Observing the Fellows placement process from a distance and from the other side is a striking contrast to my stress and angst-filled experience of last year. I know so much more about both the Hill and about the Fellows experience that I have an entirely different perspective. Of course, the quality of my year is not riding on the process this time around, so I am innately much more calm.
Through the Fellows Mafia, I have seen a list of the offices who are interested in hosting a Fellow this year. It was double the number of offices on our list last year, which isn’t too surprising since last year was an election year and many offices were reluctant to commit to a Fellow when the future was uncertain. I was also pleased to see that a number of freshmen Senators were interested in hosting Fellows as well. I’ve developed a rather proprietary air about the Senators with whom I shared a first year on the Hill, and I want them to have the best information and advice possible. A number of offices who had not expressed an interest last year were on the list for Fellows this year, and I could see that it was often because one of my fellow Fellows managed to get placed in that office and obviously both the Fellow and the office had good experiences. (I don’t feel that I can ethically disclose details about that list- sorry!)
I look back on the choice I made last year to join the Bennet office, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Aside from my personal conviction that I will always make the best decision given the information available at the time and thus I shouldn’t second guess myself, it was a wonderful match. I really enjoyed the process of carving out a portfolio for myself that reflected my own interests. Indeed although I advertised myself as having interests in energy and environment, it was really the natural resource issues of water and forestry that got me the most excited and that ultimately shaped the set of issues upon which I worked.
The Congressional Fellowships are by definition a single year, so there was never any possibility for any of us to stay for a second year. Still, it has been fun to fantasize about what a second year and a second placement might look. Having spent a year in the Bennet personal office, I can’t imagine going to a different personal office, and I’m not sure if I would happily transition into a House office with the Democrats currently in the minority. So working with a Senate Committee is the most intriguing dream I play with.
When I was going through placement last year, there were three Senate committees on my radar. That didn’t mean that they were all interested in taking Fellows, but I figured they might be working in areas to which I could contribute. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology (CST) seemed like a no-brainer for a science fellow, but it has not appeared to be a particularly active committee, and in the past, a physicist has usually been the one to land a spot on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over space and NASA. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) also seemed right up my alley, but eventually considerable advice from former fellows sank in that this committee is noted far more for partisan bickering than for actually getting work done. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) is one of the plum spots for energy and environment fellows, but since I was close to two fellow Fellows on that committee last year, I think I would be interested in learning about something new.
The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (Ag) was completely new to my radar, but in addition to handling the farm bill, I learned that they do quite a bit of work on conservation, forestry, and energy. I think last year I would have written them off as focusing on food and nutrition, but now that I know how much influence they have over forests in particular, they might be a fascinating place to work. Several fellow Fellows were on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC, pronounced affectionately, “His-Gack”). I never really figured out what they did, but for some reason this committee seemed like a great place to discover the unknown.
When I look back on my placement process from last year, I am especially grateful to the fellows from the previous years who were willing to take my phone calls with little or no notice and bolster my spirits or help me brainstorm new offices to investigate that were not on our initial relatively short list. I also appreciated their willingness to invoke the “circle of trust” to speak candidly to me about the pros and cons of various offices. I have been pleased to pay that forward. I taught a few of this year’s new fellows about the circle of trust and gave them extra information they should have before they made a choice on a set of offers. It seems that I did learn something last year.