“I really loved Washington. I caught the bug and wanted to come back,” said Caroline Nielson Decker (B 92), vice president of legislative affairs at the American Trucking Associations (ATA), on her first impression of the nation’s capital. Decker first came to Washington from her home state of Arizona as a student in the Institute on Business and Government Affairs (IBGA) in 1992.
IBGA introduced her to the world of government relations. “The neat thing for me about the program was that it just opened up a whole new world of opportunities and ways to tie together an interest in the business community along with politics,” said Decker. Since IBGA, Decker has made a career of representing business in public policy, both on the corporate and congressional sides.
To Decker, IBGA has a lot to offer an industry that often receives negative publicity. The quality of students in the program and the quality of training they receive helps highlight the good that can come out of the business and government affairs industry.
IBGA students learn not only how to be successful lobbyists, but also how to handle the responsibility the career entails. “I think we do have even higher standards as participants in the democratic process,” said Decker. “You need to make sure you are adhering to the rules. If you’re working with Congress, White House staff or agencies, you’re acting in good faith and providing true and accurate information.”
This message in particular resonated with Decker during her own IBGA studies. She was struck by the program’s emphasis on ethics and integrity. According to Decker, IBGA instilled the importance of honesty and of being a reliable and trustworthy person when starting a successful career in Washington.
According to Decker, ATA sees value at the industry level in prepping students for the sorts of ethical scenarios they may face. This is why ATA supports TFAS and IBGA, and also why Decker continues to give back to the program by speaking to students and participating in networking lunches and roundtable discussions.
We know that what is happening and what these students are learning is good,” said Decker. “I guarantee later down the road I’m going to work with them – they’re going to be on the Hill – and it all makes for a better climate and population of workers here in Washington.”
As an IBGA intern, Decker worked in the government affairs office at Ashland Oil (now Ashland, Inc.). She worked with a lobbyist – a mentor, and as Decker noted, still a good friend 20 years out of the program. While with Ashland she worked on energy policy issues and participated in meetings with members of Congress. Because of her exposure to the inner workings of the lobbying process, she was offered her first job at Ashland after graduation. She has since moved through several positions in different areas of the government affairs field, including chief of staff and legislative director to former Rep. Bob Clement (Tenn.), assistant vice president of government affairs and Senate liaison at Amtrak, and now her current position at ATA.
Through her work and her relationships, Decker says she strives to be an example of the good that comes from lobbying and from Washington. She says that TFAS and IBGA alumni can help with this as well by countering the stories of what she calls the few “bad apples” of the industry we hear about in the news.
Fundamentally, she says, ethics and integrity are still central to a lobbying career, just as they were when she started in 1992. “Still, at the very base level, to be effective and successful, you have to be someone that people trust,” said Decker. By becoming examples of these values as they move on to influential careers, Decker says she hopes IBGA students will follow her lead and spread the word about the good things that happen in IBGA and in their internships and jobs.