How do you define a policy specialist?

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  Michele Costanza 8 years ago.

  • Author
  • #117760

    Ari Herzog

    I attribute and describe myself as a policy and communications specialist.

    I know what I mean, and some people also know what I mean; but I’m curious if you know what I mean. What does it mean to you when someone calls himself a policy specialist? What are the attributes of that to you?

  • #117768

    Michele Costanza

    Do policy writers in federal agencies work with the subject matter experts at their agencies to write policy? Are policy writers at least expected to have a working knowledge of their agency mission? I have a difficult time understanding how writing policy is a distinct function or task. And how does a recent college grad have the experience to write policy?

  • #117766

    Peter Sperry

    A policy specialist should know the policy development process forward and backward. What are the constitutional, statutory and regulatory requirments which must be met (and they can vary widely). What public notice is required? what are the comment periods? Who has authority to promulgate what types of policies? (I’ve lost count of the nubmer of government executives who have run afoul of appointed or elected officials by exceeding their authority.) Who are the subject matter experts that should be consulted? Will the proposed policy be implementd by management directive, regulatory rulemaking, executive order or legislation? These are just a few of the policy process questions you should master.

    A policy specialist should be able to map a policy development process for a decsion maker that takes them from wild eyed idea to measurable, implementable program. They should also have the ability to quickly (30 days or less) become enough of a subject matter expert in any area to help screen out the more unworkable ideas, identify the current state of knowledge in the area, solicit input from more experienced/trained SMEs, effectively act as a “Devils Advocate” pointing out potential weaknesses in policy proposals, and help the decision maker separate the true SMEs from the wannabes.

    It is not easy and generally requires a fair amount of on the job training to do well. Try spending a few years as aide to an elected official. It will provide the best opportunity to apply policy specialist skills to a wide variety of policy subject areas.

  • #117764

    Michele Costanza

    How does a novice policy writer avoid becoming mostly a technical writer or editor? I have seen policy writers simply edit documents such as changing the word “of” to “for” and still consider that writing policy.

  • #117762

    Peter Sperry

    Good question. I’ve run into more than a few policy writers who are little more than copy editors (although do not discount the potential impact small changes). I would advise an aspiring or even midlevel policy wonk to ask a whole lot of questions before accepting a new job. OPM has not done a steller job of defining the career field and actual on the job repsonsibilities can vary widely. Unfortunately, this also allows some people to climb fairly high on the policy specialist career ladder without ever actually engaging the policy making process. You would be amazed at the number of senior Congressional Liaison officers in federal agencies who get up to the Hill believing that high school cartoon version of how a bill becomes law is actually accurate.

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