Ryan Seiger, C’93

Staff Director/Senior Counsel, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment and Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure for the U.S. House of Representatives

Washington, D.C.

Political Science Major

If you had asked me five years ago if Congress could work remotely, I would have said there’s no way. It is such a hands-on, personal business. A lot of what happens in Congress is because of personal relationships and negotiations. It just intuitively works better in a more intimate setting.

But we were faced with a situation where we didn’t have a choice. Before the pandemic, we were working on a big water resources development act. This legislation is the biennial authorization of projects and studies by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which address much of the nation’s flood control, navigation, and large-scale environmental restoration projects. The Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) process involves hundreds of local governmental project and study requests submitted by Members of Congress that need to be specifically authorized through the WRDA legislation. The day the submission process ended was the day Congress went completely remote.

I had to learn about everything in those requests, but also negotiate with my counterparts on the minority side and turn it into a bill. That was just to get out of the House. And then I had to do the same thing with our friends in the Senate.

We all retooled quickly. We figured out how to become good friends with Zoom and Teams. I’ve had members of Congress tell me before that the ability to pass a prayer would be very difficult in this current environment. And yet we were able to land the bill with a bipartisan voice vote out of the House and basically almost unanimity out of the House and Senate. So, it worked. I don’t know if it’s because of a lot of interpersonal relationships and a lot of long-term working relationships that helped the bill get across the finish line, but I was uniquely surprised that it actually worked as well as it did. I’m so happy it all worked out.

On August 24, Ryan will be a featured speaker on a panel discussing Biden’s water infrastructure plan, hosted by the Water Center at Penn. Click here to learn more and register.