Mark Burnham


Mark Burnham is a government relations professional with more than 21 years experience advocating for universities, large research facilities, and associations in Washington, D.C.  He helps his clients create and execute effective advocacy plans, develop concise arguments and advocacy materials and maintain positive relationships with decision makers and thought leaders in government and the community.

Over his 21 year advocacy career, Mark has had the privilege to represent numerous major research institutions including Caltech, the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.  He has been a leader at every level of his career. Mark has a track record of building communities, networks, operations and facilities, many of which continue to endure to this day.  However, the most important aspect of his work has been the people he has brought together to achieve these accomplishments.  Very little is achieved in government relations by oneself.  Success is the result of working with a team of people, both internal and external, that he has been able to bring together to accomplish our mutual goals.

After graduating from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Political Science, he began his career on Capitol Hill on the staff of a now senior Member of Congress. There, he worked his way up to serving as the Congresswoman’s liaison to the House Appropriations Committee with a focus on appropriations for NASA, the National Science Foundation, NIST and the Veterans’ Administration.  His work included establishing a mental health research lab at the VA, increasing funding for NASA’s Earth Science Missions, and developing the legislative foundation for the World War II Memorial.  Following law school at Boston College, he worked on several major product liability cases for the law firm JonesDay.

In 1998, Mark joined a lobbying firm representing several universities and science consortia where he worked on support for numerous large research projects, as well as several Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs).  This work involved not only advocating across numerous Congressional delegations and committees but also across a myriad of federal agencies, including NIH, NSF, DOE, NASA, NOAA, and NIST.

Five years later, Mark joined the University of Michigan Washington office as the Director of Federal Relations for Research.  There, he represented the largest federally funded research portfolio in the nation to the federal agencies and Congress.  Working across NSF, the Dept of Energy, NASA, the Department of Defense (6.1, 6.2 and DARPA) and the National Institutes of Health, Mark partnered with faculty to develop new relationships within the agencies, achieve support for the major research agencies from Congress and work within the various national associations to support community-wide efforts, including the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) and the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

In 2006, Mark was recruited to Michigan State University (MSU) to lead the effort to bring a Department of Energy national user facility to campus.  He worked with the Director of the National Superconducting Cyclotron Lab (NSCL) to craft an unsolicited proposal to the federal government, then worked with Congress to ensure DOE completed the first open competition between a national lab and a university to run a national user facility.  MSU succeeded in winning the competition to build the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB).  Ultimately, despite having to defeat efforts to defund the project before construction could begin, this $730 million major research facility was funded, built and will open for business in 2022.  Mark was also able to secure more than $97 million in support from the State of Michigan for the FRIB project, which is conservatively projected to have more than a $4 billion financial impact on the State of Michigan over the next 20 years.

In 2013, Mark was promoted to Vice President of Governmental Affairs at MSU.  There he built a sophisticated operation which played a major role in the development of the last Farm Bill, led the effort to establish the second urban farm research station in the nation, secured TIGER grant funding for the development of a new multi-modal transportation center (including Amtrak), secured state funding for research and teaching facilities, and managed the plethora of policy impacts for a campus of 50,000 students, 12,000 employees with more than 500 buildings and the nation’s largest on-campus housing operation.

In 2019, Mark founded The Burnham Group to represent clients in Washington, founded the Additive Manufacturing Coalition, created a teaching module for external relations professionals to understand government relations, and partnered with other strategic planning professionals to help clients develop clear, actionable strategic plans.  Clients included the University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School, the Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO).

At Vavarde, Mark has reunited with Dr. Becher to help build new opportunities for clients.  Mark has a history of building things, networks, communities and facilities. Let’s build something together.