Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, July 25, 2011

Drilias uses critical thinking, technical skills to evaluate state programs

Liz Drilias


Liz Drilias became a budget and policy analyst at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services in 2012.

Liz Drilias did not expect to go to prison after she graduated from the La Follette School of Public Affairs.

While earning her Master of Public Affairs degree, she did hope to land a job with the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau, having heard about the agency during an undergraduate political science course at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. "When I heard about LAB, I was immediately interested," Drilias says. "Thankfully, they were hiring when I finished La Follette in 2008, and my skills and interests were a good fit."

Drilias' job as a legislative analyst with LAB took her to prison. "My first audit was inmate mental health, which involved visiting prisons around the state with another analyst," Drilias says. "It certainly was an interesting project."

She is part of an audit team at the bureau that evaluates state programs. "Our work includes interviewing state agency officials and staff, reviewing statutes and administrative code, analyzing datasets that are often large and complex, and carefully documenting the results of our work," Drilias says. "We're strictly a nonpartisan agency that provides objective information to the Legislature."

In 2011, Drilias helped to audit Family Care, a managed-care program through which people receive services tailored to their needs from an organization that manages a network of long-term care services and contracts with providers. She worked with La Follette alumni Joe Fontaine, Justin Martin, Andrew McGuire, Molly Regan and Jacob Schindler, all LAB analysts. "My work included identifying cases where functional eligibility determinations were inconsistent with administrative code requirements," she says. "Now we're evaluating Medical Assistance programs. Benefit expenditures for Medical Assistance in fiscal year 2009-10 totaled $6.7 billion."

While at La Follette, Drilias honed her research skills as a project assistant for two years with professor David Weimer. She helped with a literature review of cost-benefit analysis papers, then conducted preliminary research to learn more about the health and social services environment in Wisconsin to determine possible ways to implement Alzheimer's screening programs.

Drilias went straight from her undergraduate to graduate school to gain practical skills, including the use of statistical software. "My graduate work at La Follette allowed me to take the theories and concepts I learned as an undergraduate economics major and supplement them with practical skills that can be applied to policy problems facing our state," she says. "The skills learned at La Follette can be applied to a variety of policy areas, as demonstrated by the varied careers of my classmates.'

She uses those skills every day. "La Follette's policy analysis and management courses provided a strong background in critical thinking," she says. "Very often in my job, the audit team needs to quickly understand a new and complex issue and determine the policy and program implications. These are skills that were the foundation of my courses at La Follette."