Monthly Archives: July 2013

Summer Internship Series #7

Our fifth internship post comes from Grace, MPP post grad 2014.

Time out.

Sometimes, you just need to call a time out and catch your breath.  That’s what this blog post is for me, a quick breather in the constant whirlwind that is New York City.  I’m starting to understand better why the city is called the big apple, the city that never sleeps, Gotham City, and the city so nice they named it twice.

This summer, I’ve been working at the Federal Farm Credit Banks Funding Corporation.  Yes, you read that right, farming and NYC do in fact have something in common – the Funding Corporation.  This government sponsored entity issues loans to farmers and facilitates investment in the market.

Where’s the policy, you ask?  The Funding Corporation uses policy in reactionary ways. They look mainly at monetary policy, farm policy, and regulatory policy.   What is the Federal Reserve’s interest rate?  When will this rate change?  How are Ben Bernanke’s public announcements going to affect the market?  Will the Farm Bill change the number of people that need loans?  How will the Dodd Frank Act and other “too big to fail” policies affect internal policies?  As a government sponsored entity, the Funding Corporation keeps a keen eye on the policy world.

The Funding Corporation doesn’t set policy, they study it.  They react to it.  They understand it.  And they need to follow policy because without knowing the intricacies of financial policy, they would not be able to set competitive rates that can help farmers.  In reality, that’s what it all comes down to – helping the farmers.  The internship has exposed me to a corporate environment with a strong mission.  What is better than that?

Working in New York, well, that’s quite something.  Working in the financial world in New York, that’s something even more special.  After all, this is the financial capital of the world (ok, London too, but I’m not in London, so NYC it is).  Ten weeks ago I couldn’t tell you about a debt security, 5-year non-call, or a floater.  Now, I not only can explain these terms, but I can stand on a rooftop at happy hour, talk with a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley, and not stick out like a sore thumb.  New York’s financial world is full of jargon that is the equivalent of muscle flexing – Did you issue a 3-year callable?  Well I did.  Look at my muscles.  BAM.

So work really never ends here.  Sure, my job is 8-4pm, but then there’s the post-work discussion, the weekend analysis, and the non-stop emailing about the market.  New York has, in every way, lived up to all of its nicknames.

Who has the countdown until the start of the fall semester?  I’m counting 4 weeks.  That’s 4 more weeks of internship experiences and financial jargon, combined of course with a little tourism and good ole fashioned New York City fun.

Time in.

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Summer Internship Series #6

Our sixth internship post comes from Sheridan, MPP accelerated 2014.

Batten Student Life Blog Post - Picture

A little known fact that most people don’t know is that Connecticut has the largest achievement gap, of any state in the country.  I’ve spent my summer working at the Connecticut Council of Education, as they work to close the state’s long standing  “achievement gap.” The Connecticut Council of Education Reform (CCER) works to raise public awareness about Connecticut’s achievement gap, advocate for education policies and reforms, and collaborate with the State Department of Education and district and school leaders to support the implementation of policies and reforms at the local level.

CCER is hosting myself and two other Graduate Summer Fellows in New Haven to conduct a financial analysis of Waterbury Public Schools. We are using methodology and resources provided by Education Resource Strategies (ERS). ERS is a non-profit consulting firm that works with leaders of public school systems across the country to rethink the use of district and school-level resources.

In collaboration with ERS, our analysis of Waterbury Public School’s spending is generating insights on how resources are currently allocated amongst Waterbury schools while offering a comparison to similar-sized school districts across the nation and other school districts within Connecticut. The insights of this analysis, and our corresponding recommendations, will be presented to Waterbury’s Board of education and the State Board of Education.  The goal of our team’s recommendations is to provide the district’s education leaders with an opportunity to view their resources holistically and consider funding trade-offs, empowering the district to intelligently invest in its most important priorities. Intelligent investment is one of CCER’s six major policy focuses for addressing Connecticut’s achievement gap.

Up to this point I’ve spent most of my time going through and coding the districts financial data to align with ERS’ methodology and analysis tools. Over the past couple weeks we’ve begun transitioning from the coding to the analysis phase of the project. Last week I met the Waterbury Superintendent and her leadership team to get an understanding of their budget process and their perspective on the district’s financial state. This week I’m traveling to Boston to meet with some of ERS’s directors, project managers, and data analysts to share our team’s preliminary findings and conduct a hypothesis generation discussion to brainstorm possible recommendations for Waterbury.

As I enter the final weeks of the fellowship I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with CCER again for my Advanced Policy Project (APP). While proposal approval is pending, CCER and I are looking into conducting an analysis of Connecticut’s formula for funding localities education systems to identify the most transparent, effective, and equitable method of supporting school districts.

At first I was weary of the impact I would have as a fellow or intern, let alone whether I would find something that would actually meet Batten’s “summer internship experience” requirement. But I have had a rewarding and fulfilling experience working at CCER to this point. I have been fortunate to being doing something that is discrete and requires making recommendations to education officials and leaders that are being seriously considered. Not to mention I have a newfound appreciation/expertise in Excel (Excel truly is a beautiful thing!). I’m having a real policy impact, which is the reason I wanted to join the Batten School and why I want to study/work on public policy.

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Summer Internship Series #5

Our fifth internship post comes from Simone, MPP accelerated 2014.

Hey there Charlottesville! Are you holding up without me? Hopefully. With the closing of my college basketball career in March of this year, I am spending my first summer away from Charlottesville since I enrolled at UVA. No worries, I haven’t been squandering away the newfound freedom. My past eight weeks have been spent in the District of Columbia, with InterAction, the largest coalition of U.S. based international development NGOs.

I am working with InterAction’s public policy team. During the summer, the PP team spends the majority of its time focusing on advocacy to members of Congress before the July Fourth and August recesses. For the first few weeks of summer we were focused on getting the HR 1983 Food Aid Reform Act passed. HR 1983, or the Royce-Bass bill, was focused on amending the Food for Peace Act. Food for Peace is the primary U.S. food aid program, sending American grown food aid on American freighters to crisis areas. When Food for Peace began in 1966, the program made sense. American farmers needed the subsidies, the American maritime industry benefited from the increased business, and in a time with wars were fought on the high seas more American freighters in the ocean provided a security blanket. Alas, it is 2013, and the American farming industry is experiencing some of its biggest surpluses in years, freighters are one of the more inefficient forms of travel, and war is fought in the skies. These changes mean that the Food for Peace program is largely inefficient and outdated.

My responsibility during this time was to keep the PP team updated on developments amongst the House representatives. This meant attending a number of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s hearings on food aid reform. At my first hearing, one of the witnesses was Andrew Nastios, the former director of USAID. He told stories of being in the middle of famines in Ethiopia and Somalia, and watching as people wasted away while food aid was in transit. It would take months for the aid to cross the ocean, and then weeks to be trucked inland through war zones. It was clear from his testimony that the current Food for Peace system wasn’t working.

Our advocacy efforts consisted of one-on-one meetings with foreign affairs staffers, holding briefings for congressional aides, and creating sign-on letters from our 180-some members to send to the members of Congress.  The bill finally went to a vote, and unfortunately we did not get the result we wanted. The bill did not pass. There was one positive, 203 representatives voted yes to the amendment, a huge step forward from 2008 when a food aid reform bill didn’t even go to a vote.

Being on the advocacy side of international development and aid reform can be frustrating, when it seems like months of hard work go to waste when a bill doesn’t pass. But in this business there is no time to mope. The next push for InterAction is the Poe Bill, or the Foreign Aid Transparency Act, and there is no time to mourn losses. The most important thing I’ve taken away from my time at InterAction so far is this is a work of increments. Monumental change doesn’t happen overnight. Advocacy is delicate work, but hopefully my Batten training has prepared me well.  

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Summer Internship Series #4

Our fourth internship post comes from Christine, MPP accelerated 2014.

I’m heading into the final weeks of my summer internship with the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT).  AAPT has over 10,000 members spread across the globe, and so the organization has a unique strength is at the local level.  This strength is especially important for education policies since most decisions happen locally even if the original policy was implemented at the federal level.

And that’s where my work comes in: members that want to pursue advocacy need resources and tools to do it effectively, and so I’m creating a set of materials for members to use.  While creating general materials means I can’t focus on a particular issue, in some sense that’s a good thing.  AAPT needs resources that will be applicable now and in the future.  Plus, if we want to encourage members to advocate locally, it’s almost impossible to make precise strategies and plans.  Thus, I’m creating a tutorial on how to advocate effectively (sort of an Advocacy 101, if you will), examples of one-pagers and strategies, and guides for where to find data.

If you think this sounds kind of like a rehash of our first year at Batten, you’re not far off.  I’ve been applying a lot of the things we learned at Batten to help others advocate, too.

In addition to the work I’m doing for AAPT, I also get to pursue other opportunities in DC.  For example, I’ve been to

  • A poster session by the Einstein Fellows, a select group of K-12 science teachers that spend a year or two working in DC to get familiar with federal policies and efforts,

  • Hearings on Capitol Hill on science issues, including a House Subcommittee on Space hearing about their version of NASA’s reauthorization,

  • A workshop for new physics and astronomy faculty, and

  • AAPT’s Summer Meeting in Portland.

The Summer Meeting was especially cool – I had some time to be a tourist in Portland, but I also got to attend workshops and listen to really interesting talks on physics.  However, the meeting did have some policy opportunities.  I got to meet and speak to the Executive Board about the importance of advocacy resources.  Many of the Board members (and other AAPT members) are interested in advocating for education issues, but they don’t know how.  They’re eager for resources to help them achieve their goals, and so it was nice to see the interest in my work.

Over the next couple weeks, I’ll be finalizing some of the materials and trying to get them online.  There was some talk about getting me to host a tutorial or workshop at the AAPT Winter Meeting in January to talk about advocacy.  Plus, during the Summer Meeting I think I managed to get involved with their Committee on Space Science & Astronomy, so it looks like I’ll be staying involved with AAPT for quite awhile!

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Summer Internship Series #3

Our third internship post is from Madison, MPP post grad 2014.

Greetings from Beantown!  This summer, I am working and living in Boston, MA, and I am really enjoying exploring this great city.  I work with the nonprofit Technology Underwriting Greater Good (TUGG) through an organization called New Sector Alliance.  Batten’s very own Colleen Farrell (MPP 2012) is also an alum of this great program, which combines training and mentorship with nonprofit consulting services through an Americorps grant.  I am working with TUGG to help them standardize and codify their internal processes as they prepare to expand to San Francisco.  This means I’m doing a lot of process mapping, performance measurement, and working to implement a new client relationship management system.  Hopefully the work I am doing will allow TUGG’s Executive Director (and sole employee) to expand his reach without having to hire additional full-time employees.

While several of my first-year classes have helped prepare me for this work (looking at you, Professor Mahoney), I find that the experience that has most helped me this summer is working with Formative Change Group (FCG).  Although I had worked in the nonprofit world before, it wasn’t until working as a student consultant with FCG that I realized just how constrained some small nonprofits are.  Resources are incredibly hard to come by, and many nonprofits will sacrifice on things like capacity building and overhead in order to expand programmatic work.  This summer, I feel like I am going to make a real difference in TUGG’s ability to function, and I hope to continue that work with FCG next year in Charlottesville.

In the meantime, my next challenge is to find out where the best chowder is.  Can’t wait to see you all back in Charlottesville!

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Global Intelligence Forum – Wrap Up

This professional development post comes from Luke, MPP post grad 2014.

Here are my insights from attending Mercyhurst University’s Global Intelligence Forum in Dungarvan, Ireland from July 7-10, 2013:

During the panel on National Security Intelligence, Richard Kerr’s presentation resonated with me the most.  Kerr, a former Deputy Director of the CIA, opened with an anecdote from his career.  He joined the agency out of college without analytic training or a great understanding of exactly what intelligence analysis was all about.  He attributed his rise from a lowly GS-7 analyst to deputy director to hard work and skill … and a little bit of luck.  Sometimes a story like that is good motivation.

20130708_112908 (Richard Kerr, former Deputy Director of the CIA)

He spoke about a range of issues, including the need for in-depth analysis and leadership advice for managers of analysts.  A problem prior to the Iraq War was a shift to current intelligence (short-turnaround reports) and away from in-depth and rigorous intelligence.  A deep understanding of foreign countries (cultures, languages, history, etc) is absolutely necessary for policymakers dealing with international issues.  On the leadership issue, Kerr said that managers need to focus on two-way communication with analysts, and they should make sure analysts have ownership of and get credit for their work.

During a break I introduced myself to Mr. Kerr and broke the ice by mentioning a mutual friend.  I’m sure he wondered who the two of us could possibly both know, but he was pleasantly surprised when I mentioned Batten Professor Fred Hitz, a former inspector general at the CIA.

During the panel on Law Enforcement Intelligence, each of the panelists and keynote speaker Louis Freeh seemed to have a nugget of good advice.  Freeh acknowledged that analysts may face pressure to skew their analysis or investigations.  In such cases he suggested that analysts deliver their findings in written products to ensure a record of their work.  Don’t rely on oral briefs for difficult or controversial analysis, as they allow for poor memories, confusion, and ambiguity – whether intentional or not – to be issues .  John Grieve, a former director of intelligence at Scotland Yard, reiterated Freeh’s point with a poem,

“Say it loud and write it down,
good investigators speak without a sound.”

20130708_101020 (Louis Freeh, former Director of the FBI)

Another takeaway that transfers well from the law enforcement realm to the public policy realm came from a deputy commissioner of Ireland’s national police, Garda.  He said that one of the biggest problems of policing is in the implementation stage.  Great analysis is often wasted if the implementation of a policing policy fails.  He recommended that analysts must be involved in implementation due to their depth of knowledge of the subject matter.

In opening the Business Intelligence portion of the conference, Secretary-General Robert Watt of Ireland’s Department of Public Expenditure and Reform  gave the most Batten-appropriate speech of the conference.  [Quick background: Ireland’s economy thrived before 2008, but the state’s fate turned quickly.  Evidence of the quick shift are all of the half-completed construction projects around Dublin.  The final toll was 20% decrease in GDP and 300,000 jobs lost.]  Watt’s challenge is to reform public spending to put the nation back on track to a stable economy, including a reorganization of the public sector and banking industry.

Ireland has a new program to review social welfare recipients to detect fraud.  A random sample of recipients is chosen and their characteristics (age, income, education, etc) are compared against a baseline of what a typical welfare recipient looks like.  If a variable differs greatly from the baseline, then an investigation takes places to determine if there is fraud.  This program detects 50% more fraud than traditional investigations at a lower cost.  I’m not sure if I would completely understand the complex regression used by the department, but I did understand Mr. Watt’s explanation thanks to the first year at Batten.

Another change was with the Irish government’s procurement process.  Agencies used to deal with procurement on individual basis, but they found that different organizations were buying the same goods from the same suppliers at very different prices.  Part of the reform program includes using the government’s monopsony power on some goods and services to save $500 million by 2015.

A final noteworthy change is a government-wide HR program for all 35,000 civil servants.  The government can now easily get a big picture look at the workforce at any one time.  In a week when the weather was beautiful, Mr. Watt wondered if vacation days increased or if sick leave was heavily used.  This information will be valuable for staffing and understanding how benefits are used.

 

There are a few final takeaways that didn’t fit nicely into this post, but are worth sharing.

  • Know the decisionmaker and how to communicate with him/her.  Brevity and crispness are key to having a report read and acted upon.
  • Intelligence is information designed for action.  The same definition could be used for policy analysis.  When writing papers next year, I will remember to produce actionable analysis by reducing uncertainty about a given situation.
  • Analysts must consider what value they are adding beyond just reporting the news or summarizing other analysis.  Good analysis presents insight and opportunities.
  • Decisionmakers should look for critical thinking, not consensus, in analysis.
  • In a conversation with members of European militaries, I learned about the complexity of multi-lateral cooperation in the European Union.  Professor Christine Mahoney‘s Political Institutions course gave me enough background to not make a fool of myself discussion the EU.  I thought the US government was big and confusing, but I learned that EU is a whole other beast.  Over 80 organizations deal with security and intelligence issues issues among EU member states, compared to about 16 in the US.
  • Games are valuable teaching resources.  Kris Wheaton, a Mercyhurst intel professor, has 10 years of data (client feedback from student projects) supporting the use of games and other innovative teaching methods in undergrad and graduate classrooms instead of dry, traditional lectures.
  • The Commonwealth of Virginia was well-represented at the forum.  The attendees included at least two UVA grads,  a JMU professor, and GMU researcher.  I spoke with the conference organizer who happens to be a family friend of one of my Batten classmates.  So I heard some good stories that I can share in the fall.  (See ya soon Ryan!)

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Global Intelligence Forum

This professional development post comes from Luke, MPP post grad 2014.

To complement academics, Batten puts an emphasis on professional development.  Due to my interest in national security and intelligence policy fields, I choose to travel to Dungarvan, Ireland for a mid-internship break to attend the Global Intelligence Forum.  The conference, titled Preparing Intelligence Analysts for the 21st Century, will focus on emerging trends and best practices in analysis needed to deal with the issues of the nearfuture.  It is hosted by Mercyhurst University’s Institute for Intelligence Studies, which is the oldest non-government intelligence training program in the country.  The keynote speakers are Louis Freeh (former FBI director), Rob Wainwright (director of Europol), and Robert Watt (secretary general of Ireland’s department of public expenditure).  The panels will cover the three broad intelligence fields – national security, law enforcement, and business – plus intelligence technologies and intelligence research methods.

Before coming to Dungarvan yesterday, my wife and I spent a couple days sightseeing in and around Dublin.  Our favorite spot was the Wicklow Mountains, with the Guinness Brewery a close second.

Wicklow Mountains - July 2013

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