More than half of the 2002-2003 participants in APA's Congressional and Executive Branch Fellowship Program plan to pursue policy-related careers after the experience.
"It's like an adult Disneyland," says congressional fellow Neil Kirschner, PhD, of his legislative duties on Capitol Hill, which include drafting speeches on innovative topics--on breakneck deadlines--and attending briefings on cutting-edge research topics. Kirschner, who is among those who have caught the policy bug, adds, "There are all kinds of intellectually challenging adventures every day."
Through the congressional fellowships, the Science Policy Fellowship Program and the Practice Organization's Health Policy Fellowship, APA places psychologists in congressional offices and in executive branch research and mental health service agencies to learn about policy-making first-hand and to increase the visibility of psychologists in the policy process. Fellows work in the nation's capital from September through August, with financial support from APA. Here's a glimpse at the accomplishments of the most recent crop of fellows.
The possibility of leaving her mark on welfare reauthorization drew congressional fellow Cathy Cozzarelli, PhD, out of academe to work for Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that oversees welfare.
"I had worked on social issues for years," says Cozzarelli, a professor of psychology at Kansas State University, of her research on issues such as post-abortion adjustment and attitudes toward the poor. "But before, it always felt like I was having minimal world impact."
On Capitol Hill, she can already see ways that her work may bring about social change. She helped draft a bill to increase the amount of child-care money available to lower-income workers and another to create government-funded transitional jobs for people with barriers to regular employment--such as victims of domestic violence and workers who can't read or write well. She is particularly encouraged about her contributions to two new child-care and welfare bills that would enable American Indian tribes to access federal funds to set up their own child-care or welfare programs.
"We are also trying to make it easier for them to construct facilities--reservations often have terrible conditions; they don't have the infrastructure and buildings that states take for granted," says Cozzarelli.
Cozzarelli says the fellowship has taught her how to capture policy-makers' attention with her future research. "If you are interested in doing that, this fellowship is the best tutorial you can get," she says.
Congressional fellow Linda Demaine, JD, PhD, has spent her fellowship year working for the Senate Judiciary Committee. She has conducted FBI and Department of Justice oversight work, including questioning the legality of the FBI's recent request for information from educational institutions on foreign students and teachers, and participating in a bipartisan effort by the committee to protect an FBI whistleblower from retaliation within the bureau.
Demaine has also conducted background investigations on judicial nominees, the results of which are used by committee members when deciding whether to support or oppose the nominations. She initiated the involvement of ranking committee member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in developing and gathering support for anti-spam legislation, and is involved with drafting legislation she describes as "a narrow anti-spam bill that targets perhaps the most egregious spamming practices, routing spam through someone else's computer or falsifying the routing information or identity in order to make it look as though the message came from that other person."
Demaine, who took a year off for the fellowship from her position as a behavioral scientist at RAND, says the Capitol Hill experience has been enlightening.
"Seeing first-hand the inner workings of Congress can be simultaneously disconcerting and empowering," says Demaine. "While scientific findings, and even the public interest, are not often given the weight they deserve, psychologists who understand the legislative process are in a better position to communicate effectively with Congress and thereby influence policy."
Bolstering science and math education
Science policy fellow Tamara Jackson, PhD, is working to improve science and math education in her post at the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
"There is a significant concern about the quality of math and science education that our youth are receiving, particularly regarding the issue of teacher preparation," says Jackson, adding that interest in science and math is waning among youth and fewer of them are pursuing degrees in science and engineering fields. "This creates a significant concern of whether there will be a generation that is well-prepared and qualified to meet the future demands of the science and engineering work-force."
To create a solution, Jackson is working with a subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council that links government agencies with a stake in science and math education--including the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and NASA. Together they will take stock of their science and math education programs, identify training gaps and create new research and development initiatives, says Jackson. She's also participating in a joint effort with the NSF and the Department of Education to create new ways to spark children's and teenagers' interest in math and science. The effort will draw on research on what boosts learning in these areas and will include national campaigns to spotlight the need for better math and science education and to recruit, prepare and retain teachers with strong math and science backgrounds.
The OSTP fellowship is Jackson's second in the nation's capital: Last year she held Catherine Cozzarelli's position in Bingaman's office and pursued this next fellowship to test the waters in the executive branch. Her next move? Hopefully a permanent position in health policy, she says.
Guiding health-care policy
Congressional fellow Neil Kirschner, PhD, was charged with no small task when he began his fellowship: Bring at least five bills to the floor of the House of Representatives. Kirschner, who works on health-care issues exclusively and splits his time between the Subcommittee on Health of the House Ways and Means Committee and its ranking member Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.), has already accomplished that goal.
He has, for example, helped introduce legislation that would award families of organ donors a Congressional Gift of Life Medal--to help encourage organ donation--as well as legislation that would modernize Medicare and a bill to compensate social workers for providing mental health services in nursing homes. He is particularly hopeful about improving Medicare, which hasn't been significantly updated since it came into effect in 1965. He recently discovered data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) showing that higher-than-average Medicare co-payments for outpatient mental health services actually lead to increased inpatient costs. "Beneficiaries are not seeking outpatient treatment because it is too expensive, so it leads them to overuse the hospital setting," Kirschner says. He is working to change that Medicare policy.
Although he previously spent more than 20 years as a clinical psychologist and administrator at the Taylor Manor Hospital and Health System in Ellicott City, Md., Kirschner plans to transition to a job in health policy or government relations when the fellowship ends. He encourages APA members to make his next job easier by getting more involved in politics and writing to their members of Congress.
"People have no idea that constituent letters are like gold here," he says.
Aiding impoverished countries
A desire to help underserved populations led Congressional Fellow Mischa Thompson, PhD, to the office of Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.).
She's had the opportunity to work in depth on one of Rangel's main priorities: boosting the socioeconomic status of impoverished countries in the Caribbean, South America and Africa. Thompson is examining ways to enhance U.S. foreign policy and trade initiatives so funds get to the people who need them most. She has worked on President Bush's $15 billion global AIDS bill that targets the Caribbean, and has worked to direct U.S. foreign aid to impoverished Afro-Latino communities in South America. Also on her radar screen are the negotiations of the U.S. Central America Free Trade Agreement. She is working to include provisions that will provide economic development opportunities for impoverished indigenous and Afro-Latino populations in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The fellowship is Thompson's first job since earning her PhD in social psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She became interested in policy there when, as the student chair of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, she met former APA congressional fellows. That exposure led her to organize sessions at APA's Annual Convention where students could talk with policy experts and to pursue the fellowship.
Thompson foresees a long-term career in public policy. When she completes her fellowship she'll begin work as a Science Policy Fellow in an executive branch agency through APA's Public Policy Office.
Scrutinizing managed care
Longtime private practitioner William Wallace, PhD, is learning the ins and outs of managed care as the Health Policy Fellow in the Office of Organization and Financing of the Center for Mental Health Services, part of SAMHSA.
Wallace edits research and analysis reports written by health policy economists, preparing them for publication by identifying any gaps in content or methodological problems. He's reviewed an upcoming report on the effects of the Vermont parity law on health-care access and costs and another on states' use of medical necessity in utilization review in determining levels of insurance coverage. He is also drafting a report on the costs associated with the Colorado parity law.
"It has been a fascinating experience to get an overall view of what is happening across all the states and an understanding of how managed care really works in terms of its economics," says Wallace. "It's not really managed care, its managing costs and how they go about doing that."
When his fellowship ends, Wallace will return home to Santa Monica, Calif., in search of a new career at a think tank or nonprofit organization that influences state policy-making. It won't be his first career shift: Wallace was an Episcopal priest before he became a psychologist, and has been a nonstipendary priest for more than 35 years. In fact, his spirituality inspired his interest in policy.
"Part of the reason I am so interested in increasing access to mental health is that I believe we have a real moral responsibility to help people," he says.
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