This past summer I had the opportunity to intern for Senator Bennet in Washington, D.C. For two months I worked with his legislative coordinator and aide on judiciary issues. Specifically, I researched issues concerning immigration, and by mere chance, I was assigned this task just as the influx of children migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala reached its peak. I felt lucky to work on such a timely issue!
As I attended briefings and hearings about border security, immigration, the children at the border, and general foreign affairs, the question of where representatives got their data began to bother me. There’s clearly a difference between being a politician and a researcher. After all, a politician generally devotes most of his or her time to appointments that have little to do with research. Moreover, it’s impossible that one individual would be able to make sound decisions on policies ranging from environmental protection to funding for higher education!
So where do our representatives get their data? In reality, legislators rely on a team of experts to provide them with the information necessary to make good policy decisions. With this in mind, there is a constant demand for concise, expert reports on all subjects requiring legislation.
It would be impossible and unreasonable for all 535 representatives to spend their time researching, debating, and developing policy on every topic that affects the United States. For this reason, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are divided into committees. Committees allow members to develop specialized knowledge about the matters under their jurisdiction, and they enable members to thoroughly analyze specific data, identify issues suitable for legislative review, and recommend courses of action to their colleagues in the larger legislative body (congress.gov).
Currently, there are 24 committees in the Senate and 26 in the House of Representatives, including standing committees, which are permanent bodies with specific long-term responsibilities. There are also special and select committees, which are created for specific purposes that are not necessarily permanent. Additionally, there are four joint committees, which are comprised of members of both legislative bodies to perform housekeeping functions and conduct studies (senate.gov).
In my experience, research was most urgent at times when Senator Bennet was going to make a speech on the floor. The Senator was in constant need of information regarding other representatives’ positions and relevant statistics that could help to prove his point, which meant that staffers like me were always busy collecting relevant information behind the scenes!
While the legislative process might seem awfully complicated, it can be made clear if you get involved with your local representative. My experiences in Washington D.C. helped to connect me with the tools needed to navigate our dynamic system of government. If you can, try to get involved. Involvement can bring clarity to convoluted issues in any discipline, and believe me, your input does make a difference!
For more information on the legislative process, go to Congress.gov, the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. And if you are interested in interning in D.C. don’t be shy, reach out to your representative and see what kinds of opportunities exist!