La Follette School students got a firsthand view of how two nonpartisan legislative service agencies function when they visited the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and the Legislative Audit Bureau on February 6.
"At the LFB, Director Bob Lang talked about how the nonpartisan bureau works for the Legislature," says school Associate Director Hilary Shager, who accompanied the students. "When the governor announces his budget for the state of Wisconsin, as he just did, Fiscal Bureau analysts begin work preparing a summary budget document that is used during the budget review process."
As a nonpartisan service agency of the Wisconsin Legislature, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau provides fiscal and program information and analyses to the Legislature, its committees and individual legislators. The bureau also serves as staff to the 16 member Joint Committee on Finance, which reviews and deliberates on legislation affecting state revenues and appropriations. The primary focus of the committee's work and, thus, of the bureau in each legislative session is the state's biennial budget.
"The newspaper does not usually convey the impression that dedicated professional analysts are gathering information and assessing the impact of proposed legislation and government programs," says second-year student Andy Behm, who went on the site visits. "LFB analysts provide nonpartisan analysis to and answer questions from legislators of both parties, even on intensely partisan issues."
The LFB hired three La Follette School graduates in spring 2014, wanting them to learn the ropes before the current state budget process started, Shager says. "Bob Lang also talked about how important it is for students to have good communication and writing skills as well as quantitative skills because they will be called on to write papers."
In addition to Lang, the La Follette School students heard from alumni Christa Pugh, Rachel Janke, Steph Mabrey and John Wilson-Tepeli. Each is assigned to a different policy area, such as general government, education, transportation and health services..
At the LAB, students were greeted by State Auditor Joe Chrisman and Deputy State Auditor for Program Evaluation Paul Stuiber, a 1988 alum. They also spoke with La Follette School alumni and legislative program analysts Marie Toniolo and Jacob Schindler.
"I learned that LAB employees become 'generalists' and develop a broad understanding of a number of other agencies and issues," says first-year student Emma Schumann. "LAB employees also have professional development opportunities. For example, they can enroll in supplemental courses at UW, such as in geographic information systems."
The Legislative Audit Bureau is a non-partisan legislative service agency that assists the Legislature with oversight of state operations. The bureau conducts objective audits and evaluations of state agency operations to ensure financial transactions have been made in a legal and proper manner and to determine whether programs are administered effectively, efficiently and in accordance with the policies of the Legislature and the governor. The results of these evaluations are provided to the Legislature, along with recommendations for improvements in agency operations.
"The visit was a great opportunity to learn more about the LAB and their work," says second-year student Virginia Andersen. "I admire all the careful thought and analysis that happens to support the creation of a final LAB report about a Wisconsin agency. It also seems that the staff at the LAB really respect and work with the agencies they evaluate. "
"LAB has great ties to La Follette, with a number of alumni securing positions there after graduation over the years," Shager says. "The visit was a great opportunity for all students, even those who may not have working or interning for a state agency on their radar. LAB is looking to hire four to six analysts this year, preferably with a start date of June 1. Students can find a link to the job posting on the La Follette School web site."
Many La Follette School alumni work or have worked for the LAB, including several whose La Follette School profiles are available: Amy Klusmeier, Katie Herrem, Dan Kleinmaier, Liz Drilias, Tom Hinds, Jennie Mauer, Natalie Walleser Solverson, Tamarine Cornelius and Marci McCoy-Roth.
"Although LFB and LAB are small agencies, their work is critical to the functioning of the Wisconsin government," Behm says. "The site visits were also particularly valuable because they provided students an opportunity to see the offices of LFB and LAB, meet the analysts, and hear about their work. It helped me understand the nature of the work better than a job announcement could, which helped me think clearly about whether I would enjoy working there and how my qualifications would fit the job."
In a continued effort to explore career opportunities, students will visit the Wisconsin Department of Health Services on March 6.