2014 PFIG Recipient Meghan Cioci

Career Administrator

Meghan Cioci
College of Arts & Sciences
Foreign Affairs & French Major
2015 Graduation Year

Internship: US Department of State, Office of the Secretary of State in Washington, DC.

Notes on the First Week

More than seven months after submitting my application, I finally found myself standing outside the Harry S Truman Building, headquarters of the Department of State, along with a group of fellow interns.  My first day at Main State, located in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington, D.C., was a whirlwind of activities. The day began with a series of welcome speeches and briefings to help all the new interns understand the various functions of the Department of State.  Then, after having my picture taken for my badge, I went up "to the Seventh Floor," where all of the bureaus associated with the Office of the Secretary are located, to meet my new colleagues.  I was immediately overcome by the friendliness, warm welcome and enthusiasm of the team, which is comprised of both Foreign and Civil Service Officers.  The office in which I am interning, the Executive Secretariat (AKA the "Line"), is a high-paced office that supports the Secretary's official travel and appearances and manages the flow of information for the Secretary of State, the other principals at the Department of State, the White House and foreign interlocutors.  While the process of applying for a DoS internship begins early and involves a lengthy security clearance process if selected, I can already say with certainty—after just one week—it was well worth the wait!

Because the Department of State, and particularly the office in which I am working, sees a heavy turnover during the summer months, I work a shift schedule and fulfill many of the duties of a normal "Line" management specialist.  This week I was paired up with various Line management specialists, to learn, hands-on, about the day-to-day functions and operations of this office.  Beginning next week, I will be assigning and monitoring the preparation of policy papers for the Secretary of State, other Department principals, and the White House on my own.  I will be responsible for ensuring papers are timely, well-written, and fully coordinated.  

Looking forward, I am excited to  assist  in future domestic events held by the Secretary of State, as well as aid in the process of creating a trip book for the of the other principals officers, which would include tasking out assignments to all related State Department bureaus. Furthermore, the Department of State has a great network of mentors, and I have set myself the goal of meeting with at least two of those mentors throughout the summer to inform myself about the diverse array of career opportunities with the Department.  In addition, my colleagues have encouraged me to take the Foreign Service Officer Test.  I have decided to take the test when it is offered this coming October, and I have set myself the personal goal of preparing myself for it alongside my internship responsibilities this summer. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this entry are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

Midway

It is difficult to believe I am already half-way through my internship; in such a fast-paced, exciting office, the time really does pass quickly.  It would seem the office is confronted with a new task or situation every single day, especially with everything happening in the world right now.  But it is exactly this variety of work that I have loved about my internship thus far.  As this is the office that handles the Secretary of State's travel, many of my colleagues have been out frequently, either advancing the trips or traveling with the Secretary.  It has been interesting to see how fluidly the office works and prepares all such trips – sometimes with very short notice.  I was scheduled to assist on a domestic advance for the Secretary earlier this week, but – as I said, plans and schedules can change with an instant's notice – the Secretary left on a trip abroad.  The event has been rescheduled for next week, and I am really looking forward to seeing the "advance" facet of the office and all of the logistics behind our senior Cabinet Officer's official appearances.  I will follow up on my experience at the event in my next journal entry.

After my first week of training with other Line management specialists, I began processing papers for the Secretary and other Department Principals by myself.  It is fascinating to witness the immense diversity of issues and policies that pass through the Office of the Secretary on a daily basis.  Moreover, in contrast to my previous internship, where I was part of a smaller U.S. mission abroad, I get a really good overview of the entire Department of State structure.  Interning both abroad and domestically for the Department of State has allowed me to better understand how the two components of the Department function together.

In my first entry, I mentioned the Line manages the flow of information for the White House, in addition to the Secretary of State, and the other Department of State principals.  To give a tangible example, when the President or Vice President travels abroad, the Department of State is responsible for preparing all of the papers required for his trip.  In advance of the (Vice) President's trip, the National Security Council (NSC) reaches out to the Office of the Secretary with a “tasker.”  Everyone in my office takes turn managing the taskers, which can include anywhere from forty to well over one hundred documents, including background papers, press material, and building blocks for speeches.  About two weeks ago, my internship supervisor assigned me one of these taskers, which I have since been working on in addition to my normal duties.  The first step of this process involves assigning each paper to the appropriate regional or functional bureau within the Department, all while coordinating with the NSC.  Now that the papers have started coming back from the drafters, I am responsible for assuring each is cleared with all Department of State bureaus (or other governmental agencies) that have an equity, is formatted correctly per White House guidelines, and responds fully to the specifications of the tasker from the NSC – all while assuring its timeliness.  Before beginning this internship, I had not realized the extent of the interconnectedness of the various government agencies, and it has been very rewarding to dabble in Department of State-White House cooperation. 

As I already mentioned, I am planning to take the Foreign Service Officer test this coming October – a decision that has been informed by learning about the experiences of current Foreign Service Officers (FSOs).  Interning in this office has afforded me the opportunity to talk with and get to know many FSOs who have done fascinating work all over the globe.  The majority of the Officers serving in Executive Secretariat are on their third tour, meaning most of them have served at least four years abroad at two different posts before beginning on the Line.  They have served everywhere from Lagos, Nigeria, Rome, Italy, and everywhere in between.  I am grateful to have had the chance to hear about their diverse experiences at our various missions abroad.  Moreover, it has been extremely helpful to speak with many of the Civil Service Officers about their career paths; and has led me to consider civil service as a potential career path, as well. 

Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this entry are my own and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.

 

Final Reflections

The last few weeks of my internship were especially interesting and rewarding. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a domestic event with the Secretary: his talk on U.S.-India relations at the Center for American Progress (CAP). A colleague and I arrived at CAP about two hours before the event was set to start. The security team was already in place, so our job was to ensure that everything was set up correctly, to finalize last-minute details, and to do a walk-through with the hosts of the event to learn what the route we would be walking with Secretary Kerry when he arrived. This gave me a good idea about what it is like when my colleagues are traveling with the Secretary and accompanying him to his various events abroad on what we call “game-day.”

In addition to experiencing a game-day, I participated in two domestic "advances" for the Secretary's participation in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. One of the advances was at the World Bank, where we met with World Bank, White House, United States Trade Representative, and Diplomatic Security staff to do a run-through and finalize the logistical details of the event that was to occur the following week. In addition, I was able to witness the “plane team” facet of the office. My fellow intern and I accompanied the Secretary’s travelling team, which included members of his executive staff, speechwriters, policy advisors, and the team from the Line to the Air Force base from where the plane departs. Once at the base, we toured the Secretary's plane and helped set up his cabin. This allowed me to see how the team operates while traveling; the plane is replete with printers, paper cutters and other supplies—a veritable mobile office—which the team needs in order to finalize all details of the Secretary’s agenda while traveling. Participating in an event with the Secretary, advancing his participation of two U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit events, and viewing the setup of his plane’s mobile office have afforded me a comprehensive glimpse at the functions of the Line external to the duties I had been doing as part of “home team” all summer.

What I appreciated most about my Department of State internship was that I was never thought of as a lowly intern; I was entrusted with the same work as a full-time Line Management Specialist. When the Secretary was traveling and most of the Line Officers and Management Specialists were out preparing various stops of the trip or on plane team, the other intern and I were two of the few people remaining in our office. This meant I was truly able to fill the gap and ensure the office continued to run smoothly. Moreover, I appreciated being surrounded by a group of extremely bright and talented individuals who have dedicated their lives to making a difference in creating a more peaceful, democratic, and just world. Despite the brevity of my stint at the Department of State, I quickly realized the tangible role the Department plays in the lives of U.S. citizens both at home and abroad, as well as the importance of giving back to your community or your nation. I look forward to taking the Foreign Service Officer Test in the coming months, and hope to be able to give back to the country that has provided me so many opportunities and so much personal freedom. Whether or not you choose to dedicate time to a career in the Civil or Foreign Service, I challenge you all to give back in some way to the nation that has afforded you so many opportunities.

To anyone thinking about where to do your next summer internship, I recommend doing an internship with the Department of State without hesitation. You will be entrusted with the responsibility of completing work that truly matters. Furthermore, the Department of State is the premier place to do an internship for those interested in or studying foreign affairs, as it is the sole agency or organization actually crafting our foreign policy on a day-to-day basis as well as planning the United States’ future position on the world stage. At no other agency or organization will you receive such a hands-on look at U.S. foreign policy in-the-making. An internship for State provides a comprehensive look at and an opportunity to think critically about the United States’ role in world affairs. The deadline to apply for Summer 2015 internships is in late October, so apply soon! More information and the application can be found at http://careers.state.gov/intern.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this entry are my own, and not necessarily those of the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. government.