A Farewell to D.C.

I just recently left the nation’s capitol, in a whirlwind of work that left me exhausted but content. I thought I would share my concluding thoughts on D.C.

I arrived in D.C. with very little in the way of expectations. But I left D.C. with a desire to return to policy making soon. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life has been seeing how work can become policy. For some of my friends on the elections side of things, this has been seeing how their opposition research becomes part of a campaign ad that changes the discussion in a given race. For others it’s been seeing policy research percolate and broadcast to the public via the media.

Prior to coming to D.C., I did not realize the importance of the media not only in disseminating information but more broadly in governing the country. Without the media’s constant attention, policy could not move forward. The media, via its ability to shape and marshal public expectations, serves as the wind beneath the sails of many politicians.

That said, probably one of the most under reported and consequential parts of the policy making process are the intra-party and intra-agency debates. Before a debate becomes demarcated by party lines, there is a fierce debate within either the agency releasing the guidelines (e.g. the EPA) or party, that is just as important.

I also left D.C. with a much greater respect for politicians. Many of them work tirelessly and are subject-matter experts. (One expert whose name came up many times is the retiring Congressman Henry Waxman). Furthermore, these politicians are gifted speakers. You never truly appreciate how much a politician dances around landmines while cogently communicating until you are made aware of those landmines.

It’s also hard to appreciate the import of political change when you are not in D.C. This past November, Republicans gained seats in the Senate and House. For most Americans, this is a political change that, given the current dysfunction, is of little practical significance. But for hundreds of staffers on the Hill, this means that they are going to lose their jobs. While former Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen will make out fine, their staffers will find themselves scrambling for jobs.

My last month in D.C. I had quite a few interesting experiences. I met the former Prime Minister of Armenia, as well as the chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, Jason Furman. I also met the distinguished Congresswoman to whose husband I remain indebted for giving me this amazing experience, Congresswoman Doris Matsui.


David Mkrtchian is a UC Berkeley senior studying economics and law. He is interning with the President's Council of Economic Advisors as a Matsui Washington Fellow.