It was the evening of January 16, 1991, and my wife and I were at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., to see a performance by political humorist Mark Russell. As we walked toward our seats, we gazed up at the bunting-draped box where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865.

We’d just reached our seats when a buzz went through the theater: a U.S.-led coalition had just launched massive air strikes against Iraq. Some audience members scrambled for the exits, heading back to their offices in the government, the media, and elsewhere. The rest of us stayed for Russell’s abbreviated performance, although the pall cast by the beginning of the Persian Gulf War muted our laughter. Then we, too, hurried into the night to flick on our televisions for news from Iraq.

That’s what it’s like to live in Washington: You head out for a lighthearted night on the town, and in an instant a national or international event – sparked by people sitting in offices only blocks away – transforms everything.

Washington, as the capital of the most powerful nation in the world, is arguably the most important city on the planet. It’s a city where momentous decisions are made about war and peace, the social welfare of the nation, and a host of other issues that affect our daily lives. It’s a city of history, where political leaders – some great, some venal, some of no particular distinction – have left their marks upon the nation. And it’s a city where young people throng, yearning to make their own marks on history.

Washington also is a city that gets hold of you and won’t let go. I first moved to Washington for an internship at the end of my master’s degree program in journalism. The city intrigued me, but as a kid who grew up in a small town in the Midwest I also felt overwhelmed. I made a half-hearted effort to stay in the city when my internship ended, but gladly fled when I got a job offer at a newspaper back in the Midwest.

I stayed in the Midwest for five years, doing investigative reporting first for a newspaper and later for a television station. My work required frequent calls to Washington, and I even made two trips to the city to do more extensive research for stories. Washington still intrigued me, but I never expected to live there again.

Then my wife was offered an excellent job in Washington. I was less than thrilled by the idea of living in Washington again, but my wife and I figured we could stand a couple of years before moving on as we had before.

That was more than a decade ago, and we’re still here. Like most, we stay because of the opportunities that Washington offers, both professional and personal. It’s impossible to predict the future, but there seems a decent chance that we’ll spend the rest of our professional lives in Washington. I never would have dreamed of such a thing when I moved back to the city.

One of the things that most struck me when I returned to Washington was how many of my old classmates from the internship program I ran into. Some had stayed when the internship ended, and others – like me – had been drawn back to Washington after living elsewhere. We remained or came back because of the kinds of opportunities that draw thousands of young people to Washington each year.

Many of Washington’s best and most exciting opportunities are in public policy, an arena that offers thousands of jobs – as congressional aides on Capitol Hill, as organizers in public interest organizations, as lobbyists for trade associations, as researchers in think tanks, as subject specialists at federal agencies and departments, and as journalists covering everyone else. But to many people, getting a public policy job in Washington is a process shrouded in mystery.

The purpose of this book is to cut through the fog and explain the process step by step. It’s filled with insider tips to help you navigate the quirks that make applying for a job in Washington different from applying anywhere else. If you’re looking for an internship rather than a full-time job, there’s a ton of information for you as well – including a lengthy chapter devoted to internships.

Besides providing nitty-gritty details about how to get a job in Washington, the book also explains how to find a place to live, how to get around on Washington’s subway system, how to learn about congressional procedure if you want to work on Capitol Hill, and many other details that will make your stay in Washington – no matter how long or how short – a lot easier.

Also scattered throughout the book are profiles of recent college graduates who now work in a variety of Washington public policy jobs. They discuss how they got their jobs, what the jobs are like, where they hope their jobs will take them, and how you can follow in their footsteps.

Perhaps most important, the book provides detailed contact information for hundreds of Washington government offices, interest groups, think tanks, trade associations, labor unions, and news media outlets that offer public policy jobs. This information – which isn’t available anywhere else in such detail – includes the names of key contacts, telephone numbers, street addresses, Web site addresses, and brief descriptions of each organization.

I’m indebted to many people who helped produce and publish this book. Four deserve special recognition: Patricia Gallagher for asking me to write the book and then helping make it possible for me to do so, Ann Davies for managing the 1,001 production details involved in a project like this, Debbie Hardin for her thoughtful editing, and Debra Naylor for the beautiful design. I’m also grateful for the contributions of Kristen Beach, Katherine Clad, Mary Dennis, Grace Hill, Judy Plummer, and the crackerjack production staff at CQ Press.

As always, my greatest thanks are reserved for my wife, Barbara, who brought me to Washington more than a decade ago. I would follow her anywhere.

 
Comments or questions?

Copyright © 1999-2000 Congressional Quarterly

Page created March 15, 2000