Posted on Friday, December 14, 2012
"For whatever reason, I've had this impression of bureaucracy and inefficiency that really disillusioned me from the political process," says Alexander Kent '13, whose opinion changed following an internship with the U.S. Department of Treasury's Economic Policy Office.
"While I think a lot of that does exist, having worked alongside many talented and extremely intelligent economists, I have changed my position entirely."
Kent, a double major in economics and public policy, was one of 19 students who spent the fall as part of the competitive Washington, D.C. Public Policy program. In addition to working in an internship, students enrolled in the semester-long curriculum were required to take three courses taught by Professor of Economics Alan Frishman and Professor of Public Policy and Political Science Craig Rimmerman.
Kent's internship at the Treasury Department was a far cry from delivering coffee and making photocopies. The highly prestigious and competitive internship took on many facets, among them examining the impact of the Affordable Care Act on unemployment.
"A lot of people believe that the reason the recovery has been slow is because workers are reluctant to hire given the constraints of the ACA. It's really cool to know that their claim isn't true -- and I have the economics to back that up."
Kent also researched various tax credits and compiled legislative histories of them, which required him to read dozen of public laws. "Discerning the environment in which the credit was conceived and every point at which it was amended is a monumental task," he says.
Throughout the course of the semester Kent also had the opportunity to attend congressional hearings and think tank lectures, allowing him to become somewhat of a "mini-expert" on a breadth of issues.
"After I was assigned to multiple hearings on pension modernization, I came to understand the importance of pensions to overall economic well -being. The same can be true of asset-building," he says. "I never really knew that there was a lot of depth to that policy area, but it fits so nicely with the personal research I have done looking at the intersection of politics and economics."
Perhaps one of the most significant projects he worked on this semester was witnessing the complex government-to-government relationship that exists between the 566 federally recognized Native American tribes and the federal government. Per Executive Order 13175, all federal departments have a responsibility to consult "regularly and meaningfully" with these tribes. Because of the work Kent had done in this area, he was asked to volunteer at The White House Tribal Nations Conference.
"I heard from six cabinet secretaries, as well as President Obama," he says. "Given my role as a Treasury "employee" I was allowed access to the first five rows in the auditorium and was a mere five paces away from the barricade when Obama finished speaking. At the earlier opportunity, I was able to make eye contact with the President and shake his hand. It was one of the most remarkable moments of my life."
Kent says his internship opened his eyes to the way in which the Executive Branch operates. "I make the distinction between branches of government really because of a conversation I was involved in a couple hours ago with Secretary Geithner," he explains. "Secretary Geithner was meeting with the economic policy office to thank us for the work we have done and he made a clear distinction between the political process (which is largely a posturing game) and a sound economic policy process (undergirded by theories and empirical analysis). If good economics was worth much in the political game, the current fiscal cliff debate would be inconsequential. I think it's important to recognize how different those two branches of government are when looking at the current state of our federal government in general."