WM ACS Goes to D.C. – “Dude, it was awesome.”

March 31, 2009 | | Comments Off on WM ACS Goes to D.C. – “Dude, it was awesome.”

On Friday, William & Mary ACS traveled to D.C. for a visit to the Supreme Court, and meetings with two lawyers working in very different jobs on House committees.

The travel to D.C. was nice, and incredibly fuel-efficient for those of us in Mark’s 50.4 MPG Prius.  I had no idea the Prius had that kind of fuel-efficiency game.  It was mighty impressive.


Once we arrived in D.C., we walked from Union Station, where we all parked, to the Supreme Court.  We just missed the Supreme Court tour, so we were treated to a summary of the lecture by Mr. Mark Pike.  Then, we traveled down to the Supreme Court museum on the lower level to look at some of the models of the court, and paintings of famous former Justices.  Then came the highlight of the Supreme Court portion of our trip.  The Supreme Court cafeteria.  I ordered the Chicken Parmesan sub and french fries.  I was expecting really greasy, fried food, but I was pleasantly surprised that the chicken was grilled and the french fries appeared to be freshly made and not nearly as greasy as I would have expected.  Fellow ACS’ers who made the trip, feel free to share your food experiences at the Court in the comments.

Upon leaving SCOTUS, we walked over to the Rayburn House Office Building, and on the way, we were given an impromptu walking tour of the city by Masha.  We arrived at the Rayburn building and after going through the metal detectors and security check, natch, we entered the House Judiciary Committee Office.  We were then shown the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing roomr by Ted Kalo, the General Counsel for the House Judiciary Committee.  After seeing the hearing room, Mr. Kalo took us in for a meeting in the same room that Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins had been in just two weeks prior. Mr. Corgan had been on the Hill testifying in support of a bill Rep. John Conyers, Mr. Kalo’s boss, had introduced to provide artists more money for the use of their copyrighted material on terrestrial radio.  Mr. Kalo is a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, and unfortunately, was out with a sinus infection when Mr. Corgan was in the office, but he managed to get an autograph and a faux picture taken with him (Mr. Corgan held a picture of Mr. Kalo up and had his picture taken in the office).

Mr. Kalo then went on to tell us what a normal day for him is like, and described the Hill as the perfect place for someone with a short attention span to work.  He said that in his current role as General Counsel, he is a mile wide and an inch deep, because he deals with overseeing the work of many of the other counsel in the committee that are responsible for drafting statutes and bills and making sure they say what the Representatives want them to say.  He described his failings in his first attempt to draft a statute, because as he described it, he tried to “re-invent the wheel.”  He suggested that the best way to draft a statute or bill is to look at one already on the books that deals with a similar topic and use it as a framework, and then change the language where necessary to make it do what you want it to do.  He spoke candidly about what many of the meetings are like on the Hill, saying that many times they are 15% policy and 85% politics.  When asked how he felt when he realized that the Democrats would be returning to the majority and he would be returning to a bigger office, he glowingly said, “Dude, it was awesome.”

After wrapping up with Mr. Kalo, we walked halfway down the hallway to the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s office.  They sent us into the hearing room for that Committee and there we got to speak with Michael Gordon, Deputy Chief Investigative Counsel on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, formerly of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.  Mr. Gordon described his work as markedly different from the normal lawyer working on the Hill, who are primarily drafting statutes and doing more typically lawyerly work.  Mr. Gordon’s job, on the other hand, was all about investigations.  He had done similar work in private practice, where when something went wrong for a company they would send him in and have him investigate the problem and those employees that didn’t cooperate with his investigation would be fired, so he had a lot of power to get information.  In the public sector, he has a similarly poweful means to get information, the Congressional subpoena.  He told us how very difficult it is for a company to resist a Congressional subpoena and the political incentives they have for cooperating – bad press, etc.  He described for us the types of investigations they do in the Committee on Energy and Commerce.  For instance, the recent peanut butter salmonella scare lead to an investigation of that industry to find out why the outbreak happened.  Mr. Gordon described that investigation as the exception to the norm where the investigation was re-active rather than pro-active.  He stated that the priority for this term will be investigations into health care and ways to make the system work better and more efficiently.  Finally, Mr. Gordon said he believed that meaningful oversight and investigations of the innerworkings of the executive agencies would be important in not repeating the mistakes of the past administration; he believes that his predecessors in the majority, under the Bush administration, did a disservice to that administration by not providing meaningful oversight.

All in all, the trip was a great success, and thanks go out to our speakers, Mr. Gordon and Mr. Kalo, and those who helped to coordinate our meetings with them.


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