Archive for the 'Staff Interviews' topic

Five questions for Andrea Acosta, POGO intern

August 9th, 2012

Andrea Acosta joined POGO in June 2012 as an intern. Originally from Houston, TX, Andrea is double majoring in English and philosophy at Stanford, where she writes for the Unofficial Stanford Blog and volunteers at after-school programs. While at POGO, she’s contributed to research on defense sequestration, attended Congressional hearings, and assisted with POGO’s good government project. The Watercooler sat down with Andrea to discuss human rights, public policy, and falling in love with the English countryside.

Watercooler: Why POGO?

AA: I ended up taking human rights classes at Stanford. Human rights aren’t exactly what POGO focuses on, but it got me interested in policy. I was just wanting to learn about the mechanics of everything. I don’t think you necessarily have to be majoring in political science in order to work at or be interested in things that POGO does, because as a citizen of the United States, I think it’s so important that you learn the difficulties of getting a policy through, the process it has to go through, things like that. POGO for me was an opportunity to really learn about public policy and be introduced into the D.C. world and how things work here.

Watercooler: If you had to sum up your experience at POGO in three words, what words would you use?

AA: Educational, because I have learned so much about the policy process here and about good government and accountability—things that were just kind of vague words before I came and now I see as achievable things.

Hilarious. I love all the interns that I work with. I feel like my POGO experience would have been really different without them.

And inspirational, in the sense that POGO has inspired me to continue looking into policy issues and maybe work in nonprofits after college. And just teaching people about what I’ve learned here—how to be a citizen and be in the know about your government—is something that I feel compelled to carry on.

Watercooler: Since you spend most of your time in very hot places, what’s your relationship with snow like?

Andrea Acosta: It’s a very estranged relationship. I have seen snow maybe twice in my life. The first time was when I was really young. I went to Oregon and saw it for like a day. It was really crappy snow; it was frozen and hard. And then our freshman dorms at Stanford do a ski trip every year, so that was my second encounter with the strange, foreign substance.

Watercooler: What one thing you’ve read has influenced you the most? Continue Reading »

Get to know Mary Peng, POGO intern

August 6th, 2012

After living in China, Canada, and New Hampshire, Mary Peng landed in Washington in June 2012 to intern at POGO.  Mary is a rising sophomore at Dartmouth, where she studies economics, French, and public policy and is involved with several campus organizations that deal with international affairs. At POGO, she’s been working closely with investigator Michael Smallberg on research involving financial regulation.

The Watercooler caught up with Mary to chat about how she fits in at POGO, why she plays Ultimate Frisbee, and where she’ll finally settle down in the future.

Watercooler: How did you become interested in interning at POGO?

MP: I actually applied to POGO through a program at my school, and in my application, I said that I’ve been interested in politics because I believe in the power of politics to better the rules that govern our society. Even though there are so many people who are very disappointed with politics and disgusted with it, I feel that there’s so much potential for change for the better. I think when the professors were matching me up with a program that fit, they immediately thought of POGO. I’m also interested in so many different policy branches, and that also fits perfectly with POGO because there are so many different projects in so many different areas, so I’m not limited in just one area.

Watercooler: Do you have a favorite out of all of the places you’ve lived?

Mary Peng: It’s really hard. I think Ottawa and Changsha [China] are definitely two of my favorite cities, but now, having lived in D.C. for one summer, it’s also up there on the list. And then Hong Kong is also one of my favorite places in the world. It’s just so gorgeous. It’s by the sea … and it’s just so bursting with life all the time. I can totally picture myself living there in the future.

Watercooler: We understand you’re interested in development economics. Is there a particular country or region that especially appeals to you? Continue Reading »

Get to Know Jared Dura, POGO Intern

July 30th, 2012

Chesapeake, VA native Jared Dura joined POGO as an intern in May 2012. He attends Virginia Tech, where he majors in Political Science and Legal Studies, minors in Leadership and Social Change, and participates in a wide variety of community service projects on and off campus. At POGO, he’s researched human trafficking by government contractors in addition to investigating good government practices at various federal agencies.

The Watercooler sat down with Jared to discuss the legislative process, fashion, and getting used to the hustle and bustle of D.C.

Watercooler: Tell us what you’ve been working on recently.

Jared Dura: Currently, I’m working on highlighting agencies’ best practices. A lot of what POGO does is exposing corruption and things of that sort, which is cool with what I’m doing because it’s … not focusing on the bad but the good of what government does. I forget the phrase, but it’s something like “Government never gets attention for the things that it does, but it always gets attention for the bad things that it does.” So actually doing this is a really cool project.

Watercooler: What’s something you’ve learned from your time at POGO?

JD: One thing I’ve learned while working at POGO is that everything is interlinked. A policy that you hear proposed then gets implemented into a proposed bill. Then it becomes legislation and just kind of trickles down to the common citizen. It’s really cool to see how you can track the progress of an act or a bill.

Watercooler: What’s the neatest thing you’ve discovered in D.C.?

JD: There’s always something to do in DC. I’ve also noticed that the lifestyle here is very fast-paced compared to what I’m used to. I really like Georgetown. It’s a great place for restaurants. And I also went to a D.C. United soccer game, which was really awesome.

Watercooler: Tell the Watercooler about your clothing company!

JD: I do have a clothing company. We’ve been in the planning stages for about a year or so. The reason I started it is in the past, I’ve worked with other clothing companies, and clothing and fashion in general has always been an interest of mine. We had our first release at the end of last school year, and now we’re actually slated to do our next release in October.

Watercooler: What are you excited about in the upcoming year?

JD: Virginia Tech winning the BCS championship and an undefeated season for the Hokies!

Watercooler:  You play a lot of instruments. What’s one you’d still like to learn?

JD: Well, the way that Andrew [POGO research associate] plays the flute makes me want to pick it up and try one day.

A Chat with Caroline Chevat, POGO Intern

July 19th, 2012

Caroline Chevat joined POGO in May 2012 as an intern. Hailing from Potomac, MD, Caroline attends the University of Michigan, where she’s double majoring in political science and psychology and is heavily involved with the Dance Marathon student-run nonprofit. The Watercooler talked with Caroline about the environment at POGO, her concert addiction, and the difficulties of choosing a favorite cupcake shop.

Watercooler: Having lived in the D.C. area for most of your life and being interested in politics, what made you decide to go to Michigan for college?

Caroline Chevat: I decided to go to Michigan because at that point, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so Michigan, being one of the biggest schools ever, had … a lot of things to choose from. I also just went to visit and fell in love with it, and I also just wanted to get away from the East Coast for a little bit, but my parents weren’t really up for letting me go any further.

Watercooler: Give us a D.C. insider tip—somewhere neat to go that’s not as well-known.

CC: I’m addicted to concerts. I’ve already been to four this summer. The Red Palace [and] the Black Cat are two places that are kind of less known.  And also, Jazz in the Garden is a great thing if you like jazz … that’s at the [National Gallery] Sculpture Garden. And honestly, just walking around and talking to people is kind of the fun part. That’s how you get to know people.

Watercooler: What’s the best part of working at POGO?

CC: I really like the environment here because everyone’s very laid back but very intense about what they do, which I think is a great balance that you don’t find at a lot of places. I never feel afraid to ask questions, whereas in other places, I know my friends might be reluctant to ask or feel like, “Oh, they don’t want to talk to me,” but I know everyone here is willing to help.

Watercooler: What project have you enjoyed working on the most?

CC: What I’ve been working on a lot here is different types of conflicts of interest. For example, I’m doing an FDA [Food and Drug Administration] conflict of interest project, looking at the advisory committees and seeing whether they vote for something based on a conflict of interest they had with a corporation that was producing a competing drug. It’s really interesting to see how you might never know what they were actually thinking at the time, but maybe you can kind of put the pieces together to try to figure it out.

Watercooler: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Continue Reading »

Get to know Andrew Wyner, POGO research associate

July 11th, 2012

Before heading to Harvard for his undergraduate degree, Bethesda, MD native Andrew Wyner decided to spend part of his gap year working at POGO as a research associate. Since January, Andrew has pursued research on contract oversight for a POGO report, written about a Russian defense contractor, and delved into financial oversight issues.

The Watercooler chatted with Andrew about filing Freedom of Information Act requests, learning Italian, and eating Kit Kat bars on top of the world.

Watercooler: Living in Bethesda, what’s it like getting to work?

Andrew Wyner: I am an avid user of the fantastic metro system, and I also take a bus to get to the metro station, so it’s almost an hour commute to work. But I do it because I love POGO.

Watercooler: What made you decide to take a gap year?

AW: I’d been looking into the idea of taking a gap year a lot, and I had some friends who had actually taken gap years in the past and strongly advocated for it, so I started looking into it more seriously and saw some programs that looked really interesting … I was pretty burned out at the end of high school, and there’s nothing like taking a year off to sort of rejuvenate yourself and get to explore new things. I had lived right outside D.C. my entire life and had never done political internships or anything of that sort, even though that was something I was very interested in.

Watercooler: What’s been your favorite project that you’ve worked on at POGO?

AW: My favorite individual blog post would be something I wrote a few weeks ago on Rosoboronexport. Basically, it’s a blog about this Russian contractor that the United States has a $1 billion contract with, and this contractor has contracts with Syria, has done business with Iran, and was sanctioned for four years. Right when we were putting this out, this issue was right at the center of attention of a lot of senators. We were sitting on this article that we had, and we were able to put it out and add new perspective to it.

Right when I started, I filed 100 FOIA requests as part of a project with [former Director of Investigations Nick Schwellenbach]. Since then, Keith [POGO Director of Operations] has referred to me as the FOIA king. … I had no idea about any of that kind of stuff before I got here.

Watercooler: You spent the first part of your gap year in Siena, Italy. What was it like living with an Italian family who spoke no English?

AW: It was very difficult at first. Right when I got there, they spoke literally not a word of English, and I didn’t speak a word of Italian, except for like “pizza,” “spaghetti” … and so all I had was my little guidebook. I was sitting there at dinner with a sticky note flipping through pages for individual words and scribbling them down. We immediately started the third day we were there with classes … because most of us were starting from scratch. Being immersed in the language the way we were—we really tried not to speak much English at least in our houses and in school—it became much easier after the first week. I ended up being able to have great conversations with my family.

Watercooler: What was your favorite place that you visited in Italy?

AW: There’s an area called Cinque Terre. Cinque Terre means “five lands,” and it’s five towns on the Mediterranean coast, and they’re perched up in the mountains. The towns are very colorful, so you can see them from high up, overlooking the sea.

We went there for two days, and the second day, my friend and I just spontaneously took the train to the sixth town, which is way far back, and did a hike from there to the last town. You come over this mountain that sort of sticks out, and you can see all five towns, and you’re 1,500 feet in the air, and you feel like you’re on top of the world. I had a Kit Kat bar, and I was sitting on the top of the world eating my Kit Kat bar. It was an incredible view and just one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen.

Watercooler: How have your experiences at POGO influenced your future plans?

AW: I’m not sure I will eventually go into a career in any kind of politics-related thing. Being here firsthand has given me a really unique perspective into the way D.C. works and this country’s system of politics, but I’m not exactly sure. I have to get through college first. I’m definitely interested in economics. I’m interested in literature. … I’m really excited to just take a wide array of classes and see where my interests fall.

Get to know Mia Steinle, POGO investigator

July 2nd, 2012

Although new to POGO, Mia Steinle is no stranger to investigative work. A native of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, Mia studied journalism at American University before joining their nonprofit Investigative Reporting Workshop in 2009. She came to POGO in Sept. 2011 and has contributed substantially to a report on the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement—Nuclear Facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as POGO’s overall research on nuclear and energy policy.

The Watercooler sat down with Mia to talk about settling in at POGO, feminism, and what toppings belong on an ideal pizza.

Watercooler: How did you go from studying journalism in college to investigating nuclear policy at POGO?

Mia Steinle: What we do here is very similar to investigative journalism. I don’t have a background in nuclear weapons or in science, but I approach it the same way I would approach any journalistic project in that you just have to start at the beginning and learn about it. The nice thing here is that because I’ve been focusing on one topic, I’ve been able to build up my knowledge in a way that I wouldn’t if I were working for a daily paper covering a lot of different things.

Watercooler: What’s been your most interesting project thus far?

MS: Well, the first big project I worked on was a project I inherited, which was the report about the proposed nuclear facility in New Mexico, and that became a jumping-off point for a lot of stuff I’m doing now. But to start working here and immediately have this half-written report given to me … I came in with a huge learning curve. It was difficult, but I feel like it was the best way to just get right into it.

Watercooler: What do you do when you’re not at POGO? Continue Reading »

Get to Know Suzie Dershowitz, POGO’s Public Policy Fellow

April 19th, 2012

Suzie Dershowitz is the most recent fellow to join POGO, and she’s working on public policy issues with Angela Canterbury, the Director of Public Policy. Suzie graduated in 2010 from University of California, Berkeley with a degree in political science. Since coming to POGO, Suzie has already gotten plenty done on the Hill: she’s helped shine a light on the defense budget, advocated for the STOCK Act and pushed for more oversight of service contracting.

The Watercooler spoke to Suzie about traveling, roast chicken, and of course, public policy.

Watercooler: What made you decide to come back to the District after attending college at Berkeley?

Suzie Dershowitz: After graduating I first moved to New York City for an international affairs internship at a U.N. watchdog organization. I quickly realized that although I love the Bay Area, New York and D.C. had more to offer in terms of jobs I found interesting. Since I grew up in D.C., it has been an easy transition back to the East Coast. I miss the mountains and the beach, but ultimately my interest in government and policymaking is what brought me back to the District.

Watercooler: What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

SD: I like going to concerts, being outside (camping, hiking, etc.), and reading lots of news. I also love movies—I just recently discovered E Street Cinema and they have a great selection of independent films.

Watercooler: What is your favorite place you have traveled to?

SD: This is tough. I studied in England at Oxford for a couple months and really enjoyed it, but I would probably have to say Istanbul, Turkey. I was only there for one day and I want to go back to explore more of the city.

Watercooler: How did you become interested in public policy?

SD: I come from a family with strong progressive social values, so I became engaged early on. I registered voters for the 2004 Presidential election and that was eye-opening. I became increasingly interested at Berkeley—I majored in Political Science and took public policy courses through the Goldman School like “Wealth and Poverty” with Robert Reich.

Watercooler: Do you have a strange/special/secret talent?

SD: I can make a great roast chicken, and I like to think I am good at Scrabble.

A Moving Story: Keith Rutter Discusses POGO’s New Office

February 23rd, 2012

POGO is just now settling into our new office on the fifth floor of 1100 G Street NW. We moved to the space on December 20, after spending five years on the ninth floor. The new space is the result of the great office-hunt of 2011, which spanned over 30 different spaces in the Washington, DC metro area. Ultimately, we decided there really is no place like home (POGO used to occupy the fifth floor before we moved to the ninth floor).

The Watercooler recently spoke with Keith Rutter, POGO’s Chief Operations Officer about renovating the space, POGO’s mission, and the plight of the new dishwasher. Find a video with photos of the new space below!

Watercooler: Did POGO have an “aha” moment, when we realized we needed more space?

KR: When we moved, we were busting at the seams—and had been for a while. We didn’t have enough work spaces or desks for folks, especially over the summer, when we tend to have a lot of interns at POGO.

Watercooler: How is the new office an upgrade from the old one?

KR: The building provided money to work with an architect and general contractor to renovate the space, which was our first opportunity to do so. The architect took some of POGO’s publications and looked at our website, and came back with the idea of designing the office around an “open government” theme. That’s what led to our current open office design. We rarely have closed-door meetings because our office culture is to work very collaboratively. [POGO Executive Director] Danielle Brian and I, who have always shared an office, don’t even have a door now.

Watercooler: How did POGO take cost efficiency into account?

KR: We always try to wear two hats—one being fiscally conservative with our contributions, and the other being relatively professional. Members of Congress and congressional staffers visit us, as well as funders. With that in mind, we wanted to portray an image that reflects our work. POGO celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2011 and we wanted our space to reflect our history and where we hope to go for the future. We were able to use reclaimed barn wood instead of regular drywall on some walls in the office so it allowed us to save money, open up the office, and give the place a warmer feel. The office has energy-efficient lighting and the kitchen bar is made of recycled metal. Some recycled items were too costly, but we do feel good about the office being significantly more environmentally-friendly and we came in within our budget.

On a side note, our architects are going to be entering POGO in an architectural contest for most economically designed space. We take that as a badge of honor in terms of being fiscally conservative.

Watercooler: Why is there a television monitor in the front room?

KR: The architects, in studying our program work, thought that our videos are some of POGO’s most dynamic sources of information. They really thought it was important to have a monitor in the reception area that could have some of our videos playing, so that new people who visit the office could be drawn into our work very quickly. We were able to buy it as part of our build-out budget—the money given to POGO by the building to renovate our new space.

Watercooler: Do you think the new dishwasher is going to cause more kitchen squabbles, or less?

KR: I think that after an adjustment period, it will cause less. However…there will be an adjustment period.

See photos of our new space in the video below!

Five Questions with Andre Francisco: Communications Associate

December 16th, 2011

Andre “3000” Francisco is POGO’s Communications Associate. He makes awesome videos and podcasts for POGO, writes for the blog, is a Tumblr extraordinaire, and solves technical problems that stump the rest of the communications team. He hails from the frigid land of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and graduated from Northwestern in 2009 with a degree in journalism. The Watercooler caught up with Andre about journalism, weird food, and gallivanting through foreign countries.

Watercooler: So you’ve taught English in both South Korea and Hungary—can you tell us about it?

AF: I taught English in Seoul for one year and in Sarkad, Hungary for six months. Both experiences were very different—Seoul is a giant city, and I was at a small private school. In Hungary, I was in a rural town working in a public school. I learned a lot—in Hungary for example, it was difficult to explain the concept of racism to Hungarian seniors. We were studying Martin Luther King and civil rights, and they didn’t grasp why it was important. I tried to connect it to the large Romani population that is discriminated against in Hungary. In Korea, most of my stories are about kids coughing into my mouth.

Watercooler: Interesting…do you have a favorite Korean food?

AF: There’s this Korean chain called Red Mango. If you get your frozen yogurt to-go, they tape a little pouch of dry ice on top of your frozen yogurt, so sometimes, the yogurt freezes on the inside of the container. Then, you can combine it with hot water from spigots that are in 7/11. And you end up with your own foaming fog thing on the street.

Watercooler: Do you have a favorite Korean restaurant in the DC area?

AF: There’s a place called Honey Pig in Annandale, Virginia. It’s authentic in all the right ways, which means it mainly has bad Yelp reviews. The menu is permanently on sale, and they serve intestines.

Watercooler: You started your own blog about the homeless population in Chicago—how did you get the idea?

It started as a class project. I reported on the different kinds of services available to the homeless in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Then, I did another class project about Chicago’s homeless being outsourced to Indiana. So after I went to Elkhart, I started my blog. In my free time, me and a photographer for Do 1 Thing hung out with a 19-year-old homeless man. Homelessness in the U.S. is an important topic, and the homeless have interesting, unique stories to tell.

Watercooler: You have a lot of nicknames at POGO—what’s your favorite?

AF: Kimchi boy is not my favorite. I like the ever-changing aspect of Thacker’s—I started at Andre 2000, but after I helped him with technical problems, I got up to Andre 25,000.