After completing his Master of Public Affairs degree in 2015, Andrew Behm became a program evaluator with the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau.
Andrew Behm enjoys working in a policy area that is beginning to change after decades of equilibrium — energy policy.
"As an economics undergraduate, I saw how energy and environment intersected with economics," says the second-year public affairs student, who graduated in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. "At La Follette, I am learning to navigate the intersection between energy and public policy."
After working several years for a state regulator and private consulting firm, Behm returned to graduate school to expand his portfolio. Before coming to La Follette, he analyzed costs for Wisconsin municipal water utilities, developed new utility rates, resolved ratepayer complaints and contested rate proceeding as a senior utility rate analyst at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. As a senior consultant for accounting and consulting firm Baker Tilly, Behm analyzed utility finances, developed and recommended rate changes, evaluated compliance with complex contracts between utilities, advised utilities on workforce and strategic planning, and audited utility management processes.
"I met a lot of really smart La Follette grads in the workforce, and I wanted to follow the path they had taken into energy policy," Behm says.
Behm is using the La Follette School's Master of Public Affairs and a certificate in energy analysis and policy to expand his analysis and management tools, and to give his career more flexibility, says Behm, who is open to working for utilities and U.S. agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory or Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions.
"The quantitative skills La Follette teaches are important in supporting recommendations we will make as policy analysts," Behm says. "Someone cannot just disagree an argument supported with data and rigorous analysis. Good policy needs to be based on more than just opinion. The right tools will get you closer to what will be effective."
During the summer between the first and second year of classes, Behm testified as an expert witness before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission on a water rate hike sought by Milwaukee Water Works. "We were successful on nearly every issue we argued for," says Behm, whose client represented communities that buy water from the City of Milwaukee.
Over the summer, Behm also explored life in the federal government during a summer internship in Washington, D.C., with the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He worked for the Cost Analysis Branch, a unit recently created by FSIS in the wake of a cost overrun highlighted by the Government Accountability Office.
"I read practices recommended by the Government Accountability Office, Department of Defense, and the Office of Management and Budget, and compared recommended practices to what the FSIS had actually done in estimating costs," Behm says. "Estimating costs and accounting for uncertainty requires a level of technical sophistication that the Cost Analysis Branch is still developing. The Cost Analysis Branch needs to develop a database of past project costs to inform future cost estimates, but a lot of the information on past projects is not readily available."
Behm applied his management and analytical skills to recommend a series of short-term and long-term improvements to FSIS's systems. "I recommended that they explicitly identify funds available for contingencies," Behm says.
The experience, Behm says, gave him insight into working in Washington, D.C., and for the federal government, especially for a huge agency like the USDA. "Outside of work, I used my time there to visit with classmates who were interning in D.C., and to network with alumni," Behm says.
Back in Madison, Behm is gaining additional insight into the working of the federal govement through a project assistantship with Professor Susan Yackee, an expert on federal rulemaking. "We're trying to understand the connection between laws passed by Congress giving federal agencies authority to make rules and whether, when, and how many rules the agencies actually create," Behm says.
He continues to appreciate hands-on work with clients in Wisconsin. "A lot of the techniques we are taught, like cost-benefit analysis, you can only really understand through practice," Behm says.