Monday, February 24, 2014

Student research: funding structure for HOPE Scholarship

Written by Shaun Kleber, UGA sophomore from Atlanta and Carl Vinson Institute of Government Student Fellow. He is pursuing a dual degree in international affairs and political science.

Since its inception in 1993, the HOPE Scholarship has disbursed billions of dollars to hundreds of thousands of Georgia students. It has helped the University of Georgia transform from a school with below-average admissions selectively to one of the top public schools in the nation. And, probably most importantly, it has provided economically disadvantaged students with an opportunity at higher education they may not have had otherwise.

But because of the unreliability of lottery funds-the source of funding for the HOPE Scholarship-the program is potentially facing dramatic changes and even cuts.

The Carl Vinson Institute of Government strives to improve government at many levels, and as a Vinson Institute Fellow this semester, I am hoping to further that goal by investigating the best way to improve the funding structure for the HOPE Scholarship.

I am working with faculty mentor Wes Clarke, senior public service associate at the Institute of Government, who researched the efficacy of this scholarship program in the early 2000s and has an impressive background in economic research. While my background and interests lie more in education policy than economics, I am looking forward to working with Dr. Clarke to investigate this timely topic that is relevant to so many students at UGA and other colleges and universities around the state.

Student research: policy for change in Georgia's coastal communities

Written by Kirstie Hostetter, a UGA sophomore and Carl Vinson Institute of Government Student Fellow. She is pursuing a degree in environmental economics and management. 

When I was little, I dreamed of being the first female president of the United States. I wanted to fix people's problems, and thought the best way of doing that was through politics. Later, at UGA, I discovered an organization called the Roosevelt Institute, and I realized that for me a better way to help people is through policy, not politics. And so began my love of public policy research.

Through the Roosevelt Institute, a student-run policy think tank, I learned how to identify a problem in society, research it, and come up with policy alternatives. And through Roosevelt, I got the opportunity to participate in the Vinson Institute Fellows Program and conduct a semester-long policy research project.

Interning at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government has been a thrilling and enlightening experience. I am working this semester with my faculty mentor, Jason Evans, an environmental sustainability analyst, to develop policy solutions for coastal communities throughout the state of Georgia and elsewhere that address the dangers of rising sea levels.

The experience has been intensive -- the amount of literature on the science of sea level rise is incredible, not to mention the studies of how it affects individual communities differently. What keeps me motivated is the drive and dedication of the team of people I work with. They work with these communities as if they were their own, listening to scientific experts but also equally to the concerns of people who live there and know the area more intimately.

In many ways I think public policy, when done with a genuine desire to help, can be a gift to a community. It provides the voiceless with an outlet for their concerns and their troubles. The people I work with at the Institute of Government have really highlighted this element of the policy process for me. When you focus on listening instead of fixing, you come up with a better solution and people who are truly grateful for your involvement.

I hope to carry this lesson with me into the future and apply it to all my endeavors, public policy-related or not. My experience so far in the Fellows Program has given me a greater desire than ever to make sure that my future includes public service through policy development.

Student research: preparing for pandemic in Georgia communities

Written by Amelia Watson, a UGA sophomore and Carl Vinson Institute of Government Student Fellow. She is pursuing a bachelor's of environmental health science and a master's in public health.

This semester as a Fellow at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, I am planning to research how prepared Georgia's communities are for different types of health disasters and explore the relationships between different parts of the preparedness community.

On the first day of my fellowship I was filled with nervous butterflies, but this feeling subsided after meeting with my amazing mentor, Stacy Jones, the Institute's associate director of governmental training, education and development. As we discussed which research projects I could tackle, we began to hone in on the topic of pandemic preparedness at the community level in Georgia.

In March 2013, Congress reauthorized the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act to affirm the important of pandemic preparedness throughout the country. This law, complementing the original legislation adopted in 2006, seeks to further strengthen national health security by authorizing grants for preparedness capacity programs at the state, local and hospital levels. These grants emphasize participation in disaster exercises and building partnerships within local, state and federal authorities.

The amount of time between disaster identification and response is critical to the health of the community in many ways. I will be researching how communities in Georgia are preparing in accordance with this.

The Pandemic Preparedness Act gives new flexibility to the state health departments for how they spend resources during a disaster; states can temporarily reassign federally funded personnel to urgent events like a pandemic, even if their normal job is not related to the emergency. The Georgia Department of Public Health is preparing by partnering with both public and private sectors to ensure Georgia's citizens are taken care of during a health emergency. In addition, Georgia's court system and the Georgia Department of Education have released documents on what they would do in the midst of a pandemic.

Coordinating efforts is very important, as is maintaining critical relationships during a health emergency. Training for this type of emergency is crucial because miscommunication and the lack of proper planning could be disastrous for Georgia communities. I look forward to working on this project, as well as the rest of my semester at the Institute of Government.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Student research: CVIOG Fellow looks at the harmful effects of child marriages overseas

Written by Kathleen Wilson, UGA sophomore and Carl Vinson Institute of Government Student Fellow. She is a double major in economic and international affairs with minors in French and Arabic.

This semester, I am one of four Vinson Institute Fellows at UGA's Carl Vinson Institute of Government. I'm working in the Institute's International Center with Director Rusty Brooks. As soon as I met Dr. Brooks, I was impressed with his vast experience in international policy and relations. He is very supportive of my interest in international women's rights policy and has encouraged me to pursue research in the areas that most interest me. Having spent last semester researching female literacy policy in Afghanistan, I have decided to expand my knowledge of international women's rights policy and examine child marriages in refugee camps during my semester in the Vinson Institute Fellows Program.

Why? It has been well-demonstrated that child marriages are physically, intellectually and emotionally harmful to the well-being of child brides. In refugee camps, without many medical facilities or economic opportunities, children forced into marriages face even larger risks for these negative effects of child marriages. Yet, child marriages often occur at higher rates within refugee camps because parents view marriage as one of the only ways to provide for their children's future. Thus, parents who think they are doing what is best for their children are actually subjecting them to more potential harm. Through my research this semester, I will be analyzing child marriages in refugee camps and exploring different policies that can help decrease these marriages. It is my goal to establish a framework that will help protect these victims of child marriages in refugee camps and increase their future opportunities.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Nexen vs. Unocal: Why it's different for CNOOC this time around

Written by Aveek Sarker, Student Fellow at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government

In July of last year, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), China's largest offshore oil and natural gas explorer, announced that it had agreed to pay $15.1 billion in cash to acquire Canada's Nexen Inc. in what would amount to the largest foreign takeover by a Chinese company to date. This announcement brought to memory the company's failed $19 billion bid for a California-based petroleum exporter, Unocal Corp., in 2005.

While CNOOC has learned a great deal since Unocal, there are a number of fundamental differences between the two deals that warrant consideration. In its 2005 bid CNOOC was competing with Chevron Corp., a U.S. company, for control of Unocal, while the bid for Nexen was a negotiated deal that was uncontested and had the full support of the company's board of directors. CNOOC had additionally gone out of its way to reassure management and the Canadian government that Nexen would remain a Canadian company. CNOOC stated its plans to list its stock in Toronto, retain Nexen's existing employees, and make Calgary its North American headquarters. Furthermore, the Nexen transaction involves a company from a "consuming" country (China) purchasing a company from a "supplier" country (Canada). In contrast, Unocal involved a company from a "consuming" country (China) purchasing a company in another "consuming" country, in this case the United States.

In the case of Nexen, the interests of the two countries involved can easily be seen as aligned, while it's much more difficult to see alignment in the Unocal deal. In Unocal, the countries represented by the companies involved are in direct competition for access to petroleum reserves. The leadership of large consumption-based economies such as the United States and China are understandably concerned about their country's ability to have continued access to the natural resources needed to support their growing markets and industries. Supplier countries like Canada have large reserves of natural resources but relatively smaller populations and economies. They are thus most concerned about finding long-term, stable markets for their products. Developing and selling more of their natural resources is their preferred model for development.

Canada has the world's third largest oil reserves - more than 170 billion barrels - after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Daily productino of 1.5 million barrels from the country's oil sands is expected to increase to 3.7 million by 2025. Finding a reliable market for this output is one of Canada's key concerns, and developing China as a long-term investor is a prime objective.

Moreove, CNOOC has an incentive, as well as the financial wherewithal, to accelerate development of the oil sands as well as Nexen's Canadian shale gas prospects, boosting investment and tax revenues in the country. In this context, it's easy to understand why the Nexen deal was approved.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Get moving: the impact of walkable cities

Written by Caley Trujillo, Student Fellow at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government

Throughout the past month at the Carl Vinson Institute I have been heavily involved in research and writing revolving around the planning concept known as walkability. My faculty mentor, Chrissy Marlowe, first introduced me to this smart growth principle during a planning and zoning course she taught. At the end of the training course she challenged the planning commissioners and city staffers who attended to plan with the future in mind and think about the quality of life they hope to achieve for their communities.

Walkability is the extent to which an environment is built to encourage pedestrian activity, expand transportation options and have safe and inviting streets. This can mean building more bike lanes, walking trails or sidewalks. It can also entail creating mass transportation such as subways and bus lines. Walkability offers surprising benefits to people's health, finances and communities. For example, people who live in the least walkable neighborhoods are about one-third more likely to be obese than residents of neighborhoods that best support foot traffic; citizens' quality of life can be enhanced by building well-designed, compact communities.

Growing up in metro Atlanta I could related to the need for more smart growth principles to be implemented in my city. Growing up in a car-dependent community, my parents fought traffic to and from work every day, spent less time at home and were physically put at risk due to the lack of daily exercise.

I took this opportunity as a Fellow to learn more about walkability. To familiarize myself with this concept, I began by reading "Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America," by city planner Jeff Speck. This book opened my eyes to all the cities that have already started implementing walkable principles such as Washington, D.C. and Portland, Ore.

Based on my research, I expect to draft a paper about the role that planning walkable neighborhoods could play on the state of Georgia's economic, physical and community growth. Through development of downtown spaces and "rightsizing" streets, Georgia can help meet the new market demand of walkable urbanism and revitalize local communities. Some metro Atlanta cities such as Woodstock, Sandy Springs and Roswell are already laying the groundwork for this new type of development. My research is still in the beginning stages, but my hope is to provide new insight on how planning walkable communities can make a positive impact on Georgia.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Chinese foreign direct investments in the US and beyond: a closer look

Written by Aveek Sarker, Student Fellow at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government

As a Fellow this semester at the Carl Vinson Institute of Government's International Center, I have the rare opportunity to pick the brain of my faculty mentor, Rusty Brooks. His intellectual interests, much of which are concerned with the rise of China as this era's preeminent and rising economic superpower, align well with my own, as I have decided to investigate certain implications of Chinese foreign direct investments in the United States and across the world. 

The last decade has seen the rise of a new world power as China's unprecedented economic growth and development has radically altered the global landscape. One of the most significant trends that will largely influence the trajectory of the Sino-American relationship has just recently begun to materialize. 

China has started to take an increasingly proactive role in seeking to invest in ventures abroad through mergers, acquisitions and greenfield investments. If current patterns continue, more than $1 trillion of direct Chinese investment will flow worldwide by the year 2020, a significant share of which will be headed for advanced markets such as the U.S. How the U.S. responds to these flows will  not only serve to determine the future of its own economy, but more importantly will have considerable influence over the diplomatic relationship it seeks to establish with the world's fastest-growing economy. 

Anxieties and fears of strategic maneuvering certainly exist as China begins to move into American markets. It is upon these anxieties that I hope to further build upon my present analyses. As I continue investigating, I will interpret specific investment deals involving Chinese firms to assess the direct implications of their investments on a case-by-case basis. 

The case of the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is of particular interest. Moving forward, I intend to make a comparative analysis between CNOOC's failed bid for Unocal, a California-based oil company in 2005, that was struck down my U.S. government, and compare it to the company's subsequent and successful acquisition of the Canadian shale oil and gas giant Nexgen just six years later. 

Why was one deal successful and the other wasn't? What changes were made in between? And how do these deals serve as case studies for future Chinese investments in the Americas?

These are just some of the questions that will be further explored in later posts. 

Students interested in state and local government can gain valuable experience and prepare for careers in public service through the Vinson Institute Fellows Program. This semester-long internship with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government introduces undergraduate students to the inner workings of state and local government, both in Georgia and abroad.