The Knauss Legislative Fellowship: Exciting. Educational. Career-Building.

The Knauss Legislative Fellowship: Exciting. Educational. Career-Building.


I’m Erica Towle, I was a 2016 Knauss legislative
fellow, and I worked for the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee
Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard. My name’s Stuart Levenbach and I was a Knauss
fellow in 2007 and I preferenced being a legislative fellow. I really wanted to take my scientific training
and learn how science translates to policy and I felt like in order to do that and sort
of make a difference towards conservation, which is something that I really care about,
I needed to learn something about how science actually translates into law. And I felt like the best way to do that would
be on Capitol Hill in a legislative fellowship. I was placed in the Senate Commerce Committee,
and at the time the Republicans were in the majority, I was with a Republican staff. There were very few opportunities for a marine
scientist to be able to work on Capitol Hill, and that was really a dream of mine. I liked it so much I decided to stay, and
I was fortunate to be hired in the White House Office of Management and Budget, where for
the first five years I worked on the budget for NOAA, and then I transitioned to another
part of the office where we review and coordinate across the federal government of nationally
significant environmental regulations. I had the cool opportunity to write a memo
to all of the members of Congress telling them what we already know about hurricane
forecasting and research and what technologies are out there that may improve track forecasting,
intensity forecasting of hurricanes, how it affects people in the United States, and how
it affects our economy when we don’t have good forecasts. There is a section of a weather bill that
the House has introduced and the Senate is going to work on this year that has pieces
of improved hurricane forecasting. I worked on almost ten bills during the course
of that year, and that included bills that affected harmful algal blooms, coral reef
conservation, integrated ocean observing systems, and a ballast water bill that impacted the
discharge of invasive species in our coastal waters. The skill of being able to translate science
into something that’s digestible to all is very valued. It’s just critically important that we have
people with training in science engaging with decision makers, I’ve found that they tend
to value that input and make better decisions as a result. At least in the committee that I worked for
in the Senate, and at least on the issues that I work on in the oceans subcommittee,
I’ve found that it has been extremely bipartisan, in fact, on the majority staff we take almost
all of our meetings with the minority staff. How can you be effective, even when you’re
in the minority party? How can you build coalitions, how can you
find common ground with people? I was amazed at how bipartisan it was on the
Senate Commerce Committee the year that I served on it. That’s one of the most surprising and great
things that I learned this year, how to work well across the aisle. Being in the minority in some ways gives Knauss
fellows a greater opportunity to develop some really important skills that will help them
regardless of where they go after the experience. If you have that knowledge of how legislation
moves and how policy is crafted, and you have that technical scientific background that
you have to have in order to be a Knauss fellow, I think that is a very marketable skill and
has helped me leverage a new position at NOAA, the agency where I will be working on some
legislative engagement, and I think that I got that job in a large part due to being
a legislative fellow. I’ve worked on some major regulations affecting
the oceans, affecting land management, oil and gas activity, and it has just been a really interesting experience and that wouldn’t have happened were it not for the Knauss program. The opportunity to learn is something that
I really valued during this year, to attend Congressional briefings and learn so much
about the different programs at NOAA, it’s sort of like academia in that sense that you’re
constantly learning and going to seminars, and you have a really great amount of resources
at your fingertips. If I could do it all over I would definitely
request a legislative branch assignment, I think it exceeded my expectations, I formed
great friendships that I still have today with everybody that I worked with, it gave
me some great skills and it was a springboard to a job that I’ve enjoyed for the last ten
years.

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