Monday, July 13, 2009

Heard: Serious Question for Hill Staffers

Normally, we do not post questions or inquiries; however, we thought that this would be a good piece for [serious] discussion via comments. For the time that we spend making fun of interns for their gaffes, we should take a few minutes to give them constructive criticism on how they should act. Perhaps (although unlikely) we will one day have a respectful DC Intern population.

E-mail Submission:

Good afternoon! I wanted to submit a question that I thought people might be interested in discussing in the comments of your blog: For those of you working on the hill and hiring interns, what do you look for in your applicants?

I ask for very selfish reasons. I am a rising senior at a local university, but over the past three years I have managed to stay away from the political vacuum on my campus. Instead of pursuing any internships, I've focused solely on my grades. Meanwhile, I always found it annoying when peer after peer thought it would be ok to stroll into class late because they "got caught up on the hill." I guess those red badges are a free pass to distract the entire class when you are tardy...

So, what does it take to be a competitive applicant and distinguish yourself from the interns that this blog features? Is it a problem that I don't consider myself extremely knowledgeable about political affairs? Is it a benefit that I recognize what I don't know? Is it a risk to convey that in an application?

Or, should I just be frank and make my cover letter a one sentence introduction to explain that if hired, I would do my best to be a "good intern" and nothing like anyone described on this website?

Finally, thank you for this blog. It has been a constant source of entertainment this summer.

Heard: Cook's. It's Nice.

Intern conversation spotted near Russell vending machines.

Intern 1: I spent the entire night walking around with a bottle of champagne.

Intern 2: Me too. Champagne gives you a good drunk!

Intern 1: Totally. Plus it was Cook's so she actually spent some money on it.

Heard: The Minority Party

[submitted via blackberry as the event occured.]

Here it is, Saturday, and of course I'm staring at two Hillterns wearing their Scarlett Letters for no reason on the Blue Line. But not only are they doing that, but one of them will not shut up practically screaming about how all the staffers in his office are incompetent and he wishes he could take their job right now and "teach them how it SHOULD be done." Now, granted - I'm sure there are a few Hill staffers that aren't the brightest, but, regardless, they still know a hell of a lot more than you...and, oh yeah- they HAVE graduated from college!

And the highlight of the diatribe from the "expert" intern? He just said told his friend that the minority party is "the party with all the Congressmen from "other ethnic groups!"
Seriously kid! I'm surprised you didn't get jumped while still on the train!

Heard: Can I Borrow Your ID?

My friends have had a standing Happy Hour at Hawk and Dove every Friday. We all meet up after work and have a couple drinks while deciding what to do for the night. We had started to figure out the check when this fresh-faced intern (not mine) comes up to me and strikes up the following conversation:

Underagetern: Hey, are you 21?

Me: Yes

Underagetern: Can I borrow your ID?

Me: No

Underagetern: For a price?

Me: No. Go away.

I was a bit startled at what had just transpired, and it didn't really sink in for a couple seconds. Of course, no one ever expects some random stranger to approach you at a bar to "borrow" your ID. Mind you, this was at the end of a Friday happy hour, so our brains weren't firing on all synapses. I would have shrugged it off if he hadn't immediately turned to my friend and asked, "Hey, are you 21?" His question was met with a classic, "is there really someone this stupid standing in front of me?" look from my colleague. At this point, the time for cordial conversation has ended. I start yelling at the kid. He made a beeline for the door, and we didn't see his sweet khaki-navy sport coat combo for the rest of the night.

Heard: Fan Mail

just wanted to say I LOVE your blog. I am an employed journalist and it gives me great reading on my downtime.

As a former summer journalism intern in DC (thus I did not have the dreaded red badge), I find the posts especially entertaining. My favorite is the intern who thought Starbucks would give him free coffee for his Congressman. Wow.

And to all the interns, who don't know how to take a joke: grow up. I'm sure I my friends and I could have wound up on the blog ourselves if the blog had been around our summer.

Spotted: Broken Staple Machine

Last summer I interned for one of the executive agencies in DC, and while making small talk with one of the office staff heard this story of a fellow intern, which began with said intern asking the staff to take a look at the "staple machine" which was apparently broken.

He paused to ask me what I thought a "staple machine" is, and after a few seconds I guessed she must have been referring to the office copier, which can staple packets together. He thought the same, but nobody had ever called it a staple machine before.

He went to look at the copier, dreading its demise, and when he turned to ask her what was wrong, the intern was holding a stapler, which she apparently promptly complained was no longer producing staples. He proceeded to open the stapler, see that it was empty, and place new staples in the office's "staple machine."

The intern, who had no idea you could open a stapler,let alone replace its contents responded:
"Wow. At home I just throw them out and buy new ones. This will save a lot of money."

God, be merciful towards our nation's future.

Spotted: Facebook and Envelope Stuffing

As a law clerk for the Federal government in D.C. this summer, I work with a fellow clerk who has a rather large disdain for congressional interns. While I was always empathetic to his view, never have I ever felt the personal level of rage towards these young human beings than I did recently at an AIPAC meeting.

As the historic room in the Russell building quickly begin to fill, I began to wonder whether I was at a Jonas Brothers concert. The air grew warm and increasingly filled with young-and-dumb teen chatter: "I met John McCain," chirped one pubescent voice. "We've been so busy working on health care. Let's exchange contact info; I might need to call on you for some assistance," said one red-badge to another. "I read the Cap & Trade bill last week!"

My colleague often curses these interns as being completely useless. "All they do is go on Facebook and stuff envelopes," and "well trained monkeys could do their jobs better--at least monkeys don't have Facebook accounts to distract them," he says.

Six. Six is the number of Facebook mobile pages I saw on the screens of cell phones while packed into this room up to my neck in sweaty, pompous, self-indulgent youngings. And Q&A time with the Senators took the cake. While a couple (literally 2) questions were good, the rest were either 5 minute history lessons or a recitation of a short and unimpressive resume.

I could go on for days. But I feel an ulcer coming on.

Spotted: On a Narrow Escalator

On the escalators from Longworth to Rayburn, one enterprising intern attempted to save time by transporting a large speaker between the two buildings via escalator. Part way down the first escalator, he promptly dropped the speaker and it slid to the bottom where it became stuck, blocking the exit for all those behind it. Our hero was left walking up the down escalator trying to push the speaker through the narrow escalator exit. Fortunately Capitol Police rescued the poor intern.

Lesson: next time take the freight elevator, that’s why it’s there.

Heard: We're Like the West Wing!

I work for a federal agency, and we have our own share of intern experiences. This week's staff meeting included talking about prep for an upcoming testimony on the Hill. Our summer intern stated, "Oh, we're like The West Wing!"

Our boss responded frankly, "No, The West Wing is like us."

Heard: House or Senate?

A question asked of me by an intern in my office:

Is there an easy way to tell if a bill is a House or Senate bill?

Heard: CRS is Biased

Intern: We can’t use CRS for research because they’re biased.

Staffer: Who told you that?

Intern: Nobody, I just know it.

Heard: House Introduces, Senate Passes

Intern 1: remember, the house starts a bill and the senate passes it

Intern 2: but the senate starts things, too, don't they?

Intern 1: not very often

Heard: No Cell Phone Signs are not for Decoration

I work for a think tank in DC and went to a Senate subcommittee hearing this week on U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Upon seeing the sign on the outside of the hearing room door that read 'please turn off all cell phones before entering,' I of course turned my phone off. I was lucky enough to grab an isle seat with three interns sitting next to me. About 20 minutes into the hearing, the fellow to my right pulled out his blackberry and started texting back and forth with someone. I guess he thought that since he had his phone on vibrate that this was ok, but in a quiet hearing room his phone buzzing every 10 seconds or so was incredibly distracting. He ended up being saved somewhat by the young female intern's phone that blasted some hip-hop song that took her about 15 agonizing seconds to silence, but in any case, the signs telling you to turn your phone off aren't there for decoration kids. Please show some respect next time.

Heard: Blue Line from Union Station

Because of the high demand of summer internships, many offices, such as ours, will offer two sessions of summer internships. One beginning in May, the second in July. Today, in the Dirksen cafeteria, a small group of interns had gathered to share their stories of acclimation to the Congressional workforce. Here are some excerpts from said conversation:

Intern 1: “Oh man, can you believe their actually making us work during these internships?”
Intern 2: “I know, dude! I thought summers were about fun!”
Intern 1: “I mean, my brain actually really hurts. I’ve had to take notes and stuff!”

Shortly after this topic of conversation subsided, another winner was started up. Same group of interns, but not necessarily the same speakers as above.

Intern A: “So, I know we’ve been here like 2, weeks, but I still can’t get this metro thing figured out. I mean, I have my card and everything, but I still get lost!”
Intern B: “Dude, where you trying to go? I’ve got metro figured out.”
Intern A: “Van Dorn”
Intern B: “Oh yeah. Blue Line. So, from the intern dorms, which are, like, right here, go to Union. From Union, take the train to Largo and you’re golden!”

At this point, I considered correcting them, but, it had already been a particularly long day. I figured this was a perfect learning experience in waiting to properly initiate these kids to the city. I wrapped up my lunch with a somewhat better outlook on the day.

Spotted: Sleeping Beauty

Oh, the joys of modern technology! For those of us who multitask on a regular basis, the opportunity to watch House and Senate hearings online is phenomenal. But distractions do exist that deter us from paying utmost attention to what is actually being said. For instance, the House Energy & Commerce Committee held an hearing on the proposal to create a Consumer Financial Regulatory Authority. It included important testimony and questions from numerous speakers and Members.

However, I and other colleagues watching online were mesmerized by a constant camera shot of an intern (red-tag and all) sitting in the back row of the hearing room asleep with head back and mouth wide open. We could have forgiven him if it had been a 2-minute "nod-off," but the dude was out cold for over a half-hour. At one point his head even slumped to one side, he jerked back into a sitting position, but continued to snooze away.

Note to interns: if you going to sleep through a hearing, make sure that you sit off to the side of the hearing room so your mug doesn't show-up on C-Span for the world (and your boss) to see!

Spotted: Intelligent Intern Website

Spotted: New DC Intern website. Now, before you go writing it off, it's actually intelligent and gives interns/college students the opportunity to submit stories and reviews. Interns are encouraged to check it out.

Mission Statement:

The D.C. Write-Up is a news and opinion site designed for and around young, politically motivated adults. We solicit opinions and columns from editorial writers around the country, especially from students. If you’re interested in writing for us — particularly if you’re a college student — we’d love to hear from you and answer any questions you might have. Just send us an email at

Spotted: Red Badge of Romance

I was waiting in line at an ice cream store trying to decide which flavor to get when I was distracted by a loud collective giggle behind me. I turned around and saw that the source of my distraction was, what I thought at the time, a group of 5 sophomore or junior girls in high school talking about boy drama, prom drama, shopping drama, or whatever high school girls talk about.

As I looked closer, I discovered that the source of their excitement was, instead, one guy proudly wearing his red badge of romance, at an ice cream store, at 8:30 at night. I could barely keep from laughing when I thought of what his pickup line must have been: "So, you girls look, yeah, I'm a Capitol Hill Intern."

Heard: House Debate v. Michael Jackson

[this post was submitted prior to the MJ memorial service]

On the metro one morning, a group of obnoxious interns got on at Foggy Bottom and chatted loudly about their members speaking on the floor and how they will help draft the speeches. This is the conversation that took place next:

Intern 1: Damn, the Michael Jackson thing is on this morning....I hope I get to watch it.
Intern 2: We only have C-Span on in my office.....
Intern 1: Don't worry, they will cut away from C-Span for Michael.

I have a feeling that C-Span won't be covering the memorial service.....

Heard: Interrupting the Spouse

I had the great pleasure of interning in Senator X's office, but once committed an error of such internish stupidity that I feel it must be shared. One day towards the middle of my internship, Senator X's spouse stopped by the office while Senator X was still out at a hearing or something of that nature. The senior staff were on good terms with the spouse, and they chatted in the office. Because one of the staffers was sitting at their desk, those outside her office were talking fairly loudly so that she could hear. This meant that I could also hear the conversation.

At some point, Senator X's spouse asked about the time of an event going on on the Hill that day. Being the earnest intern I was, I immediately piped up with the details, blissfully unaware of the multiple mistakes I was making. I had also revealed that A: I wasn't focused on my current task; B: I was listening in on a conversation that didn't involve me; and C: that I was egotistical enough to interrupt said conversation.

Looking back on it, I'm amazed that the staffer who corrected me afterward wasn't more harsh.

Spotted: Red Badge of Courage in the Friendly Skies

After taking a brief vacation for the July 4th weekend, I was waiting to board my Sunday evening flight from Florida back to DC. I couldn't help but notice the guy in front of me, as he was wearing flip flops, seersucker shorts, a polo, a navy sport coat, and...his red intern badge.

Hope that badge came in handy for him while sitting on a plane on a Sunday night!

Spotted: Don't Bring Your Boyfriend to an Interview

A couple of months ago, I was in charge of searching for a few interns to volunteer for our non-profit organization this summer. After screening applicants through a phone interview, I invited a few to come in for a real interview with both myself and the head of our department. This one candidate had a promising resume, but seemed a little awkward on the phone. I gave her the benefit of the doubt and asked her to come in anyway, thinking the awkwardness was due to the fact that she is not native to this country.

She strolled in ten minutes late, wearing jeans, and with her boyfriend! Both of them were carrying coffee cups from a cafe across the street. Once we started interviewing her, we realized she could not even answer a single question coherently. I had the inevitable duty of sending her a rejection e-mail after the interview, but I couldn't help myself from giving her a few tips as to what she could have done differently.

Spotted: True Story

The Scene: a bar in DC

Guy walks (saunters) over, leans against the wall. He looks pensive for a few seconds, trying to come up with the right greeting.

Him: I work on capital hill

Me: Is that supposed to be a pickup line?

Him: Um...yes?

Guy walks away looking very confused at what just transpired.

(True story)