Policy Task Forces

Policy Task Forces are the most distinctive feature of our undergraduate program. They address unfinished questions of public policy, often characterized by rapidly changing circumstances. Topics are selected for their timeliness, their suitability for research and task force deliberation, and their public importance. Task forces often blend domestic and international concerns, economic and legal analysis, scientific and political approaches, and ethical and institutional issues. The nature of the problem requires students to go beyond library research and interact with government officials and others actively engaged in the relevant issues. Task force members debate proposed recommendations as a group and combine information from their individual research, guest speakers, field visits, and group discussions to arrive at a set of recommendations on the policy problem.

For more detailed information, please access the SPIA Undergraduate Program Guide to Junior Independent Work.

Getting Started in Data Analysis: Topic Selection and Crafting of a Research Question - Independent research projects start with the selection of a topic and the crafting of a feasible research question. This video maps the initial steps to help...


Topics for Spring 2023 Include:

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM — Juan Carlos Pinzon

Latin America is perceived as a region of high growth potential and prosperity opportunity, due to its demographics, natural resource endowment and democratic values. Unfortunately, persistent problems have placed the region falling behind others in the world. The current era of digital economy, energy transition, and technology, become an ideal occasion for policies to enhance human capital, competitiveness, investment, and stability. The recent Covid-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing global power competition, has demonstrated the need to reshape the global supply chains, it is also a unique opportunity for both Latin America and the US to prepare a new model for effective hemispheric development. In summary, this Policy Task Force will analyze policy options to unleash the economic potential of Latin America and benefit its population.   

We will discuss with policymakers in Washington, Latin American leaders and policy experts from different countries and institutions. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has convened to receive our Policy Paper, as they are building policy recommendations both for the Administration and other governments in the region.

Juan Carlos Pinzon is the John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visting Professor and Lecturer at Princeton University. He served as Ambassador of Colombia to the U.S. from 2015-2017 and 2021-2022. He holds a Master in Public Policy from Princeton Univeristy and a Master in Economics from Pontificia Universidad Javeriana.

Tuesday, 7:30-10:00 PM Martin Flaherty

The People’s Republic of China [PRC] presents the greatest and most complex challenge to the realization of international human rights.  No other society has realized so many economic and social rights so quickly and on such a vast scale.  Yet the PRC remains among the greatest and most persistent offenders of civil and political rights.  Assaults on human rights and the rule of law have increased dramatically under Xi Jinping. Domestically, the has engaged in often brutal crackdowns on ethnic and religious minorities, civil society groups, lawyers, human rights advocates, and academics, including Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong.  Beyond its own borders the PRC has also sought to stifle criticism of its actions beyond its borders.  Finally, the PRC has also sought to undermine international human rights law at the UN and in other fora.

This Task Force will study the PRC’s ongoing assault the rule of law and consider what possible steps that the US government under the Biden Administration should respond.  Specific topics include: academic freedom, legal reform, anti-discrimination, the environment, women’s rights, and LGBT issues, as well as possible responses in international forums, including the UN.  The Task Force will make recommendations to relevant organizations in New York and Washington D.C., including the Council on Foreign Relations, the State Department, and National Security Council staff at the White House, and Congress.

Martin S. Flaherty is Leitner Family Professor of International Law and Founding Co-Director of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School.  He is also a founder of the Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers, and Chair of the Council on International Affairs of the New York City Bar Association.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PMEduardo Bhatia

Panama and the United States have had a close political relationship for over 100 years, and cooperate in promoting economic, political, security, and social development in the region. Today, Panama is the most important commercial hub in Latin America with both the Panama Canal and the Panama Tocumen airport as two of the most important infrastructure shipping and  transportation facilities in the world. The United States and Panama also work closely on matters of security and drug trafficking.

On September 29, 2022, the United States Senate confirmed Mari Carmen Aponte as Ambassador to Panama. The position had been vacant for over 5 years. This Junior SPIA Task Force will explore the current United States policy towards Panama, its strengths and weaknesses, and prepare a list of public policy recommendations for both countries. Hopefully, students will have the opportunity to visit Panama during Spring break and exchange views with the U.S. Ambassador and officials of the Panama government.

Eduardo Bhatia is an attorney, advocate and expert on fiscal matters and public policy with over 25 years of experience championing government/democracy reforms and public and private coalitions to achieve fiscally responsible policy targets, economic development, quality education and renewable energy goals.  He is currently the John L. Weinberg/Goldman Sachs & Co. Visiting Professor and visiting lecturer in public and international affairs at Princeton University and a Board Member of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund. Bhatia holds a B.A. in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM Anastasia Mann/Kiki Jamieson

For centuries, American thinkers and activists have recognized the need for the nation to pay reparations to descendants for the consequences of chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation. Today they are joined by academics, pundits, and elected officials across the political spectrum as well as a growing swath of the American public who agree: Reparation and recompense must be made for the persecution and preferences legally enacted and the wealth legally extracted at the expense of Black Americans, past and present. This task force will draw on scholarship on transitional justice movements, existing reparations policies, and contemporary initiatives in U.S. cities to reckon with the ongoing consequences of structural racism. To what extent do reparations offer an opportunity to rethink fundamental institutions and assumptions? Should reparations focus on enlarging the pool of current resources or redistributing existing assets to affected persons or communities? Following California, where a state commission has begun assessing the scope and scale of redress, this task force will examine the steps New Jersey must take to make reparations a reality.

Anastasia Mann is a historian (PhD, Northwestern, 2003) whose work – teaching, writing, service and organizing -- focuses on the social and economic forces that shape structures of opportunity. As a policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective, Mann’s research and analysis made the case for curbing the regressivity of excise taxes on alcohol and for the necessity of tuition equity for all college students born in NJ. Mann served as the director of the Program on Immigration and Democracy at Rutgers University where she worked with students and colleagues across the three-campus structure to establish Citizenship Rutgers with the goal of providing free high-quality naturalization application support to the state’s green card holders. Mann was appointed to the first-ever New Jersey Commission on New Americans. Since 2017 Mann has taught at Princeton, first in the Humanities program and more recently at the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. Under the leadership of Dean Amaney Jamal, Mann serves as the inaugural  director of SPIA in New Jersey. A founding member of Princeton Mutual Aid, Mann serves on the board of NJPP and is a member of Princeton’s municipal Civil Rights Commission. 

Kiki Jamieson, Ph.D., is President of The Fund for New Jersey, a private foundation that supports progressive public policy on issues ranging from immigrants’ and workers’ rights to criminal legal system reform, education equity, environmental justice, fair housing, and economic. At The Fund she has led initiatives to advance reparations and racial justice, to count all New Jersey residents in Census 2020, and to promote fair redistricting. She was named a Philanthropy Forward Fellow (Aspen Institute and Neighborhood Funders Group). Previously, Jamieson directed the Pace Center for Civic Engagement and taught in the Politics department at Princeton University, and before that at the University of Pennsylvania, Haverford College, and Rutgers University. She was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study. Her scholarship focused on the intersections of political theory, law, and public policy, including attention to conflicts between state power and gender identity and expression. She is the author of Real Choices: Feminism, Freedom, and the Limits of Law. Jamieson is a trustee of Bryn Mawr College and chair of its committee on investment responsibility. She is past chair of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities and the Princeton Public Library and past trustee of the Council of New Jersey Grantmakers. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College (A.B.) and Rutgers University (M.A., Ph.D.).

Monday, 1:30-4:00 PM — Mihir Kshirsagar/Monica Greco



Monday, 12:00-2:30 PMDerek Kilmer

In recent years, polling suggests the American public views the U.S. Congress less favorably than headlice, colonoscopies, and the rock band Nickelback. Indeed, the U.S. Congress has seen unprecedented levels of partisanship, a decline in the exercise of the constitutional powers originally vested in Article One of the Constitution, the frequent inability to pass important legislation (including basic budget and spending bills and reauthorizations of critical programs and even entire agencies), and the overall erosion of institutional capacity. Every 20-30 years or so, Congress establishes a committee focused on recommending institutional reforms. In response to rising dysfunction, the most recent iteration of such a reform committee was the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress (“ModCom”), established in the 116th Congress with a mission of making Congress work better for the American people. 

This policy task force will review many of the systemic challenges facing the U.S. House that have led to the underperformance of the institution. The class will review subject areas covered by the ModCom as well as other factors that contribute to the institution’s challenges, including issues related to:

  • Reforming campaign finance, redistricting, and primary election processes
  • Strengthening the ability of the institution to recruit, retain, and have more diverse staff
  • Improving the use of technology to engage constituents and solve problems
  • Encouraging evidence-based policy making
  • Reclaiming the institution’s Article One authorities
  • Modernizing rules and procedures to improve efficiency
  • Reforming the budget and appropriations process
  • Limiting division caused by cable news, social media, and other outside forces
  • Facilitating greater civility and collaboration within the institution
  • Making significant structural changes to committees and/or the institution itself
  • Establishing rules for the continuity of Congress

The members of this task force will act as though they are staff members of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.  Each week, class will resemble a committee roundtable, with issue briefings detailing some of the challenges and considerations for the week’s topic, a statement from the chairman, witness testimony from visiting experts, and then a free-flowing conversation in hopes of understanding problems facing the institution and potential reforms/recommendations.  Task force participants will be expected to complete the week’s reading, prepare a one-page summary of key takeaways, and actively engage visiting experts.  Each junior paper will focus on a specific area of potential reform that will contribute to a broader final report to be presented to current or former members of the Select Committee. 

The task force will be geared toward students with an interest in serving in or working in Congress, with students being provided opportunities to engage current and former congressional leaders, staff members, and others. 

Derek Kilmer currently serves as United States Representative for the residents of Washington’s 6th Congressional District. He serves as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress and as a member of the House Appropriations Committee. Kilmer was born and raised on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the son of two school teachers. Motivated by the economic challenges that faced his hometown, Kilmer focused his studies on economic development, earning a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University’s School of Public & International Affairs and a doctoral degree from the University of Oxford in England. Kilmer worked professionally in economic development, focusing on growing jobs in his region. Later, he served in the Washington State House and the Washington State Senate before being elected in to Congress in 2012. For his work on reforming government, he has been recognized by organizations including the Bipartisan Policy Center, Issue One, and the Stubblefield Institute for Civil Political Communications.