Cornell University

Credit Internship Program

119 Ives Hall, 607-255-2266

Student Profile

Jonathan Lesser, BSILR 2012

U.S. Department of Justice

Fall 2010

The ILR Credit Internship Program served as the focal point of the development of my academic passions as well as my professional career. It assisted me as I connected and applied my interests in government and politics to the world of labor relations.

Lesser and Holder photoI was employed at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, DC as a Staff Assistant. I had interned in the Office of Intergovernmental and Public Liaison of the DOJ the previous summer, and had been extended an offer to return the following summer and through the fall semester as a paid employee. While there, I primarily served as the assistant to Attorney General Eric Holder’s Senior Law Enforcement Advisor and worked on the majority of the issues and projects in his portfolio.

On my first day at the Department, my direct report informed me that I will not be given any work that he would not do himself. Furthermore, he stated that I will be privileged to have a relatively high level of responsibility in the office. As a result, I found my work to be exceptionally substantive, rewarding and fulfilling, and many of the issues I worked on were newsworthy and steeped in contention. Examples include the lawsuit filed against the State of Arizona for the passage of S.B. 1070, Proposition 19 in California, and law enforcement programs for the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. My work on these types of issues involved conducting research and preparing relevant materials, talking points and presentations for officials in various components of the DOJ as well as attending meetings on the matters. It was fascinating to watch and participate in the development of federal strategy to address issues of national importance before they were exposed to the media and press.

Some of the most memorable experiences I had at the DOJ were hands-on opportunities to work on noteworthy labor issues for law enforcement officers around the country relating to officer safety. Specifically, I assisted in developing several federally mandated and funded law enforcement training programs. This required a compilation of statistics and information as a premise for providing funding for these programs, my presence on various committees and working groups as a representative from the DOJ, and traveling to conferences throughout the nation. One of the most interesting working group meetings that I attended was in Atlanta, Georgia relating to domestic extremism and terrorism and its impact on officer safety and labor issues. I utilized what I learned at that meeting to assist in developing a larger, more encompassing training program designed to address ambush-style assaults on officers. These projects opened my eyes to the bureaucratic process of financial and logistical decision-making that is conducted in executive agencies.

Furthermore, I had the opportunity to become involved in projects relating to tribal law enforcement, or police on Native American reservations. Unbeknownst to me before I arrived at the DOJ, the lack of public safety on Indian reservations is a significant national issue, as crime rates in Indian Country are between two and three times the national average. Although I never imagined I would ever work on projects relating to tribal law enforcement in my life, to me, they were the most interesting and emotional, and my association with these initiatives was quite elaborate. I assisted my direct report in developing national strategy and policy for police agencies on Indian reservations, and traveled to California to participate in meetings and negotiations regarding tribal law enforcement with state government entities. I found the extent to which these police officers faced labor issues astounding. For numerous reasons, their personal safety while working has been at risk and they did not have the essential tools needed to adequately protect their reservations and perform their jobs.

My work at the DOJ greatly expanded my professional network, as I was provided the opportunity to interact with a myriad of executives, and substantively contribute to meetings at the highest levels of the DOJ. Most notably, I assisted the Attorney General’s speechwriter in compiling material and developing language for several of his speaking engagements. I also was routinely invited to attend and speak at senior DOJ management meetings. A highlight of my tenure at the DOJ was personally briefing the Attorney General on information and updates relating to the law enforcement training programs I was involved in. This high level exposure allowed me to gain significant professional experience that will certainly assist me in the future.

My service at the DOJ fostered an elaborate connection of my academic field of study and the world of labor relations. In addition to being able to apply my knowledge of ILR to address important labor issues for law enforcement officers, I left the Department with a more paved career path that incorporates my personal interests and aspirations. I am certain that I will be using what I have learned at the DOJ in all facets of my life during the years to come.

- Jonathan Lesser, BSILR 2012