By Mr Marques Chavez (USAASC)June 20, 2011
WASHINGTON--Civilian members of the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center (USAASC) workforce were presented with an exceptional opportunity to learn about the unique dynamics of Congress by those with intimate knowledge of the workings of Capitol Hill at the 2011 Congressional Operations Seminar held June 13-17.
The seminar, hosted by Georgetown University’s Government Affairs Institute (GAI), was conducted at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill and has been offered to employees across the government on nearly a monthly basis for several years. It primarily focuses on training executive branch employees and officials how Congress works so they are prepared to facilitate the interaction between their agencies and Congress.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding in the executive branch about how Congress works--and vice versa--because the branches are organized so differently. The folks on Capitol Hill are in a totally different world and although they work on all of the same issues as the agencies, they have a completely different viewpoint,” said Chuck Cushman, Senior Fellow at the GAI.
According to USAASC, members of the acquisition, logistics, and technology (AL&T;) workforce who are identified by their supervisors as having job-related duties in understanding Congressional action, appropriations, and the budget are eligible to attend. Those who attended the seminar were trained on a variety of topics of government ranging from the makeup of Congressional staff, to the extensive appropriations process. Attendees were also permitted to observe floor debate and attend committee hearings.
“You could end up getting in this line of work and only have the vaguest idea of the internal workings of the other parts of the government. For someone who is a professional working in the field, you have to have an intimate understanding of not only what your agency does, but also what the other ones around you do so you can understand how they interact. That just makes you better at your job,” Cushman said.
William V. Hilleary, a Republican from Tennessee who served in the House of Representatives from 1995-2003, offered his perspective to the group as a former member of Congress. He explained that the preeminent partisan divide most associated with Congress today not only dates back to the government’s origin, but is an essential aspect of it.
“Congress is the court of public opinion and even the founders believed it had to be adversarial,” Hilleary said. “It should be civil, but if you think people are going to be singing around a campfire, it was never meant to be that way. It is a healthy part of the system designed to get a better product.”
Those at the seminar were also privy to the perspective of a current sitting member of the House of Representatives. Congressman Charles A. Gonzalez, a Democrat serving from Texas, addressed the group on the undertaking of public service.
“I really just want to talk about you and how we are all part of this thing we call government. This is an opportunity for you. Be proud of what you do and never underestimate the good that you are doing for all of your fellow Americans,” Gonzalez said.
At its core, the five-day seminar shaped up to be an in-depth look at government with the purpose of helping those in attendance gain a better understanding that will help them effectively perform their duties.
“At the end of the day, we hope we have built this mosaic of little bits of insight from all the different possible angles,” Cushman said. “The participants who have come to do this course walk away with a much broader perception of what makes Congress tick. I think we do a pretty good job coming close to striking the balance that gives the agency folks a deep understanding of all the things that go on up here.”