November 29, 2012
Robin Lipp is in his third year as a JD/MPP student here at Harvard, and spent last summer working at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Robin had worked for the New York City Law Department the previous summer, and wanted to get more of a policy oriented experience in his second summer (next summer, he hopes to combine the two, possibly through a legal position within a policy oriented non-profit or government office). Despite being a JD/MPP student, much of Robin’s experience would apply to any HLS student interested in law and policy. One main concern that Robin emphasized at the outset is that the job search process is difficult. Legal internships have a much earlier timeline than some policy internships, and waiting to apply for policy positions, sometimes well into the spring semester, may preclude a person from having a legal internship as a fallback. However, Robin went into the process having enough confidence in his desire to work in a policy position that he was willing to wait.
Robin saw an opportunity when one of his professors at the Kennedy School, Jeffrey Liebman, mentioned his positive experiences working at OMB as Executive Associate Director and Chief Economist, and later as Acting Deputy Director. Professor Liebman ended up helping Robin get his summer position there. Robin’s experience is a good reminder of the importance of keeping track of all avenues of connection, especially the professors in an environment like Harvard’s. That connection is as valuable as the more stereotypical networking chore of trying to professionally schmooze with as many people as possible at “networking functions”; a chore which Robin, like many of us, does not enjoy.
While at OMB, Robin had the opportunity to do economic policy work informed by his time at Harvard. He recalled being interested back in Leg Reg in the use of cost-benefit analysis at OMB inside the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which vets federal regulations.
One of Robin’s main assignments at OMB was to research models for implementing evidence-based social policy through federal discretionary grant programs. For instance, he looked at programs such as Social Impact Bonds, also known as “Pay for Success Bonds,” where governments enter into contracts with socially innovative private organizations, but payment is contingent on successful outcomes. Robin sees this as a way to bring together policymakers concerned over social welfare with those who are concerned about government spending. Through this work, Robin joined his colleagues at OMB in meeting with officials from all levels of government to see what programs are out there and learn about the best practices of those programs. He ended up creating an internal website accessible to executive agencies with a guide to different program models in this area.
Robin found his experience at OMB enlightening in terms of how government operates in practice. He is interested in working in New York City government after law school, and feels this federal experience gave him a valuable lesson from both the legal and policy perspectives for any government work. He witnessed firsthand just how many moving parts are involved in government at all levels, and how all those parts necessarily have to interact with one another. His legal background was helpful because every action that a government agency might take has to look to the law to see if that action is even permissible, regardless of its policy merits. A final takeaway: learning all the acronyms involved in any type of government work is on par with learning a foreign language.
Written by 1L Section Representative Aaron Blacksberg.