The Final Chapter

It’s so hard to say goodbye to DC. I can’t even explain how much growth I’ve gained since I been here but will do my best. After reading the poem called “Two Tramps in the Mud”, written by Robert Frosts. I came across three stanzas that were relatable to my experience. I’m not sure if this is the correct interpretation of the poem, but it is my interpretation. In the Second Stanza of the poem it says:

“Good blocks of oak it was I split, as large around as the chopping block; And every piece I squarely hit. Fell splinterless as a cloven rock. The blows that a life of self-control. Spares to strike for the common good. That day, giving a lose my soul, I spent on the unimportant wood”

From my view, the speaker is describing his passion for wood chopping even though others might not see it as important. To him continuing to chop at the wood to perfect his craft is ideal, despite what others may think. When spring semester is over, and you’ve submitted your final exam, most college students are thinking about what they’ll be packing for their vacation. Instead of packing to relax; I packed to work 40 hours a week, stay up for countless nights working on projects, memorize multiple bills and what they do, reading academic articles focusing on my policy research and stressing over deadlines. All of this was to gain experience in my craft and learn about the development and implementation of policy. Although this trip was stressful for me at times, it was a well invested one.

The sixth stanza stood out to me as well, it says: The time when most I loved my task, the two must make me love it more. By coming with what they came to ask. You’d think I never had felt before. The weight of an ax-head poised aloft, the grip of earth on outspread feet, the life of muscles rocking soft and smooth and moist in vernal heat.

This stanza refers to the two tramps wanting to take over his job of wood cutting. This stanza made me think about how blessed I am to have been placed in the position I’m in. Most duties given to hill interns consist of answering phone calls, making coffee and responding to constituent letters. With my internship, I was given the opportunity to assist my staffers in conducting research, draft policy memorandums and develop highly imperative and transferable skills that will make me competitive in the workplace. It really wasn’t until I spoke with the ranking member about everything I’ve learned that truly made me appreciate this whole experience. This program is highly competitive and with so many qualified applicants, I am very humbled and honored to have participated.

The last stanza that stood out to me was the final stanza of the poem, it says: “But yield who will to their separation, my object in living is to unite. My avocation and my vocation as my two eyes make one in sight. Only where love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes, Is the deed ever really done? For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

The lines that stood out to me the most was “My avocation and my vocation as my two eyes make one in sight. Only where love and need are one, and the work is play for mortal stakes”. This internship gave me my first taste in policy-making and as stressful as it was – it was also a blast! My goal is to land a career where work can feel like play at the same time. Nothing made me happier than to see the final product of my work and reflect on my process. I can see myself pursuing a career in policy and I look forward to overcoming all the struggles that come with it.

Overall, I’ve learned so much being a Capital Scholar. I learned about the power of networking, different career pathways and other professional skills. The Committee on Education and the Workforce taught me the necessary skills needed to work in policy and helped me decide on exactly which policy area I want to pursue. I will never forget this experience and I can’t wait to see what opportunities await me.

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Mental Toughness is Essential to Success

Essentialism by Greg McKeown is a book that has challenged me to think about what’s important and how I am spending my time.  The Essentialists lifestyle is described as making clear decisions and having a choice in what is and isn’t important in someone’s life. There are two important lessons that stuck out to me while reading this book: “It’s All About Mindset” and “Be Constantly Learning”. The first lesson talks about how people are constantly encouraged to multi-task and juggle as many things as possible. At work, we tend to give responses such as “I have to,” “it’s all important” or “I can do both” – this was me at the beginning of my internship. During my first two weeks of my internships, I would say yes to participating in a variety of projects even if it was something I didn’t know much about. This strategy left me exhausted, full of anxiety and at times not looking forward to going to work.

To get out of this funk one of the strategies the book offered was to change my mindset. Instead of coming into work with the mindset that everything is important. I came into work thinking that only a few things really mattered. Instead of saying yes to every task; I only agreed to tasks that I believed fit specific criteria: “Can I complete this on time” and “Is it a topic of my interest”. The idea of “I can do anything, but not everything”, which is a reference in the book truly resonates with me. I’ve always been the type of person that likes to stay busy by taking on many tasks; however, doing that doesn’t work. If I ever plan on pursuing a career in policy I must focus on areas that I’m truly passionate about – this means investing my time into projects that help me learn about actual policy areas of my interest.

The other lesson that touched my heart was to “explore and be constantly learning”. The life of essentialists spends their time exploring, listening, debating, questioning and thinking. There is no regular day on the hill – there is always a new statistic, statement, article, event that you probably haven’t heard of and when you think you know something, you probably actually don’t.  Don’t let that scare you though! Working on a committee has helped me develop the thick skin I need to be comfortable in being uncomfortable and to expect the unexpected. What I thought I knew about health care, education and labor policy were not close to what I know now. At first, I was a bit shy to ask questions, but now I can’t seem to stop.

Besides the readings this week I learned about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWFJ) and its impact on health. The mission of this organization is to “Build a Culture of Health that provides everyone in America a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being”. The RWFJ does this by funding research and programs that deepen the understanding of America’s greatest health challenges and identifies new approaches to bring about change. While attending the briefing I learned about the RWFJ Culture of Health Prize Winners. I enjoyed learning about the work that they’re doing in San Pablo, California. Leslay Choy, the Health Prize Winner talked about how they’ve used their funding to resolve child obesity. They did this by partnering with state and federal agencies to rectify vacant railroad land and convert it into a sports park. Through the New Markets Tax Credit program, they were able to build a community center which gives students access to free or affordable after-school activities.

Congressional Oversight

Our moderator, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced his retirement on Wednesday, June 27th, 2018 giving President trump the opportunity to establish conservative control over the highest court of the land. Without our most central role, our court is at a split between four liberal and four conservative justices. President Trump made it a priority to find someone to fulfill this sacred seat – Brett Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge was nominated on Monday, July 19th, 2018. With his conservative record – it’s no surprise that he was selected as Trump’s nominee.

From my vantage point, many of the political discussions surrounding Brett Kavanaugh has been primarily through the news. From what I’ve read Brett Kavanaugh has disappointed many social conservatives; however, with most of his rulings based on constitutional principle, President Trump has deemed him worthy of being on the bench. According to an article on Roll Call, “Several Senate Democrats said the judge would have to make his case for their support”. As far as working on a house committee, our ranking member has not given any public remarks on the matter, so I am not obliged to say anything.

Besides the judicial nominee, I’ve been tracking other items as well. Right now, I just finished drafting a memo about USDA Summer Meals Programs. To give a bit of background, in 1946 the passing of the Richard B. Russel National School Lunch Act created a pathway that helped with child care and hunger. This lead to the production of feeding programs including the Child Care Program and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). These child nutrition programs were last authorized in 2010 in the Healthy, Hungry-Free Kids Act. The 115th Congress has not shown any significant reauthorization activity since then.

This was my first time drafting a policy memo and although it was challenging, it was well worth it. Through this project, I’ve learned about the impact of SFSP programs and the benefits of these sites – especially in Arizona. The hearing for these programs will be next Tuesday so I look forward to seeing all my hard work be put into action. Since I’ve been working on the committee my focus has been on higher ed, health and labor policy. So far, I’ve enjoyed learning about these three policy areas, but I’ve enjoyed health and labor policy the most. For higher ed, I’m still working on my literature review on for-profit conversions. As for labor, I am creating a chart that focuses on the benefits of states raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour.

This week I learned about congressional oversight. There are four tools that congressional staff use to conduct oversight. First, is by holding briefings or writing letters. Committees can request that agencies submit a report to them which creates a line of a paper trail. Second, staff can conduct oversight by Authorization. One of our guest speakers who are on the Subcommittee on Social Security of the House Ways and Means Committee talked about how the committee maintains good relationships with their appropriators which helps. The third is by Audit Investigation; by submitting GAO requests, holding closed-door member meetings, going through the Inspector General are great ways to get an investigation started. If you do decide to use the audit investigation method, it’s best you plan accordingly. Most investigations do not start until months after a request has been submitted. Lastly, how you conduct good oversight is by recognizing that there is a problem. You do this by listening to your constituents, stakeholders and reading press releases.

Happy Independence Day!

Without a doubt, Independence Day was one of the most enjoyable and entertaining experiences I have had since being in Washington, DC. Back at home I typically celebrate this holiday surrounded by a grill and my family, but it was nice to celebrate this patriotic day with my friends. One of the moments that made this day so enjoyable was that I finally found a good Mexican restaurant. Before marching off to the pre-concert, Daisy, Gillian and I decided to check out this place called “Oyamel Cocina Mexicana”. As I opened the glass doors to enter the restaurant, I noticed that the walls and windows were painted with beautiful red monarch butterflies.

I was curious to know what the butterflies represented and learned that the butterflies would migrate from the US and Canada to spend the winter months in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. In Michoacán, the butterflies would seek shelter in the Oyamel tree; which is a sacred fir in central Mexico.  The atmosphere was gorgeous and the food was divine. The portions of the plates were relatively small but left you very satisfied. I ordered the Frijoles Refritos con Queso (Refried beans stuffed with melted Chihuahua cheese) and Enchilada de Pollo con Salsa Verde (Chicken Enchilada w/ Salsa Verde and melted Chihuahua cheese, rajas, and green onions) with a Mango Agua Fresca. The girls and I spent about two hours in the restaurant relaxing and chatting. If we were to move any faster we would have probably passed out from a food coma.

After eating, the girls and I met up with Jenny to find our spots for the concert. Being an intern on Capitol Hill comes with great perks. It was nice to be able to take all my friends to watch the concert on the steps of the Capitol building. I was unaware of how many guests I could take, but I quickly learned that you can take up to three guests. Trying to find the staff entrance to get to our spot was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Walking around the whole entire capital in 93 degrees in humidity at 2pm was not fun. I literally could feel my face melting off as I tried to find this staff entrance. Once we finally got there we sat under a shady tree and watched the Beach Boys perform two of their most popular songs: “I Get Around” and “Kokomo”. After listening to them perform both songs twice I decided to leave to go back to WISH and cool down. Not that many people were there because it was a rehearsal so I thought It would be okay to leave and come back- huge mistake!

I was only in WISH for an hour and 30 minutes. I came back to the security entrance and what first started off as a 20-second security check ended up being an hour-long wait to the security check. The hour-long wait was dreadful! Luckily the sun was blocked by the clouds, but nothing could help me avoid the humidity. Once we finally got through the security entrance we ran to get as close as we could to the performance (which wasn’t a lot). There were so many people in red, white and blue that I almost got lost in the crowd! My favorite part of the concert was listening to the national anthem. Watching everyone be still with their hands over their heart truly touched my heart. Overall, my Fourth of July experience was a blast!

This past week I learned about the Capitol Hill Legislative Bell System. On July 24th, 1888 the House of Representatives approved to add legislative signal bells to the House wing to keep members informed of House Floor proceedings. I was always curious about why these bells would ring so now I know! It’s been fun talking about them with guests that come for capitol tours.  Here’s just a few of them:

  • 1 long ring signals the termination of a notice quorum call.
  • 2 rings signal an Electronically recorded vote.
  • 3 rings signal a Quorum call in the Committee of the Whole.
  • 4 rings signal the adjournment of the House
  • 5 rings signal a five-minute electronically recorded vote.
  • 6 rings signal recess of the House
  • 12 rings (at two-second intervals) signals a civil defense warning

The Opposite of Networking is Not Working.

Business cards are thrown like candy on Halloween day. However, instead of gaining a toothache these sweets can hopefully land into a job opportunity. Working on the hill has provided many opportunities to network, but not in the way you would think. I’ve done more networking in my own office than outside the office. A few examples would be meeting with the different legislative assistants that serve the individual members on my committee, working closely with actual committee staff and lastly developing connections with the interns and fellows that assist on the committee. Within these past few weeks, I can say I’ve learned so much from the people that I’ve networked with. The staff directors and advisors on my committee have worked on the hill for the past 15-20 years and I’ve truly appreciated the advice they have given me.

I want to say one of the reasons why it’s a bit difficult to network outside the office is because everyone has somewhere to be. Even when you’re in line at the Rayburn cafeteria grabbing lunch no one is trying to hear your elevator pitch (Even in the elevator it’s difficult). However, if I must be honest, I can understand why people tend to stick to themselves during lunch time. After working 40 hours on the hill for the past three weeks, I’ve truly become to appreciate the value of my 1-hour lunch break. From 9am-2pm I’ve pretty much spoken to over 20 people, so I think 1 hour of silent time is well deserved. Despite the connections I’ve built in my office, I have been able to network through my Stennis program. Our guest speaker, Judy Schneider spoke to us about how Congress “really” works. To give a bit of background, Mrs. Schneider is known for her 42 years of service on Capitol Hill. She is a specialist at the Congressional Research Service and a scholar at The Brookings Institute. She has given speeches to hundreds of Members of Congress about rules here on the hill and is basically an overall legend. I was fortunate enough to be able to listen to her discuss the logistics of the legislative process. After the lecture, I developed the confidence to go shake her hand and get her contact information. I made sure to send her an email the following day.

My plan to keep maintaining these new relationships is by sending follow up emails. Developing the habit to email people after you get someone’s business card is a habit that I’m still developing. To keep myself accountable I try to set reminders for myself to send follow up emails when I’ve received business cards. I also plan on keeping myself updated on the current projects that my new contact is working on so that when I’m sending follow up emails the person knows I’m interested in learning more. I also plan on attending many of the networking events that Wish Housing offers.

Besides networking, I’ve been working on two long-term projects. This week I’ve learned about for-profit institutions converting into nonprofits and USDA summer feeding programs. Our Higher Education Policy Advisor wants me to draft a memo that focuses on why for-profit conversions are a concern for higher education. With this project, I have been able to learn more about specific for-profit conversions including Herzing, Remington, Everglades and Grand Canyon University. I’ve learned that there are many reasons why for-profit owners want to claim nonprofit status. A few of them would be dodging the 9-10 rule, income tax benefits, low property taxes and employment requirements.

My other project focuses on the reauthorization of summer feeding programs. While researching I came across the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children (SEBTC) program. This program is a study that focuses on the use of SNAP and WIC technology that provides food assistance to low-income children during the summer months. How they did this is by comparing the impact between a $30 and $60 benefit amount given to children for four summers. The findings showed that “Receiving either a $30 or $60 monthly benefit led to positive changes in children nutritional outcomes compared to receiving no benefits”. I would assume that receiving either benefit would be better than receiving none; however, it was interesting to learn about how the study collected their data and produced their charts. I’ll be sharing with you all more info as I learn more about these areas. Stay tuned.

Follow the Free Food!

For the past two weeks I have been conducting interviews with all the advisors on my committee. After reading “50 Ways to Get a Job” by Dev Aujila, my assignment was to interview someone at work and uncover their true story. Out of all my interviews, my conversation with the Education and Workforce Development policy advisor was the best. Through this interview I got to learn about the areas he focuses on which is K-12, CTE and early childcare. He also shared some funny stories with me that lead him to his career path.

An interview that was meant to last only 30 minutes ended up becoming an hour and a half discussion on a variety of different topics. I enjoyed learning about his experience in Teach for America and how that sparked his passion in pursuing a career in education policy. He says, “If it wasn’t for my best friend telling me that the TFA recruitment event had free pizza, I probably wouldn’t have gone. If it wasn’t for those many hours spent in the classroom, I probably wouldn’t understand my policy area as much as I do.  If you hear of an event with free food – go to it. You never know who you will meet or where it will lead you”. I also asked him about the other options he was considering at that time and surprisingly his plan was to go to graduate school to study finance policy. I thought it was funny to hear that free pizza was the factor that changed his whole outcome. I’m hoping that a free taco night leads me to my career soon.

Another tip of advice that he gave me was to not think that about my career path as linear. There is no “Step one, two and three” process. It’s always nice to have structure and a sense of what you want, but there is no map to get there. This advice was truly helpful to me because I’ve always been the person to plan out my life step-by-step. Living here in DC has taught me that you should always expect the unexpected. Working on the hill is like being in a whirlwind. Everyday I’m meeting new people and finding new interests which has kept my head spinning left and right. However, I will say that a number one benefit of being an intern on the hill is that you get to master your elevator pitch. I’ve gotten mine down to a solid 30 seconds. Overall, this interview was truly helpful! I can honestly say that I have gained a mentor through this activity. During my time in DC I will be considering different graduate fellowship programs and asking for his input.

This past week I’ve learned three things: (1) The differences between authorization and appropriation, (2) The factors that influence medical prices and (3) The value of quiet time. During my time with the Stennis Program, I got to listen to a staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee and Chief of staff of Rep. Daniel Lipinski talk about the differences between Appropriations and Authorization. To my understanding, appropriations bills focuses on discretionary spending which now makes up about one-third of all the federal spending. Discretionary spending is approved by Congress each year and is divided into two major categories: defense and non-defense. On the other hand, you have authorization bills that focuses on mandatory spending which includes programs such as Social Security, Medicare and agriculture. These acts establish a federal agency or program and its terms and conditions and authorizes the passing of appropriations for that agency or program. Lastly, these authorization bills make up only two-thirds of all federal spending. The one-hour discussion also went over scoring which is what the government uses to estimate the change in government spending compared to what would happen without the legislation. I was really impressed with the discussion and hope to stay in touch with both individuals.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I was assigned a health policy project that focuses on the factors that are increasing our medical costs. According to the PwC’s Health Institute report, there are three main factors that are inflating the medical cost trend. (1) Consumers are being offered more ways to get care, (2) Physician Consolidation and Employment and (3) Mega-mergers. Other factors include care advocacy and high-performance networks. The health policy advisor was super impressed with my summary, so I hoped to work with her more as time goes on. The last thing I learned is the value of quiet time. Living in an apartment with six other girls makes quiet time very limited. Knowing that, I decided to stay indoors and work on my project while all my roommates went out. It was nice to be able to sit on the couch, watch Grey’s Anatomy and read my report in silence. Although I love going out and being social; I can be antisocial as well. If anything, I consider myself an “outgoing-introvert”! I love being surrounded by people; however, I need my alone time.

Work, Work, Work!

Working 40 hours a week is no joke! My life is now on a strict schedule where I wake up at 6:00 am, leave to work at 7 am, arrive at work at 9 am, leave work at 6 pm and then go to sleep by 10:30 pm.  Although most of my day consists of me being at work it’s been a complete blast to be on the hill. The Committee on Education and the Workforce is one of the standing committees in the U.S. House of Representatives. It was first known as the committee on Education and Labor but after several names changes, it was finally established as Education and the Workforce on January 5th, 2011.  Its jurisdiction covers higher and early education, workforce development, and protections, health employment, labor, and pensions. Within this committee, there are four subcommittees: (1) Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, (2) Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions, (3) Higher Education and Workforce Development and (4) Workforce Protections. There are 23 republicans and 17 democrats, our chairwoman is Virginia Fox (NC-5) and our ranking member is Bobby Scott (VA-3). As a congressional committee intern, I get to conduct legislative research, assist lead staff, attend hearings and markups, staff press conferences and provide administrative assistance.

What impresses me the most about my internship is that the staff truly makes you feel like the work you do is important. For example, one of the first assignments I took on was to observe and write a summary on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) meeting. The meeting focused on “Transforming #Metoo into Harassment-Free Workplaces”. To provide some background, the #MeToo movement started in 2006 to give assistance to survivors of sexual violence. Since the start of that campaign, the #MeToo has become a global thunderstorm and now business and policymakers are coming up with new practices/policies on how we can prevent these situations. During the meeting, I got to learn from lawyers, businessmen/women, and nonprofit organizations that deal with this issue. I learned about a restaurant called Homeroom which is known for their famous mac and cheese and anti-harassment program. The Management Action Color System, preferably known as the MACS System, is a system they use for employees to signal to their managers/supervisors if their being harassed. Yellow means that an employee is getting a creepy vibe or unsavory look from someone. Orange signals that an employee has received a comment with a sexual undertone. Lastly, red represents that the employee has received repeated incidents of sexual comments or touching and needs a customer to be escorted out by a manager. The task force members had many questions and concerns regarding the certain practices that organizations like that are implementing. However, one thing for sure that all of them had in common was that sexual harassment needed to be stopped.

Besides education and labor policy, I’ve started to become interested in health care policy. The Director of Health and Labor Policy gave me my first research project which is to draft a memo regarding the trends from price to benefit design of premium prices on employer-provided insurance based on the PWC Medical Cost Trend Report. The report is about 38 pages which must be summarized into 1-2 pages. I’m not sure on how I’m going to make that happen, but I’ll try my best. The project is due next Wednesday so I’ll be keeping you all updated. One last thing I want to discuss is my first day participating in the Stennis Program for Congressional Interns. These eight-week programs are going to be so much fun! I have a project that’s due at the end of this program as well. For this program, a group of us must create a memo, dear colleague letter and a pitch that addresses our position on net neutrality for our make-believe state and district. I’m super excited to be working on this project because the assignment relates to my internship. Many of the terminologies used in this program are what I hear in my internship, so it’s nice to have a better understanding. I also gain more experience in writing these types of documents which will be helpful to me as I enter the job market.