Dynamics of the Congressional Office
Monday, May 10– by Saoud Al-Shoaili (Oman)
I am a member of a team of six from the Arab Gulf region participating in the legislative fellowship April, 28- May 29 2010. After an orientation week including meetings with legacy international staff, former congressmen, DOS, DOL and others fellows, we finally started our fellowship last Tuesday, May 5th 2010. During the orientation, I understood the legislative structure of the US, and in particular how a law is formed and finally constituted. Furthermore, I learned the relation between the three branches of the US government system.
At the congress, we are all attached to a congressman’s office; working with members of staff. At the office of Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Il), I understood the roles of the key members of staff and the way they help the congressman in his daily work. The Chief of Staff has explained to me the dynamic of the work at the office. I was also introduced to the different Internet sites that contain information and resources about the legislative issues in US. In general, I found the staff to be supportive and with high willingness to share their knowledge and experience.
I got the chance to attend a hearing chaired by the congressman. The issue discussed in the hearing session is close to a project we currently conducting in the office at the Research Council, Oman. The hearing was highly beneficial, new experience and skill to me. I am thinking to transfer some of its components and apply them in our project back at the home office. As a starting and sharing my experience in the strategic planning, I was tasked to draft a brief about the drivers that are most likely to shape the future of the biotechnology industry. This was completed and submitted to the Chief of Staff in the office.
In addition to be attached to a congressman, we are also mentored by a previous congressman who share with us his experience in the congress office and try to help in different aspects making the fellowship more beneficial.
In parallel to the above-mentioned professional experience, I continuously learn new things as a result to the exposure to a new and multicultural environment.
Friday on the Hill
Friday, May 7– by Riyadh Al-Balushi (Oman)
Friday on Capitol Hill was a relatively slow day, Congressman usually travel back to their respective areas to deal directly with their constituents and to work on campaign issues. This means that there are no hearings, markups,or voting sessions on Friday.
Even though the Congressmen are not on the Hill, the other staff still remain in the office to deal with pending issues, respond to letters, and hold a few meetings. Briefings for congressional staff may also be held on Friday.
I attended a briefing on the financial aspects of cyber risks. The session aimed to introduce congressional staff to a report made by the Internet Security Alliance and the American National Standards Institute explanation how to implement a financial management system of cyber risks. There was a role-play session, speeches, and a Q&A session as well. I thought it was very interesting as I am a member of the Information Security Committee of our ministry and the issues raised by this report are similar to those we face back home.
In the afternoon we went with Matt to visit the Department of Labor where we met with staffers from the Office of the Child Labor, Forced Labor, and Human Tracking at the Bureau of International Labor Affairs, and an official from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It was a very informative session in which we learnt about the role played by the bureau in helping foreign countries reduce child labor. We also learnt from Ed Stern about intelligent systems and their use in regard to occupational safety.
Week 1 on Capitol Hill was eventful, hope the upcoming weeks are just as good!
I look forward to the coming days so I can gain more professional and personal skills.
One week in the U.S.
Thursday, May 6– by Abdulmanan Al-balushi (Oman)
One week passed since I have arrived in Washington DC through Legacy International Fellowship program. I have visited so many places in Washington. Also, I have learned so many things regarding the congresscontribution in U.S foreign policy decision making. I was involved in collecting some information regarding the international affairs for briefing and I have also attended a hearing in the Committee of foreign affairs regarding the nuclear power proliferation. The hearing was really great. There was a discussion regarding the nuclear proliferation and the role of U.S in controlling it. I really liked the work in my congressman office. People in the office are working so hard as one team to help in providing services to their constituents.
The role of congressman in shaping the U.S domestic and foreign affair is so big. He tries his best to provide the American decision makers with the latest and valid information about the current situation of the people in his district and their needs.
Finally, I would like to thank legacy international for giving me this opportunity to participate in this highly valued program. I really hope to share what I will learn with the officials in my home country.
A Day with Congressman Conyers
Wednesday May 5– by Sarah Al-Sharji (Oman)
So Day 1 of the actual fellowship was yesterday. Phew! What a day! I walked in to the office at 9am only to find Congressman Conyers himself near the reception desk. Not knowing exactly who I was and assuming I was the new intern, within 10mins of walking in he declared me in charge of the office and put me on phone duty when he and everyone else left the office to prepare for his 10am hearing! Funny how I panicked at the thought of being left all alone in the office to take calls when I was there to take on a lot more serious issues. I only had to take one phone call before some of the other staffers walked in and I was introduced to everyone and set up at a desk.
At 9.30 I had decided I wanted to attend the 10.15 Judiciary Committee (which Congressman Conyers chairs) meeting on the Patent and Trademark Office. I was taken to the Committee office and introduced to everyone and asked to come back a bit after 10am for the start of the hearing. When I did I was told to sit with the staffers behind the Committee members for the hearing. I naturally picked a corner seat where I would be practically invisible (if not for my colourful pink scarf).
At 10.20am Congressman Conyers walks in and asks me to sit right behind him! I am now in full view of everyone and very aware of the cameras pointing in my (well, Chairman Conyers’) direction. The hearing was an oversight hearing on the USPTO and some of the issues it was facing, primarily relating to funding and the quality of patent inspections. We heard from 4 witnesses who touched on issues such as an increasing backlog of patent applications and how a longer patent pendency threatens an inventor’s rights.
As soon as the hearing was over at 12.45, I met up with Riyadh for lunch. We got lost a bit on our way to Longworth cafeteria but let’s see how we do today. We were done by 1.45 and rushed back to our offices to go for a 2pm meeting of the Judiciary subcommittee on electronic communications privacy. That was very interesting as they discussed technological developments since 1986 (since the Electronic Communications Privacy Act was passed) and the need for the law to be revised to take into account these developments. Again we heard 4 witnesses who all described various aspects of these advancements in technology.
When that was over at 4.10pm, I went back to the office to settle in only to be rushed over to the Senate building for a 4.30 press conference on the impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes! A few Senators and Congressmen made statements on the need to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp, which threaten to disrupt the Lakes’ multi billion dollar fishing industry and the hundreds of thousands of jobs it supports. The press conference was held to highlight the pressing issue and rally support for the enactment of a bill (the CARP ACT) for immdiate action to be taken.
By the time we were done with that at 5.15, I went to the office to get settled and sorted with an e-mail account, access to the House network and other logistic issues. I actually had to look at the time to realize it was 6pm and time to call it a day as I hadn’t realized it was that late already.
Overall, day 1 was a great way to kick off my fellowship. Congressman Conyers’ office is very busy and there are half a dozen events going on at any one time. Having racked up 2 hearings and a press conference on my first day, I think I did pretty well! It is such a great honor to work with Congressman Conyers and I couldn’t be happier with my other colleagues (for 2 and a half weeks!). I could definitely get used to this
Tip for tomorrow: wear comfortable shoes!
Discussions with Members of Congress
Tuesday May 4– by Talal Ali (Kuwait)
Now its been a week already in the Legislative Fellows Program (LFP) but it feels like I have gained years of experience from this week. We joined several meetings, we had lots of orientations and discussions with Former Members of Congress on Capitol Hill and in the hotel with legacy international. We also attended the DOS event were we meet Kuwait embassy Deputy chief of mission. The past week was full of events that are for information gathering and full of tours and sightseeing of Washington DC. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, as my fellowship will begin.
83 Fellows meet on Capitol Hill
Monday May 3– by Mona Ameen (Kuwait)
Venue: U.S Department of State.
We arrived at 8:30 am in U.S department of State , Loy Henderson Auditorium with a total of 83 fellows from different countries, and most of them are in their conclusion of their fellowship program while we are in the beginning of our program. The opening plenary session started at 9:00 Leonard J. Korcki from Bureau of Education, followed by a speech by former U.S Congressman Martin Frost, and Dr. Curtis Huff from Bureau of Education. After that we went for a coffee break with small chats to meet with other LFP participants.
The fellows reports came later in the second session, which started by 11:00 with a presentation from each group & country, which started with our presentation, my colleagues Sara & Talal were the speakers about our delegation representing MENA region, Kuwait & Oman as part of GCC. After that came each group presentations, which were really interesting.
We had lunch in the Benjamin Franklin Room and on our way we had the great opportunity to look at an amazing masterpieces. I had a beautiful picture standing next to Thomas Jefferson desk. Legacy International has invited The Deputy Chief of Mission of Kuwait Embassy in the U.S, Mr. Nabeel Al-Dakheel, Who introduced himself and welcomed us & invited us to visit the Embassy while we are on LFP.
Later in the afternoon, and before the wrap up session, each member has entered into a round table discussion group according to his area of interest which was really beneficial. I have been placed and participated in the discussion group that I have previously ranked as # 1 which is Legislative staff and their role in the legislative processes, which took place in Loy Henderson Auditorium, and the session moderator was Dr. Michael Haltzel, a senior fellow, Johns Hopkins University, who gave us a beneficial briefing form his wide experience on how legislative staff should act and prioritize their task and what they do.
Finally came the wrap up session with briefing from each group, and will start the second part from Legislative fellows congress tomorrow which will take place and start with a tour in the white house!