CY 20XX Proposed Congressional Fellowship Program Billets
In previous issues of the Gazette, several authors have described the Marine Corps Congressional Fellowship Program, providing a thorough program description and enumerating what this investment provides to the Marine Corps. Through the program, the Marine Corps benefits from placing Marines in the offices of Members of Congress, and the Members benefit from having active duty and Reserve Marines, almost all with recent deployed experience, in their offices, helping to provide insight and assist in shaping legislation. While the program works extremely well, an issue lies in how the Marine Corps employs this investment and tracks former fellows for potential future employment. This article discusses the need for an additional congressional affairs MOS, and the requirement for proper fellow employment during their payback tour.
The Congressional Affairs MOS
As Marines embark on various billets throughout their careers, they undoubtedly gain significant experience. Billets served in their primary MOS sharpen proficiency and increase capacity. As Marines progress, however, they rotate to billets outside of their primary MOS, providing Marines the opportunity to excel in billets beside their normal job progression. Many of these billets require a skill-designating additional MOS due to their unique skill set and need for the Marine Corps to track and potentially reemploy Marines in that MOS. Examples include drill instructors, recruiters, and planners. Despite its selection and training process and the potential need to reemploy them, Marines who serve as congressional fellows are not awarded an additional MOS.
But why should the Marine Corps create yet another MOS for a seemingly niche qualification? First, the skill set required to understand congressional affairs develops with experience and is not one that a Marine can just “walk into” and expect to be useful to the Marine Corps. A year working for a Member of Congress following formal education on the topic provides the Marine with unique skills and experiences that they bring back to the Marine Corps. Second, creation of a congressional affairs MOS creates a population for Manpower to track and, when needed, call upon to fill a future legislative affairs billet. Finally, creation of the MOS provides a gaining commander a baseline of knowledge they can expect from an inbound Marine; this includes Marines reporting to a command to fill a congressional affairs billet and other Marines in the command possessing the MOS who can be called upon to assist with duties such as testimony preparation or legislative policy clarification. As it would be required for these Marines to stay current on legislative issues, little difference exists between this and the Marine serving in the S–1 (personnel) who is a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor. Arguments against this point stem from the belief that any Marine can fill the billet; however, many Marines quickly find themselves overwhelmed, or the position is not used to its full potential.
Despite the described need, any skill-designating MOS requires a qualification to “earn” that MOS. In the case of a congressional affairs MOS, elements comprising this qualification track currently exist and consist of two parts: the congressional fellowship and the legislative studies certificate. The first element requires selection to, and successful completion of, a congressional fellowship in a Senate or House of Representatives Member’s office. The second part is not so obvious and requires further explanation. Currently, following a Marine’s selection to the congressional fellowship and prior to placement in a Member’s office, fellows must complete a 3-month orientation course hosted by the Government Affairs Institute, Georgetown University. Completion of the orientation course satisfies all current mandatory education requirements. However, the orientation is only the first in a three-tier certificate program, and the entire program could be made mandatory for awarding of the MOS. After satisfactory completion of the 5 additional classes (taking roughly 1 year to 18 months to complete), the Marine earns a certificate in legislative studies. These two parts of the qualification track prove more than suitable to result in the awarding of a congressional affairs MOS.
Employment of Fellows
Creation of a congressional affairs MOS underlines its importance as a skill, but fellow employment remains the more critical issue. Despite best intentions, many former fellows have not been employed in a legislative affairs billet for their utilization tour. They reach their gaining commands only to be assigned to a nonlegislative task. Failure to properly employ former fellows represents a misuse of the knowledge gained and time spent on Capitol Hill. In fact, MarAdmin 519/10 states:
Fellows are also assigned a two year follow-on utilization tour that leverages their legislative experience. Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA), in conjunction with Manpower and Reserve Affairs (M&RA), will assist with utilization placement.1
The MarAdmin is nested with Department of Defense Instruction 1322.06 that notes that, “there should be an immediate follow-on utilization tour and/or assignment to which the Service member shall be assigned upon completion of the fellowship.”2 A caveat exists that notes how Services can waive the utilization tour if required. Perhaps full utilization is the goal, but that does not represent the reality for all former fellows.
So why should the Marine Corps look to employ their fellows in legislative billets once they have completed their fellowship? Is it imperative that these fellows are used in commands in a legislative role? The Marines in OLA do an amazing job of engaging Congress on a daily basis, informing them of Marine Corps presence around the world, as well as policy and program updates. However, while OLA represents the daily face of the Marine Corps on Capitol Hill, anytime a Member visits an installation to see training or facilities, travels overseas to theater to visit Marines, or comes planeside to greet returning or deploying troops, there should be a congressional affairs Marine there responsible for ensuring the success of the visit. This burden should not reside solely on OLA, as payback tours for fellows exist for that purpose.
Presenting the need and identifying a requirement is important; however, with an issue there must be a solution. In this case, altering personnel assignments and line numbers constitutes a challenge, but identifying potential billets is not. Given 1 year in the fellowship and the 2-year utilization tour, 45 billets represent the total requirement. This number includes 15 current fellows and 30 serving their utilization tours. A 15-in and 15-out cycle ensures relevance and consistent turnover. The recommended breakdown is outlined in Figure 1. Several billets on this list do not currently exist. For instance, a legislative billet for Regional Command (Southwest) (RC(SW)) does not exist at this time. Many may question its utility, but all RCs, save RC(SW), employ a legislative liaison.
Many Marines argue that congressional delegation visits can impede the current mission with time and manpower consumption, and, though that argument is relevant, it is not the point. If a Service does not tell its own story to the decisionmakers in Congress, someone else is more than willing to step up and tell theirs. Given our historically close relationship with Congress, any action outside of seeking more engagement is the wrong one.
The Congressional Fellowship Program remains a crucial resource for the Marine Corps. It truly allows Marines to immerse themselves in the legislative process and bring that expertise back to the Marine Corps where they are best able to advise and assist commands on pertinent issues. Now is the time to codify that experience in a skill-designating MOS and ensure that there is a logical employment scheme. These two steps will ensure fellows provide the best service and represent the best use of the Marine Corps’ investment.
1. MarAdmin Message 519/10, CY 2012 Congressional Fellowship Program Selection Board, HQMC, Washington, DC, September 2010.
2. Department of Defense Instruction 1322.06, Fellowships, Scholarships, Training with Industry (TWI), and Grants for DoD Personnel, Washington, DC, November 2007, available at www.dtic.mil.