How does the US government really work - the fun version?
March 6, 2016 8:57 PM   Subscribe

What are fun ways to learn how various parts of the current US federal government work and get things done? As a federal employee, I'm curious to get a better picture of my gigantic complex employer and millions of coworkers. For example, this might be learning about interactions between congresspeople, how White House projects happen, or how a particular agency works. This could be a documentary, a book, a movie or TV show, an academic journal article, a formal training of some kind, or something else.

Examples of the range of resources that I've appreciated hearing about:

* The trainings offered by the Georgetown University Government Affairs Institute, such as the Congressional Operations Seminar.
* My friend suggested watching the "Big Block of Cheese Day" episode of The West Wing.
* The US Government Manual's org chart.

I'd like to learn about both how things are supposed to work and the informal systems that fill in the gaps in real life. I'm most interested in understanding how things work in the present day, rather than about early history. Fictional works can be helpful if they have some element of truth. I'm less interested in things about presidents and elections (more interested in things about the president's staff and the Federal Election Commission). Things I'm not really interested in would include House of Cards, for example.

This is mostly for my curiosity, so things like "here's a surprisingly cool 10 minute documentary on YouTube about the people of the Office of Management and Budget" are more likely to be directly helpful than "this is the most amazing 500 page book about the USDA". But also, if something can be paid for out of my work training budget (such as a formal training offered in San Francisco or DC), I can consider that kind of thing. Thanks!
posted by dreamyshade to Education (3 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Federal agencies have official policy and directives that say what they are supposed to do. It's the field handbooks that tell workers how they're supposed to get it done. Those handbooks are like the difference between architectural design and job site construction labor. You might have a look on line for them.

The National Wildlife Refuge System has been in the news a lot recently, how about learning what their mission and goals are? You can follow the FWS on Facebook to see what they're doing this week. I'm biased toward the activities of the NRCS and related offices. Is that the kind of fun stuff you're looking for? Are you in an agency that has Field Ops Handbooks or Guides (FOG)? The USAID FOG has everything you might want to know about federal disaster response.
posted by X4ster at 10:07 PM on March 6, 2016

Would you be interested in sitting down and talking with people working in other federal agencies? I might be able to coordinate that if you'd like. My email address is in my profile.
posted by X4ster at 10:29 PM on March 6, 2016

Rolling Stone has a great piece from 2005, titled Inside the Horror Show that is Congress which I think is exactly what you're looking for, at least for Congress.

It follows a day in the life of Bernie Sanders (yes, that Bernie Sanders, but well before any presidential aspirations) as he goes to committees and works on a couple amendments to some bills. As the author puts it, it's "like an evil, adult version of Schoolhouse Rock".
posted by losvedir at 2:40 AM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

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