A few more thoughts...

I finished my laundry last night, and I should be able to figure out sometime tomorrow what I need to ship home. I made the mistake of bringing more to D.C. than I brought home during my trips back and forth, so I will have to pay some dues to the US Postal Service.

I had a few more thoughts that I think are really important to know about Washington, here the come:

If you want a job in Washington, D.C., you can get one. This is not a place of great competition. If Washington, D.C. were an island and you were stranded, you could probably find something to do for some office or organization. However, many entry-level positions are without pay (i.e. my internship). Because the entry-level jobs can be done by almost anyone, they don't need to spend the money to keep people around. Many internships start out with the salary of $0. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from the Renewable Fuels Association, which helped tremendously. When I figured out my pay in terms of the scholarship, I was making about $6.17 an hour, and that was being generous. Extended to a year, that would be about $15,000, and staff assistants can typically put three zeros on the end of their age. Because of this, I see a big problem, we have a low percentage of low-income staffers on the hill. It is not that a wealthy staff would do a worse job, but in a place where we are trying to solve problems, we have many great minds shy away from the city because the financial risk is too great. Those who do come either have their stay subsidized by their parents who want them to be successful, or work jobs on the weekends and after work. So that is the down-side, however one nice benefit most people do not realize is the educational loan repayment program available to staff. The rate is around $500 a month, so $6,000 a year. This can turn the $22,000 salary into about $28,000, making it a bit more manageable. This is still an expensive city. Rent for a live-able apartment (unlike mine) can be anywhere between $800 and $1,200, depending on where you are, how close you are to the Metro, and of course the regular housing/renting factors. With your $22,000 salary then, you have $16,500 after 25% is taken out for taxes. You can then take home about $1,375 for month, and put about $1,000 of that towards housing and travel, giving you about $3-400 to live on each month. With a few big bar tabs, I can see where people go into debt for a while. That is a pessimistic view, but with a few good years in D.C., salary rises quickly and staff swing to the other then of the financial pendulum. I'm just saying, the first couple of years can be rough.

I think my final lecture will be about cars. Parking is ridiculous, and because the city wants less people on its streets, the parking police are horrible. I did not have a car, so this is a second-hand account. Rush hour is horrible. Between the stoplights and millions of people trying to get places, including workers, tourists and Presidential motorcades, D.C. rush hour is stop-and-go within about 60 miles of the metro area. People that do not live on the Hill, can then spend much over 50% of their day away from home. Even Metro riders will have to get on the Metro by 8:00 to get to work by 9:00, and not return home until 7:00 (on a normal day). Commuters can leave at 6:00 or 6:30 and return home by 8:00 (on a normal day), but extended hours can be much worse. At least you can park in the Office Building parking lots for free as a staffer, but you need to pop your trunk and have a police officer look in your back window before you do. If you live on the Hill with a car, it doesn't get much better. An off-street parking spot is the solution to many problems. One of our staff members has had his car stolen twice, and been bumped and nicked enough times that no one would want to steal his car anymore. The reason for the bumps is the way people parallel park. I have always been a proud member of the parallel parkers at my fraternity in St. Paul, AGR. Normal residents park an average of 6 vehicles in the same space we can park 7. I think residents of D.C. could up us with a total of 8. It is much easier to parallel park in D.C. though, you know exactly when to stop. Everyone simply backs up until they see the car behind their coveted spot moves, because their car just tapped it. Then when a driver turns the cars wheels and heads forward, the stopping point is when that car moves. What you end up with is a sidewalk lined with neatly parked cars, simply inches from each other. If a staffer plans on staying in D.C. for just a year or two, they may not bother to change their license plate. The fee is something like 6% of your cars value. So just getting a street permit for parking on the street takes about 8 hours after you find out what your cars exact value is, get in the four-hour line to get the okay for a D.C. license plate, and finally are able to pick it up. If you do not go through this process, and are parked on the street, you start getting tickets. It starts at around $100, then increases quickly each day that the parking ticketers notice your non-D.C. plates. The Metro in D.C. is very helpful, but it doesn't get you everywhere. Cars are definitely advantageous at times, but I wouldn't buy it.

One last thing I didn't realize until a few weeks ago; Washington, D.C. is on the East Coast. I went to New York and Baltimore with little money and planning, and was able to spend a short amount of time traveling. I wish I would have headed south for Twins Spring Training, but there is always next time.

Also, this means vacations to the Bahamas and the Caribbean are much more inexpensive and less time-consuming than they would be from the MN area.

I'm going to head to the Nationals game, and then tonight I'm going to have supper with our next intern who I met when he was out to visit earlier this Spring. Tomorrow I am shipping out and packing up, and seeing the last couple of sights. Then early Tuesday I leave for Dulles so I can make it back to the great state of MN for the afternoon. That's all for now. We'll see if I have anything else to reflect about as my life goes on...


It's Over

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, that's it. I finished my 10 page paper. It was a lot of fun.

My final day of being a Congressional intern was also today. It was my last day to roam free through the Capitol, skip the the front of the line, and give people advice with credentials to back me up. Now, I'm worthless, just another citizen. I do not know what this has done to me yet. I feel so disconnected knowing I am not in the middle of everything I want to learn about. It gives me shivers just thinking about it. Wait, no, that's just my drafty $550 apartment (which is open if anyone wants a room that is 8 x 16 with smelly water and a worse smelling bathroom). Okay, so I haven't complained much about my apartment until now, well I am going to. I feel like I want to spill my guts about everything just so the next person who thinks they might want to skip school for the betterment of the nation has more to go off than I did. I don't mean this to be a sob story, but more of a, I'm glad it's over, glad I did it the way I did it, but I wouldn't advise it and will never do it again.

First of all, I want to let everyone know that I was definitely not the typical intern. The biggest barrier was not being 21. Okay, so it does not really matter for Congressional work, and I would not drink that much if I was legally able to anyways (I'm kind of tight with my money. Kind of, because I just don't like spending it on alcohol, but I can always have more food. I also don't like spending it on clothing, but new athletic shoes or a hat are always a good buy.). But I was held out of two receptions that were very entertaining from what I heard. I also missed out on the D.C. nightlife, which is basically all there is to do out here between the hours of whenever you get off work and 9 am. Sure, there is tons to see as a tourist, but after my first month, I was no longer a tourist. Monuments and museums can only do so much for me. My only other outlet besides my homework was softball. Thank god for softball.

That brings my to my second point that makes me atypical, I was still a student. Between not wanting to get behind on credits and possibly losing out on umpteen thousand dollars of scholarship money (kind of, more like $4,000) I decided to take a total of 19 credits (with 15 being average) while I was out here. I am happy I did, as my only other option would have been a $80 fake I.D. While much cheaper, I think I taught myself a lot more about studying. Anyway, I have one scholarship that expires after 4 years of school, so missing a semester full-time would have been confusing, and full-time is only 13 credits.
My original class was my 13 credit political science class, which is the main reason I'm writing this blog, as well as the reason I have analyzed and learned more about this internship than I possibly could have on my own. I had a great professor for this class based on email who seemed to know a lot about agriculture, so that was totally worth the money.
But then I had to take 16, because I had signed up for 15 credits before I knew I had the internship. This resulted in either me shelling out a few hundred dollars, or taking another class (at least 2 credits to bring me to 15). All online classes were at least 3 credits, and the one I chose was in my major. Actually, it was all based on blogging, you can see it here. It was a lot of fun, and I got an A. Finally I had 3 credits from a class I started last June that I received a 2-month extension on as I prepared and took this internship. So it was originally due March 15, but I will finish it up on Wednesday when I take my final exam.
The moral of the story is, if you come out here, stay busy. I don't care if you take in the night life, sit in your room and do homework, or join as many sports leagues as you can, just do it.

Second, I would advise you to keep a blog. I have traveled what I would consider a lot for my age. I have always been told to keep a diary of some kind, and on the two trips I have, I remember them much more vividly and have fonder memories. The best part about a blog is that others can read it. I will admit that I did get a stern talking to my first week of work. My superiors found my name through Google's powerful search as I continually mentioned Collin's name or the Farm Bill, and just advised me not to do anything that would get me or them in trouble. I do not know how all staffs would feel about a blog, but mine was fine with it after they read through it and got the idea that I was not trying to take down the Ag. Committee. The best part, as I was getting to, is that other can read it, and I have been closer with all my family (albeit via email) than since I was a new born baby and they came to see me. I don't think I'm attention starved, but when I received a card in the mail from my great-grandma with a message of approval, that was a great feeling. You can also broadcast when your birthday is and be sure to get many more cards and presents, and if you live in a crappy apartment they may be more likely to send money. Okay, so I wasn't planning that, but it worked out well. To be honest, I still need to send the thank you cards. I told my mom I had them written and ready to go, which is true, but they are still just ready to go. It turns out having your mom deal with all your postal needs as you grow up is not the best benefactor for postal independence.

Third, expect the unexpected; that is, just react to things and be adaptable and confident. I did not really understand my duties the first few weeks of my internship. Was it okay for me to take a 15 minute lunch? 30? 45? When other staff members say that they are going to run errands (a.k.a. "X-GTRE" in blackberry talk) was I able to do that? If someone calls and says they need to talk to Collin Peterson, how do I know if they are important? Should I even bother someone about it? If they are, what is Collin's number?
It was these examples that made life pretty confusing at first. After a while I just figured out that lunch depends on the day. I had time for anywhere from zero, during hearing-filled weeks, to a few hours during recess. I could run errands as long as someone else could cover the desk, and I got Collin's number, but I can't give it out.

Fourth, embrace the culture that is "The Hill". I could have seen the suits coming, the signing of documents, or even the seven steps it took to get a waste basket next to my desk, but there is so much more I didn't see coming. The Hill is like a college campus, mostly because 80% of its inhabitants are 35 years and younger. Fresh out of college, everyone knows how to work hard, and play hard as well. The hours are similar to college, get up to go through your normal routine, but you might be up all night reading, writing, or sitting through a boring meeting or markup. But you need to do it to get the grade. Then, after 40 hours in the first three days of a week, the local bar is looking like a good place to relax with your friends. You lose even more sleep, but that is how you make the relationships to make things work. I did miss out on the bar scene, but it might be one thing that draws me back.

Five, you're an intern. I mean this in two ways. One, because you're a political science major with straight A's does not mean you're going to excel on the hill. You may be ahead of some people, but the staff will be sure to let you know that you are not at the level to do their job. By the way, I was a very lucky intern. I knew many interns, and most of them gave tours, some two or three per day. Not all interns are as privileged as I was, I am thankful for that, but I still was doing some grunt work (i.e. moving boxes, like today at 5 p.m. when my mind was already in Minnesota). The other way I mean is that you are an intern! You didn't get selected to be on the hill because you are Joe Schmoe (who could also do pretty well out here). But, since you're out here, don't make yourself look inferior. My general rule was that if I pretended like I knew what I was doing, I did unless someone else knew better. Because every day is different, there are people who have been around for years, but would not remember if you are doing something right or wrong.

Well, I think I've unloaded as much as I can. If I get inspired, maybe I'll write tomorrow. I am going to say the most memorable parts of my internship were meeting the Administrator for a USDA service a few weeks ago and meeting Drew Berrymore and answering a couple of her questions.
On the other end, there was recess. Not doing anything for a few days was fine, but the 10-day Easter break was a killer. Luckily for staff they usually have enough vacation days to go somewhere, but the sun outside was torture as I sat and read about how the Twins were doing in Spring Training and wrote an email to anyone I could think of.

I have two softball games tomorrow, I'm excited. I can't wait to get home, find the Twins easily on TV, or head down the street for a Saints game. That's it, I'm inspired, sometime this weekend I will write about some differences and similarities from MN to DC. Goodnight.


One More Day

Okay, I feel bad because I have been writing less and less during the end of my internship, but homework is much more fun than keeping everyone updated on my life.

Actually, I'll give a quick rundown, then I'll try to explain more tomorrow after I finish my research paper.

This morning we held our first markup on some generally non-controversial bills the Agriculture Committee will send to the floor. After we adjourned and everyone cleared out of our packed room, we had 8 votes on the floor, then about 12 members came back for a press conference (packed just like the hearing, but 90% press) and the Democrats and Republicans laid out their plans and explained how they would work together. After that, the press asked a lot of questions, and the Chairman decided it was time to go.

I agree, it was more dramatic than that, but I have 10 pages to write. I'll talk tomorrow.


Two To Go

I almost had a really great day, but it ended up being only a great one. The reason it was so great was the Omelet Luncheon put on by the United Egg Producers. I'll admit it, I had two, but we were able to make them ourselves and add whichever ingredients we wished. In the afternoon I thought I was going to meet Kent Hrbek on behalf of ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), but he must have been double booked somewhere else. Then we received our bi-monthly shipment of milk from LandO'Lakes (and I have been put in charge of saying what happens with the 60 bottles we get) and the leftover brownies and cookies from the reception arrived at the same time.

Okay, so that was all about food, but we were also preparing for our first markup (and the only one I will get to experience) that takes place tomorrow. This is not Farm Bill related, but we will be going through three bills that shouldn't be too controversial from my personal estimation. They include the 25X25 Act, the STOPP Act about eminent domain, and the Hunters for the Hungry program.

That's all, I'm going to try to keep on cranking out homework. Two days left.


Rewriting the Bible

Our hearing today on produce safety was taped by C-SPAN, but for once we only had to use one room for a hearing that was picked up by a TV channel.

I am now spending my days preparing for the end, and a new beginning. While it sounds like Genesis and Revelations, I am just another step in the process. I mean the people at work care about me, but I'm gone this Friday, and the office needs to be as efficient as possible. The new interns will most likely be behind, so I am making sheet after sheet to update them on everything we have been doing, and also to better understand the processes we did not get right away.

One sheet I made today could be pretty controversial, and shows just how important some bureaucratic (not that I'm using it in the derogatory sense) approval can be in this government entity (or any corporation). My Bible, Catechism and Hymnal for the first couple weeks was our Staff Issue Assignment sheet. This piece of paper included the names of our staff who received mail about issues, and which issues each staffer covered. Because we are still adding staff, it would be very hard to complete an updated version (the current one is very outdated) now, but I would not want to be the next intern stuck without it. So I made one myself, but was reminded that it needed to be hidden. Should a staffer on our committee see the sheet and assume that it is official, they may be offended. Everybody wants their areas, their section of work. If the person who covers, for example, parliamentary procedure,--something not stated explicitly in our Subcommittees' jurisdictions--sees "taxes" under someone else's name, they may see this as a revocation of some of their work, or power. Therefore while this document will save everyone a lot of headaches (as mail could get put in the wrong places and calls may be sent to the wrong phone), the release of this document could also be harmful in case of a miscommunication. If all goes well, it will be saved for the interns' eyes only. If not, let's hope the staff are paying attention to my blog today.

Well, it's crazy to say, but there are simply 3 days left. I need to finish up homework now so I can play softball and pack this weekend. I will be home next Tuesday, and I'm already getting emails from aunts and uncles, who shall remain unidentified, that want me to come help me teach their social studies class (I bet that didn't narrow it down). I guess after you're out here, you're a big deal.


The Final Countdown

Besides a war protest that shut down Independence Avenue (the road in-between the Capitol and the House Office Building) with about 20 people staging a sit-in in the middle of the street, today was normal, but a lot more work. I am down one intern, but I was able to get through the day, even squeeking in the much-needed (and inexpensive) haircut.

We held a hearing on crop insurance and have our final hearing tomorrow before we begin our work on the Farm Bill (hopefully next week).

My entries are probably going to be short for this final week as I finish up my research paper about Horse Slaughter (H.R. 503) and a few other papers I should get done by Friday. Saturday we have a double-header for Minnesota Alumni Softball, then Sunday-Tuesday I'm packing up and heading home, with a little sight-seeing mixed in.


Party Time

The morning was going slowly. We figured since it was the other intern's last day, we would be taking it pretty easy, and generally we were. At noon we had our farewell party for the two of us, and it was great to have everyone together, because the stress level in the office is pretty high. In fact, the rest of the staff is working tomorrow morning.

Anyway, I took my best friend to see the floor of the house, and she was pretty impressed. After that it was about 4:00. We then had to move a lot of furniture. So much so that Gabe's last day ended up being a last day plus 30 minutes. It was still a memorable day.

Next week we have two hearings planned. I thought it was rough with only two interns, well it looks like I will find out what flying solo is all about on Monday and Tuesday. One week left, and I'm playing tour guide this weekend.



Today I had a lot of good fortune, two women that I was glad to see came to our committee room. We also had two hearings.

The first girl that arrived was my best friend that I actually hadn't seen for about 6 months. She will be spending the weekend hanging out with me.

The second visitor was Drew Berrymore, on behalf of the UN. She had a 4:00 with the chairman, and talked to me before she went in. She asked me what I had learned and how long I was staying, while I was being taped by one of her two video crews.

Anyways, it's past my bedtime because I played softball and showed my guest the monuments.


CSPAN and the Pool, 2nd round

We had our hearing on the findings of melamine in animal feed. It was a very packed hearing and we had coverage from CSPAN as well as the networks. CSPAN will air it sometime this weekend.

This afternoon I worked on a variety of projects for our upcoming hearings. Tomorrow we have double duty, and we start at 8 am. Today was the minority intern's last day, and Friday is our other intern's last day. I have simply 7 days left, weird.

I'm being quick so I can work on homework and wake up on time.


Animal Welfare Hearing

We had our hearing about the welfare of animals in agriculture today, and it went as most expected it to. You can read reports about it from the Cattle Network here and the Brownfield Network here. There were also press releases from organizations like the Center for Consumer Freedom.

We had a line started at 9 am, when I arrived, and it grew by our 10:30 start. Not included in that line were also 12 witness, each with a guest, making our "public" section of our large committee room shrink from 36 to about 10 (when it is usually 20-25). We also allow 10 people to stand in the back corner, and then we had an overflow room that seats another 50, which was about 3/4 full. I watched the door for the first 2 panels and could tell the tension in everyone's face as they walked in and out of the hearing room. I was able to sit in our overflow room for the third panel, and I can say things got a little dicey.

This afternoon after cleaning up the hearing I took a few projects here and there, but spent most of my time researching to see if we had any press coverage of our committee hearing (such as with the honey bee hearing, when it was everywhere immediately after the hearing was over). But no such luck, as former House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Stenholm (who was a witness today) said, "What we've got to do is find a way is get that story out to where more of the non-agricultural press begin to pick up on what we're really doing in agriculture, not what some people say we are." It should be noted that the only two reports I found were the two stories linked above.

In my view animal agriculture is just starting to realize they need to put money into education about animal welfare specifically. The difference is, animal agriculture organizations are also spending money on trade, disease control, research, and a plethora of other issues to keep food safe, low cost, and efficient. On the other hand, animal rights organizations focus solely on animal rights.

Growing up on a farm I didn't see any need to have training on animal welfare; being nice to animals just comes with the territory. Starving a cow because it didn't win an award or produce enough milk just doesn't make sense; it makes your goals more improbable. The same with putting pigs in gestation crates (which of course just sounds like a bad name, and is a good reason the people of Arizona were swayed to outlaw the one hog farm there from using them. I learned in 10th grade English that Americans love alliterations. Why not call them pregnancy pens, or birthing booths?), it surely is not to make the pigs uncomfortable during one of the most stressful times of their life, it is to save the lives of piglets (as noted today, the number of piglets per litter has increased from about 7 to 10 since the inception of the technology).

*Those are purely my opinions and a review of my experiences growing up on a farm. They in no way express or reflect the opinions of the Committee.