I spent my fellowship year in the personal office of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), working primarily on energy and environmental issues. It was an excellent opportunity to learn all aspects of the legislative process in a congressional office, as I researched and drafted bills, wrote press releases and statements for the record, and coordinated with staff from other offices. Writing letters to agencies and briefs for the senator was also good training in clarity and brevity. While many of these tasks involved short time frames, one major, long-term project concerned mercury emissions, for which I gathered and evaluated information over a period of months in order to thoroughly revise and expand a previous bill, which the senator ultimately reintroduced. Throughout the year, interacting and socializing with the other fellows provided additional perspective on a wide range of congressional offices, both personal and committee, Senate and House of Representatives, each with its own priorities and activities. As I learned in the Navy, it is impossible to truly understand how an organization operates from the outside. The fellowship provided a unique opportunity to understand Congress from the inside.
Following my fellowship and a period of open-minded job searching, I found my current position at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working in the Office of Research and Development’s Office of Science Policy. My group provides and coordinates scientific support and advice to the agency’s program offices, especially for regulatory activities. With my degree in atmospheric science, that means air regulations, although I have had to learn a lot more about human health, risk assessment, and other fields not directly related to my degree. Over the years I have participated in the development of regulations related to ambient air quality, hazardous air pollutant emissions, ozone-depleting substances, and, more recently, biofuels and greenhouse gas emissions. The focus has been on the consistent use and proper characterization of the best available scientific information, to ensure a strong, defensible basis for the agency’s regulations and other decisions. The experience as a congressional fellow helps on a regular basis to understand the legislative requirements driving the agency’s regulations, to review the draft bills and testimonies that my office is often asked to review, and to appreciate the important role of science in public policy.