24 August 2011

The Day Care and Congressman Barney Frank

Posted by njreck13 under: Summer 2011 .

The Senate is notoriously glamorous—on the positive end, I got to rub shoulders with great people in historical places. The other side of the coin, the Senate has been accused of being disconnected from the people, overly deliberative, and elitist. In this way, my experience in the House and Senate was night and day. To the palace of the Senate-side, the House of Representatives is called “the daycare.” Yet, such a description need not be taken pejoratively. The House is designed to remain closer to the people, and based on my brief tenure on that side of Congress it does just that.

How I was able to secure an internship with Congressman Barney Frank is a testament to the importance of networking in the DC environment. My internship with the Democratic Senator was due to end on July 28. That same week, one of my coworkers had lunch with the Executive Administrator in Barney Frank’s office where he had interned the previous summer.  He came back from that meeting and told me that their office was in a bind. Congressman Frank’s summer interns were all leaving in the beginning of August, and fall interns would not come until September rolled around. In other words, they were hurting for some help. My friend said he’d throw my resume over to the office, and just like that, by the end of the day I had an offer.

Very quickly my time in Washington was extended by a month with the opportunity to experience both houses of Congress. My first day in Congressman Frank’s office, I got more face-time with my boss than I did the entire two months I worked on the Senate side.  The congressman called me into his office to introduce himself. We began to talk about the debt ceiling deal (why he voted “no”) and Congressman Frank’s meeting with Vice President Biden, when he remembered he needed to call into a radio show. I was quickly ushered out. Yet, to my surprise, ten minutes later I was called back into his office to finish the conversation! The Congressman consistently afforded the staff and me that level of respect throughout the summer. Despite the onset of the August recess, we still heard from Barney Frank daily, as he called into the office to stay on the pulse of work.

Barney Frank has a reputation for being one of the most intelligent and difficult to work for members of Congress. While I cannot speak to the second point, I can say without a doubt that Congressman Frank has an extraordinary mind—I only wish I had more time to pick his brain. What’s more, he is an absolute workhorse. As I mentioned earlier, during the recess he continues to work from offices up in New England. Barney Frank truly cares about the hearts and minds of the people in MA-4, and makes every effort to keep up with and understand their priorities moving forward in the Capitol.

Whereas in the Senator’s office I often had down time between relatively substantive projects, in Frank’s office, I was constantly busy, but with more menial tasks. It was the responsibility of the interns—of which I was one of two— to sort all incoming mail and answer the phones throughout the day. This does not sound a particularly demanding task. Yet, while the Senator’s office would throw away mass-produced form letters and petitions, Congressman Frank’s office responds to each and every piece of constituent mail. Thus, the task of sorting mail into the appropriate category of response became rather daunting and time-consuming. We even responded to hate mail (and there was a fair amount of it, since BF was both the first openly gay congressman and a visible member of the financial community) acknowledging the letter and points of disagreement.

Answering the phones was always interesting. You never know if the caller will be a famous reporter (I’m 90% sure I took a call from Dan Rather), a former congressman (former Presidential candidate John Anderson), or a furious constituent. For this reason, I enjoyed working the phones and dealing with whatever may bark back from the other end of the line.

In the Senator’s office, staff members were spread out, working in different rooms in the office building. In Frank’s office, staff members work in the same room, making communication between staff and interns far less of an ordeal. In turn, I had more extensive access to the staff members. I talked about careers on the Hill with the Chief of Staff and current affairs with the foreign policy LA, to name a few impromptu talks.  Yet, I ended up working most closely with the health care Legislative Assistant. I conducted research on the Affordable Care Act so that I could update constituent letter responses. More specifically, I revised the letter on Part D of the new health care plan—that is, the implications of the government health care program for prescription drugs as it pertains to effectiveness, cost, and the diminishment of the benefits “doughnut hole.” Additionally, I composed a refutation of various “myths” being circulated about the ACA in order to clarify for a constituent both false accusations of government overreaching and the very real benefits gained from the law.

So while I was only in the Congressman’s office for about three weeks, I was thrown into a busy day-to-day office with accessible staff members who were very willing to delegate out substantive issue-specific projects. I feel that by working on both sides of Congress, I was able to get a more full understanding of the inner-workings of America’s Legislative system. I made lots of connections that will help me move forward with my career in DC, and had the chance to talk with staffers who have stood in our collegiate-intern shoes and worked their way up.

Working in the House and Senate were completely different. Taking the internship with Barney Frank turned out to be a great decision, and served to round out my Washington experience.

All I can really say in closing: you better believe I’m going back to DC. What an incredible summer.

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