2017 ANS Congressional Fellow - Be a Nuclear Policy Game-Changer

March 17, 2016, 6:33PMANS Nuclear CafeBenjamin Reinke, 2016 ANS Congressional Fellow

I applied to be the Glenn T. Seaborg American Nuclear Society Congressional Fellow because of the opportunity to learn first-hand how policy decisions that affect the nuclear science, technology, and energy communities are made. For more than any other industry, decisions made in Washington, D.C. have an enormous effect on the future path of all things nuclear. The ANS Congressional Fellow offers the opportunity to spend a year working directly on these important policy decisions while learning an entirely new skill set. The different pace of work and flow of communication allows the ANS Fellow to learn new verbal and written communication skills and to sharpen his or her strategic mindset.

Working on Capitol Hill is very different than working in a lab or in a business. While an outsider might view the pace of work to be slow, because of the relatively low amount of legislation passed, in reality the opposite is the case. The pace of bill passage is impeded by the sheer amount of input going into any given policy decision. For all of the opportunities that a Fellow has to raise the level of technical discourse around a political decision, there are many more opportunities for a Fellow to learn about the many other complicated factors that go into any major policy decision. One of hardest, but most important, lessons for a scientist or engineer to learn is that the best technical answer is not always the most politically feasible or financially prudent solution. Fellows also learn how to distill complicated technical issues and multiple viewpoints into succinct, easily digestible explanations and suggestions. Ultimately, the Fellowship offers an opportunity to grow in new ways.

Hill staffers are well trained and hard working, but many have similar skill sets and educational backgrounds. As many corporations and universities have learned, a rich diversity of experiences and educational background makes for a high functioning staff, particularly when grappling with challenging issues that cover a great breadth of topics. Unfortunately, the number of scientists and engineers on Capitol Hill is lacking. The ANS Congressional Fellowship is extremely important, specifically because of this dearth of trained scientists and engineers. Scientists are trained to use the scientific method, to make evidenced-based decisions, in ways that other professionals are not. This type of thinking is particularly important when considering policy decisions that are inherently technical.

Depending on a Fellow's placement, there are many different issues that might fall within the Fellow's work portfolio. Some ANS Congressional Fellows spend most of their time working on nuclear policies. Others may deal with various agencies, like NASA, the National Institute of Health, and the Department of Defense, handling a great number of different science, technology, R&D, engineering, and energy issues. Being on the Energy and Natural Resources committee, I have the opportunity to go in-depth in a more narrow range of issues, getting to focus on nuclear, national lab, and general Department of Energy (DOE) issues. During the year I hope to make a meaningful contribution on multiple nuclear policies. There are many issues that deserve attention, ranging from advanced reactors to used nuclear fuel. In my time with the committee, I have already been able to work on the advancement of the Energy Policy Modernization Act and a number of associated amendments. In addition, I plan to contribute to policy decisions on nuclear-relevant bills and to organize the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources oversight hearings for nuclear and DOE issues.

The ANS Congressional Fellowship is a truly unique experience. There is no other opportunity in the nuclear field that allows an individual such access to key decision makers, while providing access to vast amounts of institutional knowledge and opportunities for personal growth. I want to leave my mark on U.S. nuclear and energy policy, and the ANS Congressional Fellowship has allowed me the best opportunity to do that. I would like to thank ANS for the opportunity to serve as the 2016 ANS Congressional Fellow and would encourage all interested applicants to apply. Trust me, if selected, you won't be disappointed!