IACS Success Stories Sruthi Rao

Sruthi Rao Back

This summer, I had the opportunity to intern for a congressional office in the U.S. House of Representatives. From July to August, I worked for the office of Congressman Bill Foster, a representative from the Eleventh District of Illinois. There were four interns in our office including myself, and seven staff members. Throughout the course of the internship, our responsibilities as interns really varied from substantive research, to running errands, to attending briefings and hearings.

On a day-to-day basis, our responsibilities were primarily administrative. It was our job to sort the mail and newspapers that arrived in the morning, as well as check the voicemail. Two interns would sit at the reception desk and take phone calls and manage meetings and walk-ins for staff members. We would also receive and sort any mail that came to the office.

In addition to these daily tasks, I did a lot of work in constituent communication. Constituents are encouraged, and often do, contact their congressional representatives about legislation or other issues they are concerned about. We help the office maintain contact with constituents by drafting responses to their letters and phone calls. Often, this entails quite a bit of research into the area of their inquiry. However constituents also tend to write in on “hot” pieces of legislation. For example, when the Defense Appropriations bill was up for debate on the floor of the House, we received many notes from constituents urging us to use the appropriations to defund the National Security Agency in the wake of the uncovering of their communications monitoring programs. We would also receive inquiries on legislation we had never heard of, such as a bill to prohibit the trade of shark fins in the United States.

As interns, we also compiled a lot of legislative research to support our staff members. Often, our representative would receive requests from other members to co-sponsor their legislation or sign a letter in support of their cause. I would research the legislation or the cause and report back to the staff member, who could then go to the Congressman. This kind of research extended beyond legislation; we would compile memos on interest groups, institutions, government programs, and other relevant information if a staff member needed it. Immigration was a central issue during my internship, so much of our research was on various aspects of immigration policy.

Both writing constituent letters and doing legislative research was immensely enlightening. For starters, both assignments required a lot of research into subjects I otherwise would not have looked up. I learned about government programs, federal funding for the arts, low-income housing, student loan interest rates, and more.

All of this concrete knowledge was accompanied by a more historical and artistic learning opportunity. Interns are also responsible for guiding constituent tours around the U.S. Capitol. I know more about the Capitol building’s statues, columns, and history than I could ever learn in a history class. This job was particularly cool because it involved traipsing around the beautiful Capitol every day.

As for the fascinating and memorable parts of the experience, there are many – but I’ll just point out a few. First, when Congress is in session, there are Congressman and Senators everywhere. You see them walking down the halls, on elevators and escalators, and in the tunnels between buildings. For someone interested in politics, this is like interacting with your celebrity role models on a daily basis. My coworkers and I ran into Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a speaker at the March on Washington and one prominent leader of the Civil Rights movement. We later had the opportunity to hear him speak through the Summer Intern Lecture Series on Capitol Hill. We also heard New York Times columnist David Brooks and comedian Stephen Colbert, among others.

But one of the most resonant moments for me was when the House of Representatives voted on the Student Success Act (an act to ease the interest rates on federal student loans). They voted on the second to last day before the long August recess, and my coworkers and I decided to go down to the floor to watch the vote. We could climb up to the third floor and watch the vote take place from the gallery. This, by far, was one of the most exhilarating moments of my entire internship experience. All 435 members were on the floor and Speaker John Boehner was presiding over the House, as the vote was an important one. Within one quick glance, I spotted Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA). The floor was absolute chaos, with members in their caucuses debating loudly and exchanging conversation. As they voted, each electronic vote could be seen projected above the speaker’s podium. We pointed out all the Illinois members that voted in favor of the bill, and those who didn’t vote at all. The bill eventually passed almost unanimously. It was truly representative democracy in action.

I would not trade this six-week experience for the world. I truly learned so much on how our government works, especially how members of Congress interact with the people they represent. I familiarized myself with the true extent of government programs and the abundance of services the programs provide to citizens. And perhaps most importantly, I adapted my own social skills to the challenges that come with working in a government office. Maintaining a relationship with those you worked with is crucial to any future success. This is the place where the quality of work you do is just as important as who you know. And while that reality can be frustrating some times, interning in Washington D.C. is as rewarding as it gets. If you have the chance, you should definitely take it.