A summer interning at The Heritage Foundation has given two Ashbrook Scholars an exciting introduction to the fast-paced world of Washington think tanks. Christopher Goffos and Joe Griffith, both rising seniors, were among 67 students selected from across the country to participate in a ten-week Young Leaders internship program. The interns are placed in a variety of offices at the research and educational organization where they are given serious responsibilities and acquire marketable skills and policy expertise.
Heritage works to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Located just two blocks from the Capitol building, Heritage aims its message first of all at Congress—at the elected officials who make our laws and their staff—while also informing executive branch policymakers, the news media, and the academic and public policy communities.
Griffith, a native of Medina, Ohio, was assigned to Heritage’s Center for Principles and Politics. This department focuses on educating policymakers and citizens on the first principles of American government. “It provides a foundation that the rest of Heritage can stand on,” Griffith explains. “We ask the question, ‘Why?—Why are we conservatives? Why do we believe the things we do?’ We defend the Founding and bring to mind the principles of the Founding.” Among the initiatives of this office is the Heritage Congressional Fellowship program, which offers weekly luncheon presentations to Capitol Hill staffers; Griffith helped to administer this event.
He was given short-term research projects that were quickly put to use in opinion pieces written by Heritage staff. “After the Supreme Court issued its decision on California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, my boss (David Azerrad, the Associate Director of the Center) asked me to gather all the reactions from celebrities and politicians who celebrated the decision as in line with the Declaration of Independence. A week later, I saw that Azerrad had published an article in National Review Online that quoted what I had given him. I got to see the tangible effect of what I did.”
Griffith spent the bulk of his time on a larger research project: investigating “the administrative state—how executive agencies promulgate rules.” These agencies, Griffith notes, can be seen as a fourth branch of government that the Founders never envisaged, who write an ever-growing list of regulations that reach deeply into American life. To learn about this process and the extent to which elected officials are able to supervise it, Griffith has “spent lots of time studying Title 5 of the US Code, looking at executive orders, and reading law review articles on the subject.” Griffith’s research, which suggests the agencies are “unaccountable and operating on auto-pilot” will help Azerrad produce a monograph explaining how the administrative state departs from the Founders’ design for our Constitutional system.
Goffos, who came to Ashland from Cortland, Ohio, interns in the department of online communications, doing updating and maintenance for the main website for Heritage. “I edit pages to make sure they look good, rebuild sites that need that, and post the Center’s reports online when they are ready to be published.” Like Griffith, Goffos works with two other interns doing similar work for the department where he is assigned. Unlike his friend, he had to acquire a completely new skill, learning the essentials of website design, before he could become productive. Heritage staff “took the trouble to train us. The learning curve was pretty steep at first, but after that it has been smooth sailing.”
Just as interested as Griffith in conservative policy ideas and the principles that underlie these, Goffos looks forward to weekly special events organized by Heritage for its interns. Some involve policy briefings. “A scholar on the Center’s staff will brief us on Heritage’s stamp on a particular issue and how we, as conservatives, can help bring change. We’ve had briefings on education, entitlements, and foreign policy.” Others are “First Principles” luncheons. “These are almost like Ashbrook classes!” Goffos said. “They are offered by staff in the American Studies and Principles and Politics department, where Joe is interning. They feed us and give us books and articles to read. The first luncheon—just as it would be in the Ashbrook program—was on the Declaration of Independence.” This was followed by a session on the Constitution and another on the Progressive movement. Each session involves a thoughtful conversation about the texts and themes addressed; for the Ashbrook students, it is eye-opening to share this conversation “with students from other programs.”
“Talking to student interns here, I realize that the Ashbrook program is unique, particularly because of our study of primary sources and historical political documents,” Goffos said. “It’s shocking how many other programs don’t ask students to read the Federalist or Thucydides on the Peloponnesian War. In the Ashbrook program, we learn about first principles and about the big ideas behind the conservative movement. I realize how blessed I am to be in a program that really focuses on the conversations behind the ideas and not just the ideas themselves.”
Both Goffos and Griffith appreciate Heritage’s thoughtfully designed internship program, which allows students to learn as much as their time and energy allows. Because Heritage provides housing adjacent to its own offices, interns can easily walk to the National Mall and its Smithsonian museums. Other opportunities abound: “The Heritage Foundation is so well respected that interns get invited to participate in other programs for free. For example, the Leadership Institute in Arlington, which trains future conservative leaders in practical political skills, invited us to its weekend workshops,” Goffos said. Intent on absorbing as much as they can, both students will return to Ashland in the fall with new inspiration to help the nation retain sight of our founding principles.