Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pros and Cons of Interning on the Hill

As always you can go to the group's flickr page for more photos.

Kristen Mallory asked me to do a post about the benefits and drawbacks of interning on the Hill. I have to say that I loved my internship in Rep. Schakowsky’s office. Not only was it cool to intern in a small office like that, but an added bonus was the fact that she represents me in Congress. It was nice to know about the specifics of the district for the office in which I was working. With that said, I will say that from what I have heard from people I know that have interned in other Hill offices that it seems to be a mixed bag in terms of the quality of internships on the Hill.

I think that mine was great. In other offices, interns sometimes will only answer phones, sort mail, and write a couple of responses to constituent letters. At my internship I did not have to sort mail, and only had to do the phones for maybe one or two hours a week (which actually was surprisingly enjoyable). I also got to sit in on staff meetings. My office held two staff meetings a week, one was without Schakowsky, before she got into the office for the week, and the second one was to brief her on the upcoming hearings, legislation, and to get her feedback on how she wanted to proceed. Some other people that I know that I talked with were surprised that the office let interns in on staff meetings (and the office that I am in now does not let interns into staff meetings). I got to experience how the staff interacts with their boss, and how Members make decisions on various topics behind closed doors. It was a great “behind the scenes” experience to see how members act candidly when they are not interacting with the general public.

The people in my office were also great about making sure that I got to do substantive work as well as experience things I may not have been able to otherwise. The staff took me to the House floor, I got to be the only intern at a meeting of about twelve Members and Justice Sotomayor (which I blogged about earlier), got to sit in the gallery during the healthcare vote in the House late on a Sunday night (which I also blogged about earlier), and Rep. Schakowsky used my name and my “story” in the opening statements of a committee hearing. Of course, I had to do some typical Hill intern duties: organize a filing cabinet, take some flags to the flag office, and make copies. I did however get to do some pretty substantive work. During the Toyota scandal, the staffer who usually handles consumer protection had a lot on her agenda, so I got to help out and was the only intern at the briefings held by the Toyota lobbyists. I then got to write up notes and some potential questions for CEO Jim Lentz and the Secretary of Transportation. Of course, I was not the lead staffer or the one making decisions on what types of questions she would ask, but I did feel as if I got to have an impact on the process, and at the very least I got some good face time on C-SPAN and at least one news broadcast.

In addition to this, I got to be involved in the process for picking projects for appropriations requests for the district. Again, as an intern, I wasn’t picking which project would receive funding, but I did get to help review and summarize each project in order to help present it to my boss and to put on the website. The final main project of the semester was President’s Fiscal Commission to which the Speaker appointed Schakowsky. For the last month or so, I did research on various members of the commission and what their positions were in addition to various proposals to help lower the deficit and the national debt. This helped me develop a potential topic for my thesis.

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