Brian Carter, Ph.D.
ACS Congressional Fellow, 2008-2009
Brian Carter holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University and B.S. degrees in mathematics and chemistry from the University of Georgia. His doctoral work at Columbia focused on developing tools for enzyme evolution in Professor Virginia W. Cornish’s laboratory. For four years prior to his fellowship, Brian taught science at Bard High School Early College in New York City and at CÉsar ChÁvez Public Charter School for Public Policy in Washington, DC. Brian started his fellowship working on science, technology, engineering, and math education policy for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). After Senator Clinton became Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, Brian moved to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to work on education issues with the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA). At the end of his fellowship, Brian was selected as an AAAS Diplomacy Fellow, working with the U.S. Department of State’s Biosecurity Engagement Program (BEP) as a Program Officer overseeing BEP’s work in the Middle East and North Africa.
Mid-Year Fellowship Report, March 2009
What a difference a year can make! That should be the motto of the ACS Congressional Fellowship. It was less than a year ago that Bradley Smith, from the office of ACS legislative affairs, notified me that I had been selected as one of two 2008-09 ACS Congressional Fellows.
I had been awarded a AAAS Health, Education, and Human Services Fellowship, but jumped at the chance to spend a year on the Hill learning how the legislative process works. Besides this was no ordinary year on the Hill, not that any year on the Hill is “ordinary”, the stage was set for a historic election, and either way it turned out change was coming to Washington, DC, and I could never thank ACS enough for giving me the opportunity to be at the heart of it all.
I have to take a few moments to commend the job that AAAS does on orienting the fellows. The two week orientation touches on almost every aspect of the government, from Congress to the Executive branch agencies, and even to international diplomacy, and they brought in people who were at the top in each of these fields to speak with us, like Representative Rush Holt and Sharon Hayes, Associate Director at OSTP.
After orientation, we were allowed to interview for the next two weeks on the Hill. While I thought I knew what I wanted to do and who I wanted to work for, I took advantage of this opportunity to meet with staff from both personal offices and committees and from both the House and Senate. I received several placement offers, but in the end, I went with my first choice, which was an offer by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to work in her personal office focused solely on education policy.
Senator Clinton’s office was a fantastic work environment. I was brought on immediately as a full staff, and was taking meetings with constituents by myself within days. Within six weeks of being in the office, I had written and Senator Clinton introduced a piece of legislation, entitled “The National Principal Recruitment Act”, which was to address the shortage of well-trained, results-oriented principals, particularly in our nation’s rural and urban schools. Then in early December, President-elect Obama nominated Senator Clinton for Secretary of State, and I knew I had to find a new placement, and quickly, as I didn’t want to waste one moment of my fellowship year.
Working in Senator Clinton’s office only further solidified my desire to continue to work on education policy; so, my boss in Senator Clinton’s office, contacted the senior education policy advisor for Senator Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and they wanted me to start the next day. For the last three months, I have been able to gain a completely different fellowship experience, now being able to compare the difference between working on a committee and working in a personal office, and seen what it is like working for the Chairman of a committee, and not just any Chairman, but Senator Edward Kennedy.
Our first order of business was to get Arne Duncan confirmed as President Obama’s Secretary of Education. I worked on preparing briefing material for the hearing, as well as preparing for any problems that might occur politically during his confirmation. In the end, Secretary Duncan’s confirmation has been one of the smoothest so far, and I think this was a testament to President Obama’s foresight in selecting someone with Secretary Duncan’s background to run the Department of Education. Immediately after the confirmation, we began working feverishly on the American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act. While this bill was authored by the Appropriations and Finance Committees, education was the largest piece of the stimulus package, other than the tax cuts, in the end totaling almost $100 billion, a large portion of which the Department of Education will make available to the States starting at the end of this month. It was a fascinating process to be involved in, seeing the House bill drastically altered when it came to the Senate, and then to see the final piece of legislation come out of conference and be signed by the President.
On February 24th, in his joint address to Congress, President Obama specifically asked Congress to send him the Kennedy-Hatch “Serve American Act”, and thus, currently our office’s efforts are devoted to getting this bill out of our committee, and if all goes well, passed before Easter. This bill will dramatically alter national service, by creating service corps, specifically focused on improving either education, energy conservation, health care, or economic opportunity for low-income people in our country, and looks to do this by expanding AmeriCorps from 75,000 currently, to over 250,000 by 2014.
What a difference a year can make!
Year-End Fellowship Report, August 2009
What a difference a year can make! This is the way I started off my mid-year evaluation, and I still believe it is the best way to summarize the once in a lifetime opportunity that the ACS Congressional Fellowship has provided me over the past year, and for which I will be forever grateful to ACS.
I will not recount all the wonderful experiences I had working in Senator Clinton’s office before she was nominated and confirmed to be Secretary of State, nor my first few months working on the educational policy team of Senator Kennedy’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, as all of this information can be found in my mid-year report. I will focus here on what I have done working for Senator Kennedy on the HELP Committee for the remainder of my fellowship year, which ended in August.
On February 24th, in his joint address to Congress, President Obama specifically asked Congress to send him the Kennedy-Hatch Serve American Act. I immediately started assisting Emma Vadehra in our office working to put together a Committee hearing, which took place exactly two weeks to the day after Obama’s speech. We worked very closely with Democrats and Republicans on the Education and Labor Committee in the House to ensure that the bill they introduced on national service, which was the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education (GIVE) Act, contained several of the key components of the Serve America Act, which included expanding AmeriCorps from 75,000 members to 250,000 members and refocusing AmeriCorps projects into 5 areas: education, health, economic opportunities, energy conservation, and veterans. The GIVE Act was introduced in the House on Mar. 9th, and passed the House overwhelmingly by a vote of 321 to 105 on Mar. 18th, the same day the HELP Committee marked up the Serve America Act. After four long days of Senate floor debate, and a number of amendments being offered, most of which were defeated, the Senate passed the Serve America Act, on Mar. 26th by an overwhelming vote of 79 to 19.
It was a very touching moment, as Senator Kennedy, who has always been a living testament to national service walked onto the floor for the final vote, and unbeknownst to him, the Senate agreed to a Unanimous Consent (UC) amendment which changed the name of the bill to the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. I was on the floor for the vote, and it was something I will never forget no matter how long I live. The bill was signed by President Obama at a big White House signing ceremony on April 21st, 2009, less than 2 months after he requested the bill, and became Public Law 111-013.
There is never a shortage of work in our office; so, the ink wasn’t even dry on P.L. 111-013 when I started helping David Johns in our office on the Child Abuse Treatment and Prevention Act (CAPTA) of 2009. CAPTA has to be reauthorized every 5 years, and was last reauthorized in 2003. I assisted David, as well as Averi Pakulis, who works on Senator Dodd’s Children and Families HELP Subcommittee, during our negotiations with Republican staff members of Senator Enzi’s and Alexander’s HELP Committee and Subcommittee, respectively.
It has been a fascinating experience, and the HELP Committee and Subcommittee have come a long way towards reauthorization of CAPTA 2009, which also contains a reauthorization for three other bills: the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act; the Abandoned Infants Assistance Act; and the Adoption Opportunities Act. Negotiations were still ongoing, but much progress has been made towards reauthorizing all 4 of these bills.
President Obama has stated many times that it is no longer enough for students to graduate from high school. Today’s economy requires that students have at least some college or technical training beyond high school. This is why one of President Obama’s major goals is to put America on track to be #1 in college graduates by 2020, just as we were in the 1970’s. To achieve this goal, he would like to do away with the way we currently finance most student loans, which is referred to as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, and switch all student loans to the Direct Lending (DL) Program. By doing this, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the US Government would save $87 billion over the course of 10 years, from payments that are currently going to banks to get them to lend money to students under the FFEL program. President Obama’s plan is to take a majority of this $87 billion and invest it in our students to make sure more students have access to college by increasing the maximum Pell Grant students are eligible to receive, drastically improving our community college system, and placing emphasis not just on getting students into college, but getting them to successfully complete college. On July 15th, the House introduced the Student Aid Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), which attempts to accomplish many of the President’s goals. The Education and Labor Committee reported this bill out of Committee on July 27th. During my last two months working for Senator Kennedy, everyone in the office worked almost exclusively on the Senate’s version of a student loan bill, which we hope to introduce shortly.
I was also the point person in our office on any measure related to STEM education; so, I took a number of meetings with various constituents representing all areas of STEM. I also was responsible for monitoring the budget and implementation of programs authorized in the America COMPETES Act. While several programs in this act received funds in the Recovery Act, including $15 million to fund the Professional Science Master’s Program authorized in the COMPETES Act, it is still the case that almost all programs authorized at the Department of Education have yet to be funded. As authorization for these programs ends as of FY2010, I can only hope that the new administration has their own ideas for the direction of STEM education, and plans to back these plans up with the funding to successfully prepare our students for the careers of the future.
On August 26th, 2009, I received word that the greatest legislator our country has ever known had lost his battle with brain cancer. I can’t put into words what I felt that day, but I know I was not alone. The outpouring of support for Senator Kennedy was truly moving, and it was clear that this loss was beyond a family or personal loss, but a loss to our nation as a whole. It was a tremendous privilege working for Senator Kennedy, and one I will never forget. I am grateful to him, every single member of his staff, and of course, ACS for providing me this once and a lifetime opportunity.