There could not be a more exciting time to be a conservative coming into Congress: Republicans hold the majority in the House and Senate for the first time in over a decade. And the new president, well, he has the nation walking on eggshells in anticipation of his next Executive Order or early morning tweet. These factors weighed heavily on my decision to accept the fellowship. I decided that I want to be part of the legislative process and to help guide the debate on cybersecurity, privacy, and civic engagement from the inside now that these issues are becoming more mainstream.
Hit the ground running. Thrown into the deep end of the pool. Pick your idiom for feeling simultaneously excited and challenged at the prospect of getting a crash course in the legislative process both on and off the Hill. That's how the Congressional Innovation Fellowship started for me. The first three weeks of the program emphasized the importance of making connections and building a network of trusted colleagues and experts to be able to call upon. Everyone understands that there are limits to the breadth and depth of knowledge on any particular issue. From what I have observed so far, the people who are most successful are the ones that can pull together information from a number of reliable sources and use that information to help their member quickly make informed decisions.
There are incredible resources available to staff working on the Hill. Orientation offered us an introduction to a number of those critical resources. We met with individuals from think tanks, advocacy groups, legislative staff, and the Library of Congress, including the Congressional Research Service. It is reassuring to know just how much information and assistance is available - if you know the right places to look.
Finding your way around the Hill is intimidating. One of the most valuable orientation experiences was spending time in each of the Congressional buildings gaining a sense of the floor plans, numbering systems, and tunnels that connect them. I look forward to starting my first day knowing which floor to go to just by looking at the office number and where to find the coffee shop. This is the kind of day-to-day knowledge that will help build the informal relationships with other staffers and help set us apart so that we can hit the ground running at the on the first day of the fellowship placement.
I start working with the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs (HSGAC) on February 14th . The committee has one of the broadest jurisdictions in Congress: oversight authority of the Department of Homeland Security as well as the efficiency and economy of operations relating to all branches of the government. I look forward to bringing my local government and technology experiences to the table, and expect that I will learn a great deal about the challenges of considering opposing viewpoints and building coalitions to pass legislation.
It is certainly going to be an interesting year.