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Having secured ANU Crawford School’s prestigious Congressional Research Fellowship Program (CRFP), Crawford graduate Lisa Butson embarked on an adventure to the United States to work in the Senate – all amidst the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump and the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
In January, she joined the office of Senator Tom Cotton, and got a first-hand taste of how policy is being developed in the US. She got to research on a broad range of topics, and even wrote policy briefings for the Senator.
“I researched a range of issues including national security, foreign aid spending, the Middle East peace process, and international education. I wrote policy briefings for the Senator, attended hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and watched the various sessions of the Senate, including the impeachment trial.”
Crawford School provided financial and administrative support for Lisa’s Fellowship.
“The program was fully funded, including flights, accommodation and course costs. The ANU team in the Australian Embassy were also extremely helpful. They organised the accommodation for the duration of the fellowship, provided events for students to attend and were always available if we required assistance,” Lisa said.
With her previous experience in Australian politics, she was particularly keen to explore the differences in the workings of policy in the two countries.
“I was eager to learn about the practices and procedures of the US Senate, and how the institutional features of a presidential system impact differently on the public policy process as compared to that of a parliamentary system.
“The key difference in the public policy process between Australia and the US is related to the core institutional features of a presidential and parliamentary system. In Australia, where the government is derived from the legislature, there is a greater level of support within the legislature for government policy, whereas in the US, there are variable levels of support for executive policy.”
Lisa said that doing the Graduate Certificate in Public Policy provided her with the necessary skills to fully leverage her role in the US Senate.
“The degree provided the theoretical frameworks for understanding the institutional features of the US Congress and the differences between the Australian and US political systems.”
Little did Lisa know that her stint would come to an early end when the coronavirus hit the US. Her Fellowship cut short by about a month, Lisa had to rush to leave the US in mid-March.
She also witnessed how suddenly streets in Washington emptied, and places had to shut down to contain the spread of the virus.
“We received notice from the ANU on 17 March that the program was being recalled and I left the US a few days after this notification.”
“It was a very weird time to be in the US at the onset of COVID-19. There was a lot of uncertainty everywhere and it all happened very quickly. One day things were okay and the next DC had declared a state of emergency and a lot of places started to close.”