Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fuchs hones technical analysis skills

Paco Fuchs won the La Follette School's Director's Award in 2011. It recognizes students in the graduating class with the most outstanding academic record, which includes grade point average, but also the ability to apply policy analysis and management skills, and to engage with the La Follette School community.

Patrick (Paco) Fuchs came to the La Follette School for two reasons.

One is academic. He happened to take undergraduate courses from two La Follette School professors in the fall of 2008, an inspiring time to debate public policy.

The other reason is the sense of public service his parents instilled in him while he grew up in the Milwaukee area. "My parents have been very active in our community and continue to serve as my models of people who meet societal needs with the skills they have cultivated," Fuchs says. "Their outward focus inspired me to pursue a career in public service."

The state and local government class Fuchs took with Dennis Dresang and the critical problems honors course with John Witte were extremely engaging, Fuchs says. "It was certainly a tumultuous and exciting time to be in Witte's class discussing the events of the day. Those courses further piqued my interest in a public affairs career."

With a double major in economics and political science, Fuchs enrolled at La Follette to earn a Master of Public Affairs degree through its accelerated program. University of Wisconsin–Madison seniors accepted into the program can begin taking core public affairs courses and finish their graduate degrees with one additional year as full-time graduate students.

For two years Fuchs has held a project assistantship with the on-campus National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education (CFIRE). He is researching ways Wisconsin can address transit and infrastructure issues expected to arise as the state's population of older adults increases by 90 percent by 2025. "With the Baby Boom, the state and the counties need to think about how to help that generation age in place," Fuchs says. "Older adults in rural and urban areas face different transportation challenges."

To learn how the state can help counties with transportation, CFIRE is using the grant it won from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to take an inventory of state programs related to mobility, conduct a demographic analysis and research best practices around the country. The project team, led by 2000 La Follette School alum Jason Bittner, is distributing 20,000 surveys and holding 16 forums for older adults around the state to document their transportation habits, satisfaction with current transportation, concerns and service gaps. Recommendations will be made to state policymakers, Fuchs says.

"The experiences with CFIRE have given me a deeper understanding of the components of public administration and the constraints on the public sector," Fuchs says. "I have also learned a great deal about state and local partnerships, specifically the benefits and challenges associated with pooling funding and sharing best practices to better provide critical services."

Fuchs also worked on transportation during his summer internship with the U.S. Government Accountability Office's physical infrastructure team. "I collaborated with GAO policy analysts, economists and statisticians to examine the effects of the maximum work and minimum rest requirements for railroad workers in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008," he says.

The skills Fuchs learned and practiced at La Follette helped him with the GAO data analysis and programming language. He developed query methods for the large datasets on rail safety, techniques he acquired from the La Follette School's methods courses. "The analytical skills and team-based experiences I acquired during my first year at La Follette greatly enhanced my ability to make a strong contribution to the agency's audit objectives," Fuchs says.

He led the team's examination of the federal role in monitoring and ensuring compliance with the new hours of service of requirements. "This involved interviewing Federal Railroad Administration officials, analyzing FRA inspection and enforcement data before and after legal changes, and reviewing legislation, regulations, and reports," he says. "I also contributed to our team's analysis of the law's financial and operational impacts on the industry by participating in site visits to railroads in Atlanta, Jacksonville and Baltimore."

Fuchs, who was inducted in 2011 into honor society Pi Alpha Alpha for his academic and professional accomplishments, has focused his coursework on learning technical skills — program evaluation, management and budgeting in addition to the quantitative methods courses. He appreciates the flexibility of the La Follette program that has enabled him to take several transportation courses as well as an epidemiology course.

After graduation in May 2011, Fuchs joined the U.S. Office of Management and Budget through the prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program, which accepts applicants who are committed to excellence in the leadership and management of public policies and programs. He later became a policy analyst with OMB.

— updated November 20, 2013