Two MPA Students Spend their Summer at the State Capitol
Dexter and Eve, two MPA students entering their second year at the Martin School, have worked at the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, or LRC, this summer as graduate fellows. We checked in with them to see how their internships were going.
What does the Legislative Research Commission do?
Dexter: The Legislative Research Commission is the nonpartisan, fact-finding and service arm of the Kentucky General Assembly. It is a large organization of mostly nonpartisan, professional staff performing the structural work of the legislature through committees such as interim joint committees, statutory committees, and special committees/task forces.
Eve and I work for Program Review and Investigations which is one of nine statutory committees under the purview of the legislative branch. Statutory committees are established by the General Assembly to perform specific tasks related to oversight of the executive branch of state government year-round. Program Review specifically “reviews the operations of state agencies to determine that funds are being spent appropriately and whether state programs are implemented effectively by the executive branch.” We study the operations, practices and duties of state agencies and provide reports to the General Assembly. These reports are often posted online for the pleasure of the public, check them out!
As graduate fellows, what do you do from day to day?
Dexter: I work with the Program Review team collecting data, scheduling phone interviews, writing academic literature reviews and thinking of creative ways to display numerical information to the General Assembly. Our projects are given to us by legislators and we employ a divide-and-conquer approach to our work, each person in our office addressing a piece of the overall puzzle and sharing information with one another along the way.
Because Eve and I are graduate fellows, we’re encouraged to leave our work from time to time and sit-in on interim joint committee meetings. These can be very interesting. More on that from Eve.
Eve: Our schedule varies day to day, but most days progress in a similar fashion. In the mornings I come in and check my email, catch up on news, and try to get a head start on any research projects we are assigned before lunch at noon.
We are given an hour for lunch, so Dexter and I eat lunch outside if the weather permits, and then walk around the capital or read until our hour is up. Frankfort has a beautiful capitol building and surrounding grounds, so we are very fortunate that we get to spend every afternoon learning about the culture and history of the area. We spent one day’s lunch riding the town’s trolley around Frankfort!
Back in the office, Dexter and I will either continue working on collecting/analyzing data for Program Review reports, or attend an interim joint committee meeting that is scheduled. So far, we have attended the Natural Resources and Energy, Education, and Health & Welfare & Family Services interim joint committees. We have also attended statutory committees, such as Tobacco Settlement Fund Oversight, Public Pension Oversight Board, as well as Program Review and Investigations.
What has been your favorite project so far?
Dexter: So far, we’ve been working on one large project all summer that is due mid-August. While we aren’t at liberty to get into the specifics of the project itself I can say that one of the most enjoyable parts of my work so far has been the wealth of information that I have been able to consume and regurgitate to my co-workers on a topic I previously knew nothing about. I think that’s the cool thing about having rotating projects; in a month I’ll have the chance to become well-versed on a completely different topic. As someone who considers himself to be naturally academic, this aspect of my job is extremely refreshing.
Eve: I definitely agree with Dexter. The project we have been working on so far this summer is a topic that was far out of my element previously. It has been eye opening in many ways and allowed me to approach an issue and learn how it’s impacted regional as well as state policy. The amount of detail and wealth of information we have collected has allowed us to become very familiar with the topic. With this familiarity we can better analyze information and present it to our colleagues, which I believe is a beneficial experience for us to have as we enter the job market post-graduation. As our current project is currently wrapping up, I am looking forward to our next assignment and researching another topic impacting the Commonwealth.
Do you each work on individual projects, or mostly work together?
Eve: While we have been working on the same Program Review report this summer, Dexter and I have divided and conquered many of the tasks we have been assigned to do. Before we send anything in however, we always proof-read and discuss our results. The conversations we have in the editing and discussion stage have been very helpful in understanding our work and the research process within this department.
Additionally, our internship has included seminars to help us become more familiar with the state’s statues, administrative regulations, and drafting bills for the legislature. Although in Program Review we don’t draft bills, it was very interesting to go through the writing process of developing our own bills and using the LRC’s own drafting application. I wrote a bill on wine shipments to Kentucky, while Dexter designed a bill to regulate how drivers open doors on roadways to avoid biker injury.
Lastly, how has this internship changed your goals or perspective?
Dexter: This is a big question that I’m still working out in my mind as I enter month 3/10 here. I’ve really enjoyed being so close to the decision makers for our state. Before this fellowship I didn’t give much thought to how the state government operated or what exactly state officials were responsible for. I’ve developed an appreciation for this level of government that I didn’t have when I first started my time in the Martin School. Kentucky is a larger state than I remember with a diverse set of characteristics. As a result, there is a wide range of subject-matter experts here all working toward the improvement of our commonwealth. To me, that’s a really cool thing to be a part of and it leaves me excited to continue my education so to increase what I can contribute to Kentucky.
Eve: Before working at the state capitol, I didn’t fully grasp how much time and detail goes into the policy process. Although fluent in Schoolhouse Rock “I’m Just a Bill”, it was eye-opening to witness the committee process and the subsequent discussion and research that goes into making policies law in Kentucky. Every level of government plays a role in providing and ensuring every region in Kentucky is provided for. Bill was right when he says, “it’s a long, long, journey.”
My fervor to work in the public sector has been solidified even further this summer. It is possible to make a lasting impact on a policy, and that was something I was beginning to doubt. In fact, I am now interested in running for office someday, which is something I had never considered would be attainable nor useful. The Legislative Research Commission has been an exciting place to work this summer, and I’m looking forward to the next 7 months!