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Training Broadens Social Work Fellow’s Understanding of Political Process

Past Congressional Fellowship Program members. Photo courtesy of American Political Science Association.

Past Congressional Fellowship Program members. Photo courtesy of American Political Science Association.

By Janeen Cross, DSW, MSW, MBA, LCSW
NASW Foundation Social Work HEALS Policy Fellow

As the inaugural NASW Foundation Social Work HEALS Policy Fellow, I had the privilege of attending the 2016-2017 American Political Science Association (APSA), Congressional Fellowship Program (CFP) in November 2016.  This prestigious month-long program brings together policy fellows from diverse disciplines such as political science, social work, journalism, medicine, nursing, psychology, law, representing both academia and government.

These disciplines learn about policymaking at the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.   For example, representatives from nursing, psychology, medicine, and social work will focus on policies related to older adults.  Other policy fellows are working on global and foreign policy as well as regional issues such as Native American tribal concerns.

As a fellow, I was made aware of legislative process and procedure and how to conduct legislative research.  The fellowship provided exposure to government agencies, such as the Office of Legislative Counsel, and the role of counsel in drafting legislation and support services to committee and members of the House of Representatives.   In addition, fellows received an overview the federal budget and president’s role in developing the budget proposal.  Although the policy fellows are from different disciplines, many of us bring our expertise and knowledge to the same policy area.

Judy Schneider, Congressional Specialist at the Congressional Research Service, presented an overview of legislative process and congressional procedure.  I learned from the CFP training that Congress is a powerful structure and a very complex system and we pride ourselves on the sophistication and complexities of our government operations. The four P’s (policy, procedure, process, and politics) of Congress can be a gift or curse for our government.

As the 2017 Social Work HEALS Policy Fellow, this time provides a unique opportunity to be involved in crucial health policy discussions.  I believe this marks an important period to bring my knowledge, extensive practice experience and skills to the policy table along with the values and principles of social work. — Janeen Cross

Our system of Congress is designed to have rationale, procedural order, and function to govern our country; yet by design it can also be extremely dysfunctional and inoperable. Our bicameral structure of government allows for successful policy outcomes but requires interdisciplinary perspectives, research and evidence formulation, legislative drafting expertise, procedural knowledge of hearings/debates, and outcome evaluation.

Fellows gain the necessary experience to navigate the system of government and participate in policy practice. Warren Burke and Michelle Vanek, Assistant Counsel for the House of Representatives, discussed the responsibilities of the Office of Legislative Counsel and Barbara Bavis provided fellows with legislative research training.

It is through training and experience that Fellows learn who the key stakeholders are and their positions on a given policy.  In addition, fellows become aware of the Congressional schedules, election periods, and compositional make-up of Congress when planning to achieve successful policy outcomes.  Fellows develop the skills required to locate bipartisan opportunities and reduce polarization which is an ongoing challenge in government.

It became very clear to me, and probably my fellow APSA cohort, that we are here to quickly learn the intricacies of such a complex system, understand Congressional power, roles and functions, and conduct legislative research.  All of these things are required for effective policy practice and to advance the mission of our respective disciplines and organizations.

Janeen Cross

Janeen Cross

This is an interesting and historic time to be part of policy development.  Health care will be a major focus for the new administration.  U.S. Government debt and health care spending remain historically high and are estimated to increase.  Moreover, President Trump states that he plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act. There will be many policy discussions about how Trump plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and if successful, what policies he will use to replace it.

The 115th United States Congress, with Republican control of the House and Senate, will work with a new Republican president.  It is unclear if our government, now with a Republican majority, will be more successful in executing a Republican led health policy agenda.   There remains much to learn about President Trump without any political and legislative history to make sound prediction about future policy direction.  These are some of the factors that make this an important time for the direction of health care policy.

As the 2017 Social Work HEALS Policy Fellow, this time provides a unique opportunity to be involved in crucial health policy discussions.  I believe this marks an important period to bring my knowledge, extensive practice experience and skills to the policy table along with the values and principles of social work.  It is important that marginalized and underserved populations are not adversely impacted by health care policies.

Although it is important to address the government deficit, exorbitant spending and health care costs, the preferred course of action should not be the removal of access to quality healthcare services especially for vulnerable populations.  This is the time for interdisciplinary collaborations and evaluation of evidence-based data to inform policy decision.   In addition, this is the time to identify research, innovative methods and practice models that improve access to health care while reducing healthcare costs.

The transition to a new administration will require the input of social work to maintain the gains made in health care policy and continue on a course of progress.  Social workers cannot lose the gains made in health care access and quality.  I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to share my voice and knowledge in these interdisciplinary discussions and support efforts to move our society forward.

4 comments

  1. Well stated!

  2. Thanks for sharing your learning and insights

  3. Sounds like it was a great opportunity–thanks for your inspiration and encouragement as we try to continue to move things forward!

  4. Wow- I never realized how crucial it is for social work professionals to understand the workings of our government. Vulnerable populations can’t always speak for themselves, and social work professionals provide the voice advocating for these individuals when policy is being decided. This article provides an excellent explanation of how this process works and the vital role social work professionals play in it.

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