Monday, August 1, 2011

On the Hill

There are three branches of government - the executive, the judicial, and the legislative. This is something that you already knew unless you managed to sleep through all of elementary school civics. You have probably also heard that two out of three of these branches do not always get along (if this sentence were published on twitter, this is where I would insert the hashtag #understatement).  However, the living, breathing fact of these three bodies meant almost zero to me until I came to D.C. and now plays a major role in how I go about my work (and play).

As a dutiful civil servant of the executive branch, it is my job to show up, write documents, work with other agencies, and try to move ideas and policies forward that serve the mission of my department and the administration. Politics come into play, but no matter what party is residing in that fancy house over on Pennsylvania or has the most seats up on Capitol Hill, I get to do pretty much the same work.  Being able to do this is, of course, contingent on being paid, and this is where the legislative branch comes into play. I'm not going to get into the deal that was just reached on debt ceiling, mostly because my expertise is not in complex fiscal policy and I feel like all news establishments have those events fully covered. But, I will say that it has been harder than usual to focus on actual work here in the Capitol. Occasionally though, some other business continues to take place.

Last week I attended a Senate Commerce sub-committee meeting that had nothing to do with the debt, but instead focused on economic development in the Arctic. I suspect the hearing was nothing more than an interesting distraction for all three Senators in attendance, but it's always nice to see some government in action. While the outcomes of committee hearings are usually predetermined, I recommend visitors look up the schedule of hearings when coming to D.C., since these sessions offer a form of political theatre that is free and accessible to the public, complete with celebrity witnesses and questions from elected officials that range from ridiculously uniformed partisan grandstanding to surprisingly insightful demonstration of knowledge of an issue. Nothing is likely to come out of the hearing, but at least I know that sometimes representatives from both sides of aisle can sit at the same table and listen to experts from the executive branch, industry, and non-profit organizations in a polite and dignified manner. As we've seen, politics between the branches can be messy, but I just wanted to share that sometimes they also have manners.

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