Science On The Hill: Reflecting on the James Marshall Fellowship
Kevin R. Carriere, Assistant Professor of Psychology, Washington and Jefferson College
For my James Marshall Public Policy Fellowship, I had the honor of working for Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico’s 1st District. Elected in 2018, she is one of the first Native American Congresswomen. My portfolio included criminal justice, immigration, disability, and foreign affairs.
A large part of my fellowship revolved around drafting legislation for the Congresswoman. In a sense, writing legislation is no different than conducting research. There is a body of work that tries to solve a given problem (every bill submitted to Congress), and your task is to find the gap in the literature.
One of the bills I worked on, the PROTECT (Police Receiving Overly Traumatizing Equipment Changes Today) Act, dealt with the 1033 Program, a program I presented on at my first SPSSI Conference (held in Albuquerque, New Mexico!). The 1033 Program arms state and local police with excess military gear from the Department of Defense, and my research showed that it can have harmful effects on police officers. While other bills have been introduced to stop the program in various degrees (H.R. 1714, H.R. 7143), the PROTECT Act is the only bill that focuses on the equipment that has already been given out. In a sense, you can turn off the faucet, but it does nothing to clean up the flood already in the kitchen. This bill incentivizes police departments to send back their equipment in exchange for de-escalation, anti-racist, accountability, and cultural-sensitivity training grants.
I also was able to learn more about indigenous issues through my work in foreign affairs. I helped introduce H.Res. 720, a Resolution calling on the International Olympic Committee to restore gold medals to Jim Thorpe, a Native American who had his 1912 gold medals stripped away due to racism and bigotry. It passed the Foreign Affairs Committee on unanimous consent, and had a good chance to make it to the Floor prior to COVID-19 changing voting procedures. I also had the once in a lifetime opportunity to help organize the visit of delegation of three Brazilian Congresswomen. One of my most treasured memories came from this moment, where, Joênia Wapichana, the first Indigenous women elected to the Chamber of Deputies, and Congresswoman Haaland, were able to sit side by side, talking about protections of indigenous peoples and fighting back against authoritarian leaders. It was a historic event with not a single dry eye in the room.
Additional responsibilities I had included writing Rep Haaland’s talking points for speeches, and drafting Appropriations Bill and Report language on Indigenous Rights. I crafted letters to the Attorney General, to ICE and Homeland Security, demanding they meet with immigration activists and hear their stories. While working in Rep. Haaland’s office, we led letters calling for the release of transgender migrants, whose conditions while in ICE custody are horrifying and heartbreaking. We crafted questions she could ask on the Oversight Committee, looking at issues from facial recognition to white supremacy.
Working on the Hill is like working in academia – if academia had eight-hour deadlines, no authorship, and a magical email that could reliably get a response within twenty-four hours regardless of who you emailed. This experience has completely transformed how I want to approach my research and teaching going forward. It is a moral imperative for psychologists to get more involved in policy. There are lives at stake every day, in every decision, in every line of policy that is written. It’s time for those who study human behavior to start taking a good look at the kinds of policies that directly shape it, and start ensuring that future policy is grounded in good science.
But – if I had to summarize my experience in one sentence, it would be this: Don’t call your Representative – call the Representative’s staffer.