Student Spotlight: Interning at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Richard Benitez is a candidate for the MS in Government Analytics at Johns Hopkins University.  He has contributed the following post to discuss how his degree program has helped advance his career in the field of nuclear engineering and national security.

As an intern at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) working within the Nuclear Engineering and Analysis Group-Signatures Science & Technology (SST) Division, I contribute to the lab's mission to develop solutions to some of the nation's most pressing problems related to detecting the production, testing, trafficking, and use of weapons of mass destruction.  This internship has given me a unique experience with practical training in nuclear nonproliferation analysis, computer science and geospatial applications relevant to PNNL's longstanding national security mission.  Located in Richland, Washington, PNNL is one of ten Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories managed by DOE's Office of Science and working closely with the Department of Homeland Security, National Nuclear Security Administration and other government agencies, universities and industry organizations.

Interning with SST has been a challenging yet rewarding experience.  The same motivations that led me to enroll in the Government Analytics (GA) program at Johns Hopkins, such as my desire to learn new technical skills and belief in life-long learning, also led me to PNNL.  I originally learned of the opportunity via an email forwarded in early June.  Though the onboarding process took a while (as all things tend to in government), I am now here working at PNNL as a direct result of the successful outreach efforts of this lab.  One of the main reasons I decided to pursue an MS in Government Analytics was to enhance my practical skillset and thereby stand out in the eyes of employers such as PNNL.  Through my experiences in the GA program and at PNNL, I have been able to develop expertise in analytical methods that are increasingly relied upon by government agencies, non-profit organizations and the private sector – facility with GIS, Python, R, Stata, and other data analysis tools that are in high demand.   Further, my concentration in Geospatial Analysis in the GA program has allowed me to customize the degree based on my interests.  The foundation I have built in spatial data modeling, analysis and visualization has driven the types of assignments I have received thus far in my internship.

At PNNL, I have had the chance to research prevailing nuclear nonproliferation trends across international and regional contexts; perform geospatial tasks and activities with limited oversight among a diverse and multi-disciplinary staff; and analyze the applications of unmanned aerial vehicle/systems (UAV/UAS) with respect to international safeguards and treaty monitoring/verification efforts.  The results of my work are discussed in a forthcoming white paper, Drone on: Advancing the Drone Discourse within the Nuclear Nonproliferation Regime.

In addition to working at PNLL, I am also a 2015-2016 eIntern with the Department of State’s Virtual Student Foreign Service working remotely within the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Office of the Geographer of Global Issues.  My work includes the utilization of GIS to develop and maintain geospatial data catalogs; evaluation of the accuracy and quality of spatial data in OpenStreetMap for the Humanitarian Information Unit (HIU); and, in the future, will include the production of written and graphic reports, presentations, and map content for distribution via social media.


Kristen Soltis Anderson Discusses the Millennial Generation and Voting

The pollster and political consultant, Kristen Soltis Anderson addressed students last night at the Symposium, sharing insights from her recent book,  The Selfie Vote:  Where Millennials Are Leading America (And How Republicans Can Keep Up).   Anderson addressed the question of why the millennial generation has been leaving the Republican Party in droves since the election of 2008, and why the Republican Party should care about it.  Republicans often make the mistake thinking that young voters don’t matter, but in the 2012 election, they comprised 19 percent of the vote.  What’s more, Anderson pointed out, is that political attitudes are sticky – chances are that the political identification a voter adopts early often lasts for a lifetime.  Losing the millennials today, Anderson noted, could have long lasting consequences for elections through 2076.   Anderson has been wrestling with this question of the youth vote since her days as a student in the MA in Government program (from which she graduated in 2009) and it served as the topic of her thesis and subsequent research and career focus.  

Anderson shared observations and insights from the many focus groups she has conducted throughout the country.  There are misperceptions about the millenials – that they are self-absorbed (hence “selfie”) and monolithically liberal.   Yet Anderson’s work shows that this is not completely accurate – millennials are very engaged in their communities, in the families, and actually live a more  “small-c” conservative lifestyle than people think insofar as they are less likely to get pregnant, drink, and smoke (with the exception of marijuana).   Anderson urged that Republicans need to better engage millennials through social media and other technologies.  Anderson recounted how past elections were defined by different types of social media:   The 2006 was the “YouTube Election” with George Allen being knocked out of the Virginia Senate race because of a youtube video showing him use a racial slur; 2008 was the Facebook Election, with Obama utilizing it to reach young people in primary states; 2010 the Twitter Election, with the Tea Party utilizing it to mobilizing congressional voter turnout; and 2012 Big Data Election.  What will the election of 2016 be?  Anderson predicts it will be the Mobile Election, dominated by newer social media sites like Snapchat, which resonate with millennials.    Republicans need to get out in front of these technologies and display how their ideology (such as free market innovations like Uber) has real-world applications that will make life better for the millennial generation and address their aspirations.


Lee Drutman discusses Corporate Lobbying at JHU Center for Advanced Governmental Studies

JHU faculty member and Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, Lee Drutman, shared insights from his recent book, The Business of America is Lobbying: How Corporations Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate at a brown bag lunch forum at the JHU Center for Advanced Governmental Studies. 

Drutman discussed the history and consequences of the growth in corporate lobbying and concluded by offering some solutions to the problem.  Corporate lobbying grew from the 1950s from being sparse and reactionary to becoming pro-active and ubiquitous.  How did this happen? 

Drutman points to the 1965 publication of the Ralph Nader book, Unsafe at Any Speed, as a key moment that led to the growth of corporate lobbying.  Shortly after the publication of Nader’s book, the US Department of Transportation was created.  At that time, the General Motors Corporation did not even have a lobbyist in DC.  That was soon to change to the point that today corporate lobbying is an over $3 billion a year enterprise. 

Drutman discussed the consequences in the growth of lobbying and why there does not seem to be any end to it. One of the solutions he discussed was to build up policy capacity of Congress by increasing staff and their salaries.


ONE Executive Director Tom Hart Addresses JHU Audience on NGO's impact on policy in DC

Tom Hart, the Executive Director of ONE for North America and Canada, spoke last night at the JHU Center for Advanced Governmental Studies Symposia Series about how NGOs can affect change in Washington, DC.  ONE is an international campaigning and advocacy organization of nearly 7 million people with a focus on ending extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa.  Mr. Hart, along with U2’s Bono, was one of the original founders of ONE twelve years ago.   He shared with students ONE’s model of advocacy that has helped it achieve its many policy successes and how its model might be applied more broadly to other nonprofit and advocacy groups, all vying to get the attention of lawmakers. 

 A chief challenge ONE faces is that it is asking members of Congress to spend constituent tax dollars abroad on foreign aid.  Hart noted that foreign aid is not a popular issue and can be a hard sell.  Misperceptions abound about foreign aid, which actually constitutes less than 1 percent of the total budget.  Hart shared some of the strategies ONE has used to overcome these obstacles and leverage change.  He shared what he called the “Four P’s Model of Advocacy” which includes 1) Policy; 2) Politics; 3) Mobilizing the Public, and 4) Using Pop Culture.   NGOs must be policy experts, offering well-research, credible findings to advance their issues.  For the politics side, ONE is committed to bi-partisan issues, and works hard to build coalitions with diverse constituents and utilizes both former and current staffers and members of Congress.   Mobilizing the public involves everything from petitions, emails, letters and inviting top donors to events on the Hill.   JHU students were especially interested to learn more about the “pop culture” part of the equation and the involvement of Bono in ONE.  Hart acknowledged that the use of celebrities can be a great asset to an organization, but that celebrities must not merely be figureheads but must know what they are talking about and be well-steeped in the issue.  This means organizations must be good about briefing their celebrities and celebrities need to know when to "speak up and when to shut up," in Hart's words.   Bono’s work with ONE has been particularly successful because he stays disciplined and focused on Africa and immersed in the issues.

Hart also shared some of the key campaigns ONE has advanced, such as its efforts to get electricity to Africa, where 7 in 10 Africans have no access and use stoves fueled by dung that are actually very harmful, even lethal.  Last year, ONE drafted a bill that drew bi-partisan support in the House.   ONE mobilized support for the bill by engaging its membership, doing electric 5K runs, even using celebrity chefs to write op-eds and lobby Capitol Hill.   ONE partnered with Scholastic books to educate school children about energy policy as well.   As a result, there were 90,000 letters sent to the Hill, 5,00 tweets and countless meetings showing grassroots support for the legislation, which passed the House floor and the Senate Committee, but failed on the Senate floor.  But that it made it that far was a success in and of itself, and ONE is optimistically preparing to start the process over again this year.  Hart stayed late to answer  questions from students, many of whom work in non profits and face similar challenges and goals.  Students were fascinated to learn how Hart conceived of ONE with four other people twelve years ago, and how it has grown to be a successful bipartisan model of effecting change and reform in Africa.



Commissioner of GSA's Public Building Service Speaks at GAB Forum

This morning Johns Hopkins University and REI Systems welcomed Norman Dong, Commissioner of GSA's Public Building Service, as the speaker for this month's Government Analytics Breakfast (GAB) Forum.  Mr. Dong discussed how GSA uses data analytics to manage one of the largest asset inventories in the U.S.

Mr. Dong spoke about how the use of relatively simple analytic techniques has helped GSA dramatically reduce the federal footprint in terms of both space and energy use.  By embracing a flexible benchmark of 150 square feet per employee, GSA has been able to make smarter leasing and purchasing decisions that provide workspaces to meet agency needs without wasteful spending.  Further, by breaking the mentality that an agency should remain in one location for decades, GSA has been able to secure more favorable lease replacements and renewals.

In the area of energy consumption, a data analysis revealed that several systems were not being turned off when agencies were closed (such as on federal holidays).  As a result of the analysis, GSA was able to remedy the problem and save a substantial amount of money.

Mr. Dong emphasized that "you can't manage what you don't measure."  In recent years, GAS has increasingly relied on data analyses to guide its decision making and, through this approach, produced significant savings.

A recording of the event can be viewed here.

The next meeting of the GAB Forum will be held on November 18 (8:30-10 am).