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My experience as a Commerce Science and Technology Fellow on Capitol Hill



Ana I. Aviles


How did I age a decade in less than a year? I worked for a Member of Congress and I made the most of my time on Capitol Hill! For ten months I served as primary advisor to Congressman Fortu o (R-PR) on science, space, technology, and telecommunications. I counseled the Member on topics as diverse as bio-refineries, homeland security, labor-management committees, marine sanctuaries, the Congressionally-mandated transition from analog to digital television, and knowledge-economy opportunities. I came to the Hill on a special assignment as a Department of Commerce Science and Technology (ComSci) Fellow from my position as a Mathematical Statistician at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The Hill has a fascinating and peculiar culture, filled with traditions and inter-personal relationships. I learned how to adapt in a second and communicate in a minute. I quickly learned the importance of having a strategy and to always be ready for anything. Just like serving as reviewer for proposals equips the researcher with tools to write successful grant proposals, listening and talking to lobbyists, representative of federal agencies, and other congressional staffers has clearly taught me how to talk to Congress. Make sure you leave a strong signal. Many people talk with too much noise and the message gets lost. And even a strong signal will get lost in such noisy-environment. Hence, have a strategic plan, know potential counter-arguments to your point, and propose a convincing solution (to the Member of Congress and to his/her constituency); being at the right place at the right time matters a great deal on the Hill. Statisticians are involved in a broad range of topics and projects. We are indeed invaluable assets to those with whom we collaborate. Now, are we thinking seriously about what decision-makers really mean for statistics? The Hill could use many more technical people (willing to adapt). Can you envision a statistician s role on the Hill? How would Congress have drafted a financial rescue plan if you would have been asked? Precious few statisticians are involved in policy matters. The Congressman s Chief of Staff used to refer to me as the Secret Weapon (no, I did not destroy, but had the capabilities to permanently disable bad policy). I have many spooky and sad anecdotes (too awful to print) that I will share with you when I meet you at JSM A position on the Hill is a fine way to influence, but is not the only avenue. Be vigilant! Get involved, observe debates, ask questions and help find solutions, know what s going on and instead of hiding (or whining) vote! Keep in mind that decisions will be made and directions will be set and we better be informed so that we can react, and better yet, be part of what influences these decisions. Being part of it made me a stronger professional and a wiser American. Perhaps I aged 10 years in 10 months, but I would definitely do it again.


ComSci Fellow, Member of Congress, Capitol Hill


Aviles, A. (2008), My experience as a Commerce Science and Technology Fellow on Capitol Hill, AMSTAT News (Accessed June 21, 2024)


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Created December 31, 2008, Updated February 19, 2017