between U.S. and Israeli companies in the development of antiterrorist technology.
Cushing: The Israelis possess a technology capability that is recognized all over the world. Much of this capability derives from engineers and scientists who left the Soviet Union and Russia for Israel over the past 15 or 20 years. These people are very good at developing new technologies very quickly, and they are also good at stretching limited resources, both in terms of money and personnel. Because Israel is a small country surrounded by hostile neighbors, the line between the military and the first responders is not as clearly drawn as it is elsewhere, and these companies are very good at rapidly developing dual-use products used by military personnel, first responders, and civilians on a regular basis. That is something that our government finds very interesting, and federal funding has been set aside at the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) for investment in a variety of technologies that are being developed by Israeli enterprises and by joint Israeli-U.S. undertakings. Within our firm, we - the WolfBlock Public Strategies side - work closely with David Gitlin, who is Chairman of WolfBlock's Corporate Practice Group, and Beth Cohen, Director of the firm's Emerging Growth Services. While they are U.S. lawyers resident in the Philadelphia office, they both speak Hebrew and are members of the Israeli bar and provide us with a unique connection to the Israeli companies which are making such an important contribution to our evolving Homeland Security technology.
Editor: Since 9/11 most Americans accept the emergence of a counter-terrorism industry as necessary, but many of us regret that this has to be. Is this industry going to be a permanent feature in American life?
Cushing: Absent a huge shift in world politics, I think, unfortunately, that we are going to have to remain vigilant about terrorism. We have not experienced another significant event in the U.S., and I think that testifies to the degree to which our government has taken to heart the lessons of 9/11. Technology has played, and will continue to play, an essential role in maintaining that vigilance and in responding to (and, sadly, recovering from) terrorist attacks. The Department of Defense, for example, is putting a lot of emphasis on the development of less-thanlethal technologies that can be deployed in residential areas with less risk to civilians than that entailed by the use of regular military weaponry. I also think that the Administration is on the right track with respect to the Citizen Corps and a variety of volunteer programs. In the past, as individuals we have outsourced much of the responsibility for our safety to others - like first responders. I believe that it is important for all of us to recognize that, in the war against terrorism, we each have a role to play. Does that represent, now, a permanent feature in American life? I am not sure. I do know that we each must be and remain more vigilant than before.