Alex Burke

Working in a Congressional Office

Having been awarded the All-Ireland Scholarship, Alex is currently a second year student at NUI Galway studying Law with German, as well as a Diploma in Irish. While in school, he won the National Mock Trial Competition and subsequently represented Ireland in New York. Alex is actively involved in student societies and is the current Treasurer of both the Literary and Debating Society and the Law Society, as well as Vice President for Moot Court of the European Law Students Association, NUIG. In these roles he convened the 2017 edition of the Irish National Law Debates. Alex is also an active rowing coach, responsible for all first- and second-year rowers at Coláiste Iognáid Rowing Club, and has completed a number of Rowing Ireland coaching courses.

 

Student
Alex Burke

University
NUI Galway

Degree
Bachelor of Civil Law

Work Placement
Senator John McCain

Host Family
Janene Corrado

Date Published
June 18, 2017

Working as a Congressional Intern has proved to be an enjoyable experience thus far. The actual office work is nothing to get excited about but it is everything else that makes it interesting.

I am currently working in a Senator’s office, which is based just across the street from the US Capitol in the Russel Senate Office Building. It is a very impressive building filled with marble floors, dark wood and brass fittings. It is the oldest and grandest of the three Senate office buildings with many of the most senior and recognisable Senators having their offices in there. In the first four days working in Congress I saw Tim Kaine, Marco Rubio, John McCain, Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz to name a few. I have also briefly encountered Speaker Paul Ryan as he was hustled down a corridor by a group of tall men in dark suits.

The Senate office buildings, the Capitol and the House office buildings are all linked through tunnels underground which allow the Senators, Representatives and their staff to move freely around the complex without ever leaving the buildings. The Senate side also has a mini subway in the tunnels linking all the buildings with the Capitol, which means you don’t even have to walk from one building to another. While this is a handy way to get around, it is also a blessing to those not used to the DC summer which boasts temperatures above 30ºC and near 100% humidity.

In my office, there are seven interns and about 15 staff. Members of the House of Representatives would generally have fewer staff than Senators and the number of interns in a given office can vary hugely, from two or three in some offices, up to 25 in some of the leadership offices. The work is fairly mundane and generally consists of answering phone calls, sorting the huge amount of post delivered every day and manning the front desk. The interns would also assist specific staff members if requested and would carry out research and similar tasks for them.

The other main duty of Congressional Interns, and one which many (myself included) do not realise until they arrive in DC, is that of giving tours of the Capitol Building. Most people when visiting the Capitol do so through the Capitol Visitors Center and go on tours of about 50 people led by professional Capitol tour guides. However, constituents can also get in touch with a congressional office and set up a tour through them, delivered to their (much smaller) group by an office staff member. The staff member delivering the tour is invariably an intern. While House offices tend to receive more tour requests, the Senate offices are kept busy with them too. To ensure some reasonable standards for these tours, the Congressional Visitors Centre organises regular tour training for the interns, providing them with a greatly summarised version of the training given to their professional guides. Having attended this training and being now armed with a guide book, a few fun facts about the Capitol and an accent certain to confuse our visitors, I can look forward to giving tours myself over the next few weeks.

Another great element of working in a congressional office is that we receive staff passes, which allow us nearly unlimited access to the Capitol complex and everything that takes place. There is always some interesting event or important committee hearing being held at any given time. Most offices are pretty good and will allow their interns to attend the events they are interested in. I have already seen the Secretary of Defence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs be grilled by the Senate Armed Services Committee and have attended a talk given by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

One of the highlights to date has been the 35th Annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party. Every year the International Dairy Foods Association brings gallons of ice cream to a park by the Capitol and hands it out to the army of staffers in the surrounding buildings. It is not uncommon to see interns sent out with trays or boxes to load up as much ice cream as they can carry to bring back to the office.

All in all, my initial experiences in the heart of US democracy have been very positive and I am looking forward to working there for the next few weeks.