Ever since I announced that I was accepting a Congressional Fellowship, people have been asking what I will be doing and where I will be working. When I have answered “I don’t know,” that has added to the confusion.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS, who is coordinating all the Congressional Fellows, specifically requested that we not contact any Congressional Offices until after orientation so that we would all start on equal footing, and so that through orientation, we could be as well-prepared as possible to make a good choice. Certainly I have changed my mind a dozen times about what would be the ideal situation for me as I’ve learned more specifics about this year in particular, so I think that’s very practical advice.
After that, although the process we undergo is called placement, AAAS does not assign us to offices. They support us in our search, but the initiative is ours. It’s been emphasized that finding the right fit- an office which has the right atmosphere and that has someone who is willing to mentor us- is absolutely essential.
There are basically four options. In a House personal office, i.e. the office of someone like Rep. John Larson or Rep. Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut, the staffs are all the same size since each person represents approximately the same number of voters. With only 18 staff shared between the District and Washington offices, a Fellow in a House office usually ends up with an extremely broad array of content areas to work on. The two year election cycle also keeps the House moving at a frenetic pace, so the House is especially intense.
In a Senate personal office, such as Connecticut Sen. Blumenthal, the staff size will be proportional to the population of the state, so big states such as California have extremely large staffs. The larger the staff, the more narrow a Fellow’s portfolio of topics, but the pace is also a touch less frantic compared to the House. Just a touch, mind you!
The House and the Senate both also have committees, although they usually aren’t exactly parallel. There is a House committee on Energy and Commerce, whereas the Senate committee is Energy and Natural Resources. I expect that with the budget issues coming up, we’ll all also be hearing more about the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committees on Finance or on Appropriations. All of these committees have staff who focus closely on writing policy and who see a bit less of the process of dealing with legislation.
Since Fellows are free to Congress, we are highly desirable to offices who know how to use us effectively. There are 34 of us this year and 535 Congressional Offices plus all the committees, so although it will take time to find the right fit, we will most certainly all get placed somewhere.
On Friday, about an hour before the end of Orientation, we were sent the list of offices who have expressed an interest in having fellows so far. Our AAAS staffer looked out over the room and was amused that all of the Congressional Fellows were no longer paying much attention to the speaker and instead were hunched over smart phones and iPads scanning the list and looking for interesting matches. I was certainly one of the guilty parties! Tuesday night is the start of Congressional Match Game, and my best guess is that I’ll find my placement anywhere between a week and three to four weeks after that.
Wish me luck!