Hill Climbers: Small Office, Big Changes

Posted April 13, 2010 at 5:43pm

There are a grand total of five staffers — plus a fellow — in the office of Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.). And even though Andrews’ staffers say that makes for a rewarding work environment, it also means staff changes add up to big differences in the office. This month, two promotions and one new staffer meant changes for nearly half of the New Jersey lawmaker’s Washington, D.C., office.

[IMGCAP(1)]Andrews has typically put a large emphasis on constituent services in his 1st district office. That’s fine for Andrews’ D.C. staffers, all of whom say their small office helps them to be more focused and efficient.

One of Andrews’ office shuffles involves Nathaniel Bell, who was promoted from military legislative assistant to senior adviser. Andrews sits on the House Armed Services Committee.

For Bell, 27, the promotion marks his fourth gig with the lawmaker, with whom he has worked for the past three years. Previously, he was Andrews’ staff assistant and then a special assistant.

“I will continue to do our defense and military policy … as well as some of the finance and economic policy that I’ve been doing and will also expand more into doing more Member relations,” Bell said. “Through and post-health care we’ve been doing a lot of work with other Member offices and with some leadership offices trying to be as helpful as we can. I’m trying to facilitate that more.”

In 2008, Bell worked for six months in New Jersey on Andrews’ re-election campaign. Now in his new role, Bell hopes to better connect the political infrastructure and Andrews’ Washington infrastructure.

As a student at the University of Delaware, Bell was a starter on the school’s football team — something that his large frame still suggests. An undergraduate internship with then-Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) combined with Bell’s home roots — he is a native of Arlington, Va. — made him want to try his hand professionally on Capitol Hill.

“I had always kind of had a fascination with politics and with Washington, D.C., and when I was in college I spent a little time down here interning [and] thought it was really cool,” Bell said. “As soon as I finished college, I wanted to get a job down here.”

After graduating in 2006 with a degree in political science, Bell embarked on “the total Hill blitz” and applied for multiple jobs. That blitz led to Bell becoming Andrews’ staff assistant.

A second Andrews promotion involves Sara Outterson, who recently moved from legislative correspondent to legislative assistant.

“I’m going to continue to cover a lot of the issues that I have been [covering],” Outterson said. “My portfolio is kind of expanding right now. It’s going to continue to cover housing, immigration, judiciary, postal, telecommunications and will probably expand a little bit more as we all get our feet into our new jobs.”

Like Bell, Outterson, 30, held an internship with a Member while in college. As an undergraduate at George Washington University, Outterson worked a summer in the district office of then-Rep. Joe Hoeffel (D-Pa.). Outterson is a native of Audubon, Pa.

But even with that brush with politics, it would take years for Outterson to find herself back in the political process. Immediately after graduating from GW, where she earned a history degree in 2002, Outterson leapt into a teaching stint with Teach for America. For two years, Outterson taught second-graders in St. Louis.

From there, Outterson’s next stop was law school at the College of William and Mary. After earning her J.D. in 2007, Outterson got her legal career started as a law clerk with the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court.

But that job would only confirm Outterson’s sense that she didn’t want to be a traditional lawyer.

“When I was a law clerk, I used to write one 30-page memo every week, I used to edit four opinions,” she said. “I had this very standard life where every week I knew exactly what I was going to expect. Maybe it’d be a different issue I’d be writing a memo about or we’d be writing opinions about, but I’d be sitting quietly at my cubical, and I felt like there just wasn’t a whole lot of action and there wasn’t a whole lot going on.”

The 2008 election provided the perfect incentive for Outterson to make a change. A friend’s invitation to campaign for Barack Obama in Philadelphia opened up a new world for Outterson.

“What I learned on a campaign is that I loved doing 5 million things at once and figuring out how you get all 5 million done,” she said. “What sort of drew me to the Hill is being able to get involved in a bunch of different things at once but then complete them all.”

Like Bell, Outterson said she papered the Hill with résumés only to end up in the Andrews office.

Completing out the office changes is Jonathan Golden. Earlier this month, Golden, 23, moved from intern to legislative correspondent.

After graduating from Wesleyan University in 2008, the Merion, Pa., native worked in the private sector. But that stint wasn’t bound to last long given Golden’s greater ambitions.

“I wanted to do something that was more relevant and strategic-minded, a place where every day you’re doing something different,” said Golden, also known as J.Z. “What I like about the Hill now that I’m into the process is that it’s so goal-oriented. You have your long-term mission, and between here and there you have obstacles and challenges. … The goal is always to help people or to fix something that’s not working right, and when you do achieve that it’s incredibly rewarding.”

Last December, Golden made the career change to an unpaid internship with Andrews. That gamble was something Golden’s fellow staffers said was well worth him making.

“J.Z. was a rock through the middle of health care,” Bell said. “We were flooded consistently with calls and people stopping by. Obviously, every office dealt with that, but J.Z. was very on-the-ball with all those different kind of things.”

Right now, Golden describes his legislative correspondent duties as “fairly standard fare” from leading tours to constituent correspondence. Soon, he anticipates taking on specific issue area responsibilities.

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