(1) Getting Started at ITA

This summer, I am interning at the International Trade Administration’s (ITA) Advocacy Center, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. ITA is located in Washington DC, but I am completing the internship remotely. The mission of the Advocacy Center is to promote U.S. exports by helping American companies win contracts with foreign governments. For example, imagine that the Spanish Port Authority wanted to modernize their breakwaters. If a U.S. company pursuing this contract requests the assistance of the Advocacy Center and is approved, the U.S. Government is then free to advocate on behalf of the company for that particular contract. This could mean anything from a Cabinet-level secretary drafting a letter of support to a foreign decision maker, to having someone from the U.S. embassy in Spain meet with someone from the Spanish Port Authority to discuss why this company’s bid should be selected, or simply to make sure that things like project technical specifications aren’t skewed against U.S. industry. While receiving advocacy is not a guarantee of winning the contract (like any sale, the company would need to be competitive in terms of factors like cost and quality), it can help.

During my summer internship, my primary task is to conduct due diligence on companies requesting advocacy. To do this, I search through the information the company has submitted to the Advocacy Center, information available via the public record, as well as some Commerce Department databases to make sure that they meet all eligibility criteria and that they are a company the Advocacy Center could feel comfortable endorsing. For example, if only 2% of the new breakwaters would be made using U.S.-sourced materials, then the U.S. Government’s time and resources would likely be better spent assisting companies whose work is more beneficial to the American economy. Similarly, should my search show that the requesting company has questionable activity in the past, the Advocacy Center would not want to risk embarrassment to the U.S. Government by allowing high-level U.S. officials to advocate on the company’s behalf. As such, the work that I am doing supports the greater organization by making sure that the Advocacy Center can focus its efforts on the cases most likely to be successful and that reflect positively on U.S. firms.

While working to support the ITA’s goals, I have a few goals that I hope to achieve this summer. The first is to learn more about how the U.S. supports international trade, which I am accomplishing by being immersed in ITA’s working environment and learning about the work they do in-depth. I am also learning about the types of companies that pursue international trade through conducting due diligence research on them and sitting in on staff meetings where I hear about the projects on which others are working. Additionally, I am working in a professional environment, gaining a better understanding of the opportunities and career paths that the U.S. DOC offers and the skills needed to be successful here. Since I am interested in working in public service, this is an experience that I expect will prove valuable in the future. Finally, a third goal is to enhance my communication skills and ability to work collaboratively since I believe that this is something that can always be improved. To that end, I will continue to ask questions, interact with my supervisor and peers (e.g. weekly staff meetings), and incorporate feedback about my performance.