Back from the Field
Lektzian's Year in Washington as a
Council on Foreign Relations Fellow
Story by Toni Salama
For one very interesting year, David Lektzian traded in Memorial Circle for the Beltway and went to work in Washington, D.C., answering questions that helped Congress make foreign policy decisions. Lektzian, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science, was in the nation's capital from July 2017 to July 2018 on an International Affairs Fellowship awarded by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
It was an experience, says the U.S Navy veteran, that has enriched his teaching, informed his research and given him a greater appreciation for the nation's policy makers and for the unbiased information they need to make decisions. And it doesn't hurt that the roster of alumni who have received this fellowship includes former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was a fellow during 1985-1986, and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, who was a fellow during 2000-2001.
Lektzian worked at a branch of the Library of Congress called the Congressional Research Service (CRS), where his academic focus on foreign deficits, trade deficits and economic sanctions proved to be a good fit. So did the non-partisan nature of the job.
"It's the think tank for Congress," Lektzian said of the CRS. "If members of Congress have questions, CRS provides unbiased research."
Whenever congressional staff need expert analysis on a given situation, they can enter their question into an online system. The question then is distributed to the researcher most qualified to get the answers and write an appropriate report, Lektzian says. "CRS is a big place, with maybe 650 people who are experts in just about every field."
As congressional staff get to know the experts at CRS, they may contact them directly with questions in the researcher's area of expertise, he says.
Because CRS researchers are providing information for all Congress members, they can show no favoritism toward any political party or agenda—something Lektzian says can be a tricky line to walk because the facts often need analysis to be meaningful.
A lot of questions are posed this way: "What's likely to happen if we take this action?" Depending on the question and the number of people needing the answer, some reports might consist of a two-page overview. "Others can run up to 50 pages or more if in-depth information and analysis are requested," Lektzian says.
For example, economic sanctions imposed on Iran or North Korea could affect U.S. companies conducting trade with those nations, Lektzian explained. "Members of Congress want to know how proposed legislation might affect the businesses and constituents in their districts." At the same time, he says, business people also want to anticipate what Congress might do. So the CRS also occasionally receives questions from business and industry. But a different agency, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), is responsible for helping the business community comply with sanction requirements once they go into effect.
"As a member of CRS, it was my responsibility to present unbiased, but critical, information to members of Congress and their staffs," Lektzian says. "Sometimes that information may have been more favorable to one or the other of the political parties, but it was important to be unbiased and non-partisan."
Whether sanctions are considered successful depends on the intended objectives, Lektzian says, both the stated objectives and the implied objectives.
"Sometimes sanctions are intended to impose costs that convince another state to change an objectionable policy," he says. "When that is not possible, sanctions can still be very effective at containing the state's access to the resources necessary to pursue that policy as has been attempted against Iran."
That was one kind of analysis Lektzian included in his reports. He also evaluated potential sanctions for unintended consequences. "For example, if we're not going to do business with a country, does it hurt us in the long run? If China replaces U.S. commerce or business, will China then have more influence over that country's policies than we do? That was one of the potential consequences of the decade-long sanctions against Iraq," he says. Lektzian explains that over the course of those sanctions, France, Russia and China began to position themselves to replace U.S. oil firms if the sanctions were limited. "However, the U.S. ultimately invaded Iraq in 2003 rather than lift the sanctions."
His analytical work at the CRS was familiar, but more restrictive than academic research. "We're allowed to be more theoretical here (in academe), but Congress has a clear preference for more case-specific information."
Lektzian sometimes found himself studying sanctions imposed by the United Nations and the extent of America's participation in them. He researched the history of how those sanctions were fulfilled and evaluated how things might turn out if proposed legislation were to continue the sanctions, alter them or lift them entirely.
When he wasn't conducting research and writing reports, Lektzian says he spent a lot of time going to meetings with the CFR and OFAC where he learned more about the technicalities of sanction limits.
"I felt good at those meetings, having people see Texas Tech represented there," he says. One of the fellowship's objectives is to increase the exchange of ideas and expertise between Washington and academe. "This gets our academic voice into the policy arena and lets us bring that policy-making experience, that new background, back to our classrooms and research."
For Lektzian, the exchange of ideas and experience was the biggest win-win. For his family, it was the year away. Wife Jovita was working toward her online master of fine arts in apparel design and enjoyed the flexibility of schedule to meet her husband once a week for lunch or bring the kids downtown for a family outing after work.
Daughters Asta, 11, and Alexis, 7, loved going to the ocean at Virginia Beach, Va., and were thrilled with a trip to see the Norfolk Naval Base, the former homeport of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John Fitzgerald Kennedy where their father served during his tour in the Navy. But by July, the girls were ready to come home—certain that everything was, after all, better in Lubbock.
The experience has influenced Lektzian's teaching and research and given him a greater appreciation for the nation's policy makers in Washington and for his own job as a Texas Tech researcher and professor. "Working at the CRS is one the best jobs to have in Washington. The average tenure is 17 years," Lektzian says of the town where people tend to jump from one policy job to another. "But I like teaching and research," he says, "and I prefer the theoretically driven research of academe more than the policy-driven research of Washington."
DAVID LEKTZIAN, Ph.D.
- Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science since 2011.
- Director of Graduate Studies for the Department of Political Science from 2013-2017.
- Fall 2018 Texas Tech University Celebration of Faculty Excellence in Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity: Special Recognition for his 2017-2018 International Affairs Fellowship with the Council on Foreign Relations.
- 2017-2018 Council on Foreign Relations Fellow, International Affairs Fellowship with the Congressional Research Service.
- 2014 Fulbright Scholar as a visiting professor and researcher at the University of Vilnius, Lithuania, spring semester.
- 2004-2007 Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of New Orleans.
- 2003-2004 Researcher at the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway.
- Published research in:
- American Journal of Political Science
- International Organization
- International Studies Quarterly
- Journal of Conflict Resolution
- Journal of Peace Research
- Conflict Management and Peace Science
- Ph.D.: Michigan State University, 2003
- Military Service: 6 years, U.S. Navy nuclear power program, U.S.S. John Fitzgerald Kennedy.