By: Elle Wibisono,
U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change, and Manufacturing Subcommittee
After an exhilarating 5-day placement week in January 2021, I was matched with the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; Oceans, Fisheries, Climate Change, and Manufacturing Subcommittee for my legislative branch Knauss fellowship. The subcommittee name is a mouthful, but we affectionately call ourselves either TeamOcean or Ocean Pod, or Fish People. As part of the subcommittee, we have jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), every issue that NOAA touches, and the Maritime Administration, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Thus, the subcommittee portfolio spans from shipping containers to fire weather, salmon fisheries, and ocean acidification.
As an Indonesian fishery scientist, I had no previous knowledge of or experience with the inner workings of the U.S. Congress. This fact, however, did not stop me from being included in the Budget Reconciliation process, also known as vote-a-rama, the day I joined TeamOcean. The Senate was on the verge of passing the COVID-19 stimulus bill in early February, and it was an all-hands-on-deck situation. We had to write vote recommendations on amendments that were in our jurisdiction, and I got to write a couple of vote recommendations! Then came vote-a-rama, where everyone pulled an all-nighter in anticipation of defending or opposing amendments as they were being debated on the Senate floor.
While vote-a-ramas are not a regular occurrence, the day-to-day in TeamOcean is quite dynamic. There is no such thing as an ordinary day, but as a fellow, I tend to sit in a lot of meetings and flex a lot of my reading and writing skills. See the gallery below for a glimpse of a calm day in the life of a legislative fellow.
As a “leg” fellow, we need to be prepared to respond to virtually anything. The life of a leg fellow can be very busy and chaotic (late nights and weekends), however, these past six months have also been both exhilarating and humbling. Despite the long hours, I’m continually grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in ocean and fisheries policy.
Learn more about my research and adventures on Twitter/Instagram, @fishtory.co, or online at fishtory.co.
Image captions —
Image 1: At 8:30 AM, I ride my bike down New Jersey Avenue and arrive at work (the Senate Hart Building).
Image 2: By 9:00 AM, I am situated at my desk, which has my desktop, my laptop (for virtual meetings), a senate notebook, and coffee, and checking emails.
Image 3: At 10:00 AM, I watch a markup hearing with other staff members in my office. We cheer when we see our Ocean Pod members in the video.
Image 4: The night before, we drafted the talking points for this hearing.
Image 5: At 1:00 PM, I participate in a virtual congressional briefing from NOAA. I typically take copious notes and try to ask questions, though that does not always happen.
Image 6: From 2:00-3:00 PM, I work on editing an appropriations letter using NOAA congressional justification, tables of budget requests, and requests from outside groups.
Image 7: The remainder of my day, from 3:00-6:00 PM, can vary. Sometimes, it’s back-to-back-to-back meetings. Sometimes, we have sudden asks that we need to accomplish. I write summaries, do research, read bills, and write bills. I need to be ready for anything!