Thursday, December 3, 2009

Gas Masks as an Business Wear Accessory?

I have never really thought of myself of a fashionista. I'm a person that really enjoys just wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt but I do admit that buying clothes for work is pretty fun. It's amazing how much older and sharper a college student can look the second that they put on a suit. And of course, not to mention any business wear accessories. Maybe a tie, or briefcase?

Well, I found this week that there are some certain other accessories needed to do business in my office. We had to do a "COOP" exercise where everyone had to wear "escape hoods" (in layman's terms this would be considered a gas mask). Well, then again, you're not exactly encouraged to wear them all the time at staff meetings but I will be the first to admit that I had never really considered the thought of having to wear a gas mask at the office. They had us do the emergency drill exercise in order to prepare the office building should there be an attack of some kind. I'm not really sure whether or not they had this exact drill before 9/11, but it certainly livened up my day... I wouldn't call "escape hoods" fashion forward for work, but they do manage to give you a good laugh!

Otherwise, there were some other highlights from the day. The Indian Prime Minister was in Washington DC at the White House to meet with President Obama. I knew that he would be visiting as I had been keeping up with the news, but I didn't realize that he would receive his 21-gun salute while I was at work. Out of nowhere, all I hear are canons going off... And a lot of them. Here I think the potential attack my coworkers and I had discussed had become reality. Afterall, as close at the White House is to our office, the windows did shake a little with each "BOOM!". Luckily, to my relief, one of the Analysts, Frank, informed me that it was just a welcome to the Prime Minister. Pretty cool though! You definitely can't get that kind of internship environment in any other city in the U.S.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Getting More Experience with "CFIUS"

As I had mentioned earlier, "CFIUS" stands for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. This group is essentially an inter-agency committee of the United States government that reviews the national security implications of foreign investment in U.S. firms and U.S. defense industry. Such that, should a foreign entity buy a U.S. company or part of that company, it is necessary to review that purchase because it could pose a potential threat. How about a for instance? Let's say that the North Korean government wanted to buy a U.S. company that produced long-range missiles-- as you can imagine this would set off a definite red flag. Usually, CFIUS cases are not nearly as dramatic as that one but I'm sure you are getting the idea by now.

Earlier on, one of my primary roles working with CFIUS was to create vetting lists for the analysts. I also needed to answer any questions that the analysts may generate that required a quick response. Basically, that entailed me reviewing all of the documents from the involved firms and getting myself familiar with the acquisition.

More recently however, I have actually been able to prepare briefs on prefiled acquisitions. In doing so, I examine the acquisition at hand and look at a variety of indicators (like the firms' market share of the industry or work related to government contracts for example) in order to assess the overall threat. Unfortunately, due to the confidential nature of the CFIUS cases, I cannot divulge any specific details on any of the cases I have worked on. I realized that most of the cases contain proprietary business information which is why they cannot be shared.

However, as time has gone on, I find each case to be unique and complex in its own way and in the end, they each turn out to be very important because of their potential impact on national security. So far I have prepared two briefs on prefiled acquisitions, and I am looking forward to doing more.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Site Visit from Professor Park

So the semester appears to be winding down and so it became that time for Professor Park to stop by and do a site visit at my office. Professor Park coordinates all of the internships for credit within the economics department at AU. In doing so, he reviews my work at my internship in order to make an assessment on my progress over the semester. As such, he comes to visit each student at their respective office and see what we each do firsthand.

Of course, the day that Professor Park visited my office seemed like the busiest day this semester. He was to arrive at around 11:30 and I was going to pick him up at Federal Triangle metro stop-- a few quick steps from my building. I realized I had gotten very involved with my work and hadn't been paying attention to the time. Soon enough it was 11:25 so I raced over to the metro to pick him up. It was important that I do this because, in order to access the building, Professor Park would need an escort to obtain permission to enter the building. Two metal detectors and 2 baggage scans later we were in. I took him up to see my boss-- Eric Longnecker-- so they could meet and talk a little bit more in-depth about what SIES does. After they met, Mr. Longnecker brought him over to my desk and I showed him some of the projects I had completed that day. I also got to explain what all of those were because just hearing the term "armament agreements" or "offsets" usually doesn't make much sense at first. Good thing I had been busy-- I had a lot to show him! As I was walking him out I started to talk with him about how the offsets report has changed over the years, about its practical application and about what we have been doing to improve it more recently. After that I escorted him out of the building and down the street to the national mall so he could relax a bit until his next site visit that day.

And that was about it. Otherwise, for the academic credit portion of my internship Iwill complete a somewhat lengthy paper describing the substance of my internship and then my supervisor will complete an evaluation on my work. Fingers crossed I do ok!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Latest Efforts: Assessing Armament Agreements

The majority of my time lately has shifted away from offsets since the report has been submitted. Since that time, I have spent most of my days at the office examining the feasibility of proposed DoD armament agreements. To explain this in greater depth, I think I will begin by explaining what an armament agreement is and how SIES is relevant to these agreement.

Essentially, a DoD component (e.g. Department of the Army, Department of the Air Force, etc.) will submit a proposal for some kind of agreement with a foreign entity-- usually a Minstry of Defense from overseas. The agreement could be for any number of tasks-- all somehow contributing to the advancement of DoD programs. They could simply be the proposal for the exchange of information or for the development new weaponry, aircraft, etc. DoD seeks concurrence from our office in this process. Our job is to assess the potential U.S. industrial base impact of the agreement and any export control implications of the agreement.

It is more difficult to understand this in abstract so I will give you an example. Let's say that the Army was interested in creating an information exchange agreement with the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence regarding the research of a helicopter. We will go on to examine the proposed information exchange. Is the information being exchanged in accordance with the ITAR? Is top-secret, secret information being shared? What costs are associated with it-- are they equitable? All of these are questions (among others) that we pose and analyze based on the proposal.

My first armament agreement was by far the most complicated strictly because of the number of countries participating in the agreement. Normally, there is 1 (maybe 2) proposed foreign partner. In this case, there were 27. Needless to say, there were far more issue areas to be considered, and far more time needed to assess the agreement.

So I will make my assessment, draft the review and send it in for approval/edits. Thus far, I think I have drafted reviews of 10 agreements. And at the pace they keep coming in at... I think I will have a lot more in no time!

A Welcoming Feeling...

Well, just this week I had to opportunity to meet with Matt Borman, as I had mentioned in my last posting. I knew the meeting wouldn't be long but I was excited at the opportunity to meet such a busy and high-ranking official within my Department. One of the analysts at my office escorted the other intern and I down to his office. We passed him in the hallway as we made our way down to his office as he was off to make one last stop before we could see him. He approached Victor and I right away to introduce himself. I found him particularly cordial and welcoming. He quickly returned and we had some time to discuss what he had been working on at SIES thus far and he went on to discuss his role and how he even got involved with BIS in the first place. All in all, I would say it was a good meeting and everytime I have walked by Mr. Borman since, he always makes a point to say hello. It definitely gives a more welcoming feel to what is the largest office building in Washington DC.

As it turns out, Mr. Borman told Victor and I that he worked with a man named Jim Jochum, who worked under the Clinton Administration there at Commerce. As he said the name, I stopped for a second and realized it was an old professor of mine from sophomore year. There are so many people within the AU community working in the government-- I really had no idea. The analyst who escorted us to Mr. Borman's office, Lani, actually did her graduate work at AU as well. Just another connection that made Commerce feel more familiar.

Victor introduced me to another AU student currently interning at BIS named Nick. It's nice to meet other interns at the office-- if not only for the networking, it makes lunch much more fun!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Onto New Things...

Well, thankfully the offsets report is finally complete. After waiting from a report from DoD called " DoD Purchases of Manufactured Items –Fiscal Year 2008”) I was finally able to gather the last bit of datathat I needed to finish chapter 5. And least the draft is anyhow. It will still have to move through the Department of Commerce to get signedoff. All in all, the work is done; it’s just a matter of waiting on bureaucracy at this point.
Another thing I have forgotten to mention before is the work I have been doing for something called “NAMSA” also known as NATO Management and Supply Agency. NAMSA’s primary task is “to assist NATO nations by organizing common procurement and supply of spare parts and arranging maintenance and repair services necessary for the supportof various weapon systems in their inventories.”

Primarily, my role in working with NAMSA to in processing requests ofeligibility. NAMSA will request information to my office on differentfirms and their eligibility to compete on a NAMSA procurement. This iswhere I get down to business. They will submit a list of firms to me. After receiving the list I will check to make sure that they arelegitimate. The first step to do is to examine their company’swebsite. Some firms unfortunately that are looking to compete on aNAMSA procurement are sometimes too small to have a website—they couldoperate with just 3 people. Needless to say, this is cause for greaterresearch. The next thing I do is search for news related toeach firm. Should they have articles on winning government contracts,it’s a good sign. No articles could be a problem. After that, I go on to check the “Excluded Parties List System”. That is a “WorldWide Web site is provided as a public service by General Services Administration (GSA) for the purpose of efficiently and convenientlydisseminating information on parties that are excluded from receiving Federal contracts, certain subcontracts, and certain Federal financialand nonfinancial assistance and benefits, pursuant to the provisions of31 U.S.C. 6101, note, E.O. 12549, E.O. 12689, 48 CFR 9.404, and each agency's codification of the Common Rule for Nonprocurement suspensionand debarment.” In lament’s terms, it means that I am searching through a GSA database to make sure that none of the interested firms have been barred from doing business with the U.S. government. Should there be any issues, I would notify NAMSA accordingly.

The next few weeks should be interesting because I have an appointmentto meet with the Acting Assistant Secretary for Export Administration, named Matt Borman. I’m quite excited to get to meet with such a high-ranking official in my office. I will also be joined by the otherintern at SIES—Victor. He just started a little bit ago and seems quite nice. I will let you know how the meeting goes!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Settling In

Well, I have officially been at work for about a month now so I have started to really settle in. At the very least I am proud of myself for finally being able to maneuver the seemingly endless corridors in the building. I've been continuing working on the Offsets report that I mentioned earlier. I've begun the final chapter which is strictly about the impact of offsets on the Defense Industrial Base. So far I have finished 2 of the 7 data sets necessary to complete it. I really am crunching the numbers! And let me tell you, there are a lot of them.

Here and there I have begun helping out working on something called COOP which refers to "Continuity of Operations". Basically this is contingency planning so the government has backup in the event of a disaster. In short, backing everything up ensures that regardless of whatever is going on in the world, the operations of the government remain intact and functioning. I have simply been updating COOP procedure and backing stuff up in case of an emergency. Won't lie, it's not as interesting as writing the offsets report but I know at least what I am doing is useful to DOC.

I'm changing up my schedule this week because I am headed to Oklahoma for Fall break. I'd be missing one of my normal days but luckily my supervisor is flexible and didn't mind that I worked a half day here and there to make it up. Everyone seems to be pretty easy-going about letting me focus on schoolwork during exams, and adjusting my schedule as necessary.

Another intern in my department starts tomorrow, his name is Victor. I was surprised at how late he would be starting compared to me but I am excited to meet him. There aren't too many young people there so it will be nice to see a new face!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Uhh, what's an "offset"?

When I initially read the internship listing on AU's CareerWeb, the ad had mentioned "reporting annually to Congress on offsets in defense trade". And I'll be the first to admit that at first glance, I had no idea what that was really-- I thought to myself, "Uhh, what's an 'offset'?"

Naturally for my interview this was something I was going to have to learn about and be at least a bit well versed in. So of course I got down to research. Well as it turns out that offsets are the practice by which the award of contracts by foreign governments or companies is exchanged for commitments to provide industrial compensation. In the context of defense this could mean mandatory co-production, licensed production, subcontractor production, technology transfer, and foreign investment.

So how is this important at all?-- Well it's critical from a national security standpoint and when it comes to influencing foreign policy. It could increase the industrial capabilities of allied countries, standardize military equipment, and modernize allied forces. Suddenly, I started to get reminded of my days at DHS. Okay, so then I started to understand the relevance of these so-called "offsets". Information about these offsets eventually gets compiled into a report and sent to Congress. And apparently I was going to be doing that.

Well I thought that might mean I'd be making copies of the report. Standing over a Xerox machine or binding the reports, perhaps? Of course, I'm just an intern after all, right? Wrong. While the Bureau has a template of how the report is to be written, I'd be editing the report and crunching the numbers in it. I'd be helping write an actual report to Congress. I thought that was pretty cool.

So then came the day that I had to learn to do it. One of the analysts who usually writes the report was showing me to how assess data from the tables for a few minutes and then I was off. Much of the report was able to stay the same in terms of language but all the data would be different. Some of the calculations were a bit difficult to manage. And of course getting all of the data from DoD and the Census Bureau was a bit time-consuming. Soon though I got to plugging numbers and after awhile I had finished Chapters 1-4 of the Report. I think when I head back into the office on Friday I'll begin writing up Chapter 5. The finalized version will be out by the end of the year I think, so feel free to check out my handy work!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

My first week of work!

It felt like it had been forever since my interview this summer. During the interim I had completed all of the required paperwork and went back to the Hoover Building to get finger printed. Finally though, the day had come for me to start work on Tuesday!

I woke up much earlier than I was used to since classes started and of course our coffee maker was broken but I think that first-day excitement was what managed to keep me awake all day. All in all, I would say I had a great first day of work. I got my badge at the Security office first thing and then I was off to the third floor to SIES to begin working. Unfortunately when I had arrived most of the people within my office were out at mandatory training all morning but I met them around lunchtime. Everyone was so warm and friendly. As far as actual work goes, I started working on something called CFIUS-- basically it looks at acquisitions of U.S. companies by foreign ones and how that will impact the U.S.' defense industrial base. So let's say Airbus was to buy Boeing-- we would review that and study its potential impact on the U.S. defense industry. For an economics major, it's actually really interesting.

Later I got to meet the Director of all of SIES which I really appreciated. Her name is Karen and she was very approachable and down to earth. I have to say that it was nice for her to schedule time to meet with me-- some employers just look as interns as little underlings that don't merit any attention so it gave me a great first impression of SIES in general. Later on she invited me to a roundtable discussion on the Bureau of Industry and Security with the European Communities. There were economic advisors from most of the embassies there and members of the EU Commission as well. I had never expected to attend something like that on the first day! I was one of two interns in the entire room so I felt very privileged to attend. All in all, not a bad day :)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Interview Day... Not what I had expected.

Every job I have had since I was 15, aside from a brief 2-week stent in retail, has been in an office somewhere. I have done internships in defense contracting, human resources, administration, government, legal research... you name it. I felt like I was shopping around the workplace for a field that best fit my interests.

After searching through the many listings on American University's career web, I came across a position that perked my interest-- an internship at the Department of Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security. As an economics and international studies major at AU, I thought this position could serve as a nice marriage of my academic pursuits and so I eagerly applied. A few short weeks later, I had heard back from the Department and they wanted to schedule an interview with me. Finally a job in economics... I would be landing the perfect internship. I wanted to ace this interview.

A few days thereafter, I was on my way to the Hebert Hoover Building for my interview. Naturally, I was a bit jittery but I had left early so I wouldn't run into any trouble. Before I continue though, I should warn you before you read on that this post isn't about how to give the perfect answers at an interview; it's about the importance of maintaining your composure.

Well, here I was crossing K Street toward the metro. I could see the crosswalk flashing up ahead: 21 seconds. I knew I didn't have the time to make it up to the corner to cross so I just ran across the street and got to the curb without problem. As I made it to the other side, praticing potential answers in my head, I heard a scream and a loud thud. I turned to my right to see a woman getting hit by a commercial truck in the middle of the crosswalk. My jaw dropped. Everyone stopped. I felt like I was in a movie.

There she laid on the ground, motionless. And there we all stood in shock. All of the papers she had been holding had floated down to the ground and people then began checking to see if she was OK. After making sure the ambulance was on its way, I headed down to the metro. People just a block away at McPherson Square had no idea what had just happened. Neither did the interviewers in the Hebert Hoover building.

Here I had planned to review my resume on the metro and instead all I could think about was that poor woman. My ability to focus was gone. Luckily, when I arrived for my interview (miraculously on time) they weren't ready to see me yet. As I sat in the lobby stunned. I breathed. Should I tell them? Would they even believe me if I did? I breathed again.

Within a matter of seconds, I had decided that I should not reveal the incident to my interviewers. It would only serve to distract me from the interview itself. I then pulled out practice interview questions and my resume and started to go over them. Shortly thereafter, an analyst came to escort me to my interview. So my advice is this: no matter how prepared you think you may be, always set aside a few minutes to compose yourself before an interview. It's a lot more important than you may ever realize.