Mr. Johnson Goes to Washington

This article is part of the PPSA Online Magazine
by John Johnson
Volume 7 Number 2 - Winter 1994

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Does everyone use this title when relating a story about someone who goes to Washington, D.C.? I guess there is a good reason for comparison to the classic film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". It starred Jimmy Stewart as a naive and innocent Boy Scout leader who joins the U.S. Congress with the intention of doing good. Then here I am, a naive and innocent nuclear physicist who goes to Washington for the altruistic purpose of righting wrong, fighting injustice and finding a high paying job. (Of course, we also used this title for the story on the 1992 APS meeting.)

John was a wide eyed youth when he first went to Capitol Hill in 1983.

I flew out to Washington in the Spring for the APS Meeting in Crystal City. Raman, Carl and I spent a lot of time taking pictures of Washington on that trip. This time I had a more pressing mission. I had to find a job. My postdoc was about to end, and, although I had an extension for a third year I was getting serious about this. At the beginning of 1994, I had been told by my boss that he wanted to hire me. So I concentrated on work and finding funding sources and not on finding a job. By the summer I realized that I'd been told what I wanted to hear, but I would never get a staff job with this group. So I spent pointless months mailing out resumes to industry. To no avail. By September, I realized that I needed to consider some less common career paths, and became more proactive about this whole job search. It was on this note that I decided to make plans for another trip to Washington. I would attend the fall American Nuclear Society (ANS) meeting and submit my resume to their job bank. I would also begin to do some networking and search Capitol Hill for a staff job.

The job fair registration started on the 13th, so I flew out to Washington on the 12th. I had arranged to meet some friends for dinner, so I drove my rental car to the hotel directly from the airport and checked in. It turned out that there were no non-smoking queens left (so to speak). So I ended up in a room that was smaller, in a smoking wing, with no view and a broken TV set. All-in-all, that didn't really bother me. I wasn't planning on being in the room much this next week, So I changed quickly and met my friends Eric and Devin from Pittsburg for dinner. They drove from Pittsburg, but we figured we couldn't get a parking space easily in Georgetown so we took the Metro to Tinleytown and caught a bus. We settled on Uno's for pizza and spent the evening drinking and talking. Rather than hit the sleezy bars we caught the bus back and watched some Saturday Night Live. There was some band that Eric wanted to see on SNL, and after that I fell asleep. It had been a long day of traveling.

By 3AM I was itching and wheezing. I guess that smoke had made its way into my room from a neighboring room -- but it kept me tossing and turning the rest of the night. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Sure, I didn't enjoy it, but in the morning I went to find the manager to complain. Armed with my inhaler, I gave him my sob story and left with a free upgrade to a nice suite for the week. I didn't complain. It turned out to be a great room and gave me some extra room to spread out and prepare for a really long week.

Most everyone arrived in town on Sunday, so after registering for the job fair several of us went out to dinner at Fasika's in Adams-Morgan. We had a great meal and after stopping off at Ben and Jerry's we went right back to the hotel.

I had a meeting set-up for Tuesday with my Congressman's Administrative Aide to discuss opportunities on the Hill. Because of the big shift in power that came with the election, he had to leave for New Mexico on Tuesday so we moved the meeting up to Monday. He was very helpful and gave me some leads. Afterwards I hit the job fair at the hotel. It was much less helpful. It seems that I am over-qualified or not quite appropriate for all the jobs in the nuclear industry as well as physics. I decided that my best bet, and the most exciting prospect, would be to work hard to find a staff position with Congress.

On Tuesday I set up two meetings on the Hill. These weren't job interviews, but rather informational interviews. I met with an aide from Senator Domenici's office and another from Congressman Bob Walker's staff. I thought that my best bet would be to target the Science, Space and Technology Committee. Afterwards I hurried back to the hotel to catch Senator-elect Rod Grams, who was on a panel discussing the nuclear industry. I made sure to introduce myself and give him a business card after the panel finished. He told me to contact the transition office once it was set up.

One of my favorite malls in the D.C. area is the Pentagon City Mall. The main reason for this is that the Metro stops there. So it's convenient. The other reason is that it's got everything, including a Nordstrom's. This just happens to be my favorite place to buy dress shirts. So I bought a new dress shirt with red pinstripes and a tie. Tomorrow I would hit up the other job banks and places like the Herritage Foundation.

Wednesday was an eventful day. I caught the Metro to the South Capitol stop and started to hand out resumes. I dropped one off at the House Republican Study Committee. Then I headed over to the Herritage Foundation to get ideas. They had a job bank too. They gave me some other ideas of places to contact and after getting back to the hotel I called one. I called The Leadership Institute. I figured they would suggest that I drop off a resume like everyone else, but in fact they suggested that I attend the "Capitol Hill Staff Training School" for the next two days. I agreed, and for the next two days I learned a lot about how things really work on the Hill. I wasn't really an outsider any more. I was starting to develop a pretty good network, and I felt that I had a leg up on my compitition. Of course, I still had to overcome the stigma of being overtrained as a physicist. That and I had to find a position that wouldn't cause me to take too much of a pay cut. I figured that if I could find a position on a committee staff, that I could probably make $35k. Which isn't much money at all in Washington.

I met up with Paul Rutt and Paul Dorsey and we walked around Georgetown looking for seafood on Friday night. We ended up going to the same place that I'd been with Raman and Carl in the Spring. Paul and I had muscles. Neat. I'd never eaten that many cephlepods in one sitting before. Or are they gastropods? I forget. But I won't forget eating a big bowl of little testicle-like things from the bottom of the Potomac. On Saturday we all met at Paul's and drove to the National Mall to see the Smithsonian. After that Paul drove me to the airport for my trip back. The week had been hectic and seemed to zoom by. There wasn't enough time in the day to do everything that I wanted to do. All of a sudden I was back in New Mexico -- far, far from the beltway. I took a week to catch up on work, and enjoyed a restful Thanksgiving by myself. In the meantime, I was invited to return to Washington for the "Legislative Project Management School"; an intensive 3-day school being taught by The Leadership Institute. I decided that I could go out there for lab business, to find funding for a detector I'd designed, as well as attend the school and go to the Conservative Leadership Conference. So on December 1st I was flying back to Washington for another week and a half.

I was a bit more focused on this trip. There was no extra time for messing around. I stayed at the Comfort Inn in Tysons Corner because it was only $35 a night. It wasn't very convenient to the Metro or the city though. I decided not to get a rental car this time, and spent money on tips and taxis instead. As soon as I got to the motel I had to change and head into the city for the Conservative Leadership Conference. I got to the Marriott early and had dinner. Of course, I got to the wrong Marriott. The "Conservative Caucus" was putting on an expensive dinner for various Senators there. The Marriott that I wanted was a few blocks away.

John meets a hero of his in DC.

Over the next few days I attended some very informative talks and got a chance to meet people like G. Gordon Liddy, Dick Army, Newt Gingrich, Paul Wyrich, Morton Blackwell, and quite a few other leaders from the conservative camp. It was worth attending, and I really got pumped up. Everyone was excited by the election results and we all thought we could make some great changes in Washington. We even made it on C-SPAN.

On Monday I had to fly down to Virginia Beach to demonstrate my detector system. It was a portable unit, and I got to the airport early. As it turned out, this wasn't necessary. The USAir shuttle to Norfolk was delayed because of equipment problems. That made me feel better. So, an hour and a half later we finally got off the ground. I'd never been to Norfolk before (or as the locals call it, Nuh-fuck). I rented a car, got a free upgrade because of my obvious charm, and tried to find the Naval base. Two hours later I was back, sitting in the airport, without funding.

I moved into the city on Tuesday. I had appointments with a lot of people that I'd met at the CLC and I wanted to be closer to the Metro. I stayed at the Quality Hotel on 16th at Rhode Island. It only cost me $55 a night, which was a bargain. After checking in I spent the day job hunting. I saw people at Accuracy in Media, The Leadership Institute, Capitol Hill and at High Frontier. I didn't get any job offers though.

The next three days were intense. The LPMS trained me in how to form a coalition, how to introduce and get a bill passed, how to stop legislation, and much more. In general, it was a good project management class -- just very specific about legislative issues.

I met up with Paul Rutt and Paul Dorsey again. They were about an hour late for meeting me at the Smithsonian Metro stop. I forgave them, but made them stop for lunch before we did anything. This time we visited the building museum. It was pretty interesting, and they were getting ready to film the big Christmas party there with the Clinton's and everyone. We weren't invited to stay for that though. My friends Eric and Devin came back into town, and we went out to drink Saturday night. We found an amazing little bar in a bad part of town and we pretty much stood around, complained about the smoke and drank. Just staring at what the place had to offer. I'm kind of glad we didn't have any offers made to us though. I met them again the next morning at the Air and Space Museum. I was being Mr. Photographer, and had fun messing around with my camera. After wandering around the museum for a bit, we headed over to the Hard Rock Cafe. I knew exactly where it was. You see, you just drive over this way, and then circle this block for 20 minutes, and then I get out, call information, get the address and voila! We were there. We ate and talked. Watched a birthday party at a nearby table. And then they dropped me off at my hotel as they drove back to Pittsburg.

Paul Rutt enjoys a walk along National Mall.

The trip was quickly coming to a close. I decided that I should spend Monday on lab business. I didn't have any other interviews, so I would spend the day getting information for the strategic planning committee I was involved with at Los Alamos. I visited Congressman Schiff and Senator Domenici's offices again. Dropping off Los Alamos literature. I also stopped by a couple places to drop off resumes and to say 'hi' to my new friends. I was in the U.S. Capitol Building to see an aide of Congressman Gingrich. The lady who was supposed to be security for the U.S. Capitol couldn't get this guy on the phone, so she just gave me a pass and sent me up to the Congressman's office. As it turned out, she sent me to the wrong office. I should have been sent over to the office building where his personal office was. Instead I ended up walking into the Minority Whip office. There was Newt, sitting to the right, typing on what looked like a little Compaq laptop computer. He was no doubt typing up the script for the fate of America, and he just ignored me. In the middle of the room there were several important looking people discussing something no doubt vital to U.S. National Security. I thought I saw someone nudge a bag full of money under the couch, but I could be mistaken. Anyhow, I stood there, waiting for the secretary to come and instruct me on where I really should be. I politely left and chuckled to myself. Outside the beltway this would be considered strange, but it was just an everyday experience for me here in Washington.

I went on to talk to people about the future of the National Labs at the Heritage Foundation, the CATO Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Hecht's. Of course Hecht's is a department store. I had so much to bring back with me after this trip, that I had to buy a suitcase on my new Hecht's charge account.

I decided to head back to New Mexico on Monday night instead of Tuesday, so I quickly loaded all my suitcases and checked out. I had time to have dinner at a nearby Thai resturant. It was served quickly and tasted great. And the price was quite reasonable. After that, I hired a taxi (I pissed off the cab driver that was waiting at the hotel, because I needed a station wagon) and drove back to National Airport. I was pumped up. I enjoyed Washington. I trimmed down enough to go down one pants size on these two trips. I really think it would be exciting to live in a fast-paced city like this. But, as always, I was looking forward to my own bed.

I think I appreciate New Mexico a little more now. It's such a beautiful place to live, and I have a lot of control and freedom over my job (while it lasts). In the past month I totally changed my outlook on life and career options. I don't yet know what I will end up doing after I finish up at Los Alamos. If I get an offer from the Hill, I could be back in Washington in a matter of days. On the other hand, I might run out my third year here at Los Alamos. In either case, I count myself lucky. I have a good job, good friends and a nice place to live. I'm not going to wait for life to come looking for me -- but on the other hand, I have to live one day at a time.

Last Updated 04/14/95.© 1996 PPSA