The first project for which alum Danielle Giese was the analyst in charge hit home: Her father administered a grassroots community program that is funded by the U.S. Office of Community Services.
Giese and her Government Accountability Office team were charged with reviewing OCS. "The Community Services Block Grant program was facing severe political challenges related its funding," says Giese, who completed a Master of Public Affairs degree at the La Follette School in 2001. "My father has administered a community action agency for most of my life. Our findings helped pinpoint what OCS needed to do to provide convincing information about the effectiveness of work that people like my father were doing every day."
Giese's report noted that OCS lacked effective policies, procedures and controls to help ensure that it fully met legal requirements for monitoring states and internal control standards. GAO offered recommendations for improvement.
Since joining GAO in 2001, Giese has worked on other complex projects that have addressed the use of foreign workers, the Veterans Paralympics Program, and the Fair Labor Standards Act.
For the latter, Giese drafted a testimony statement for her director to make before Congress, giving a review of the law's enforcement. "I gave members of Congress information about changes to the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division's activities for 10 years," says Giese, whose team won an award for the review. "I also provided information on how the division was following guidelines for implementing strategic planning in accordance with the Government Performance and Results Act."
A recent project was a benchmark evaluation of how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the nation's largest food support program, combats recipient fraud. "We also evaluated the effectiveness of federal and state agencies' fraud-detection tools. Using GAO's Fraud Prevention Framework and federal guidelines for internal controls, I led staff, who consisted of people across GAO's mission teams, to develop a final product with recommendations for improving the data on what is known about SNAP recipient fraud and how to uncover it," Giese says.
Another project helped a federal agency provide better service. "Discontent about customer service is what basically led to our review," Giese says. "We basically highlighted the agency's need to provide better basic customer service, such as answering the phone and giving people an estimated timeframe for processing claim. Our recommendations made a huge difference in how the public felt about the program and how federal officials implement it."
As Giese evaluates public programs for GAO, she uses her La Follette School training, especially her public affairs workshop capstone project. "My daily work involves program evaluation on social welfare programs performed in a team-based environment, and that is literally what my capstone project was," " she says. "All the benefits and challenges experienced in conducting that project are true to what I have experienced at GAO over the past 13 years. In particular, the need to establish criteria for evaluation early on in the review, research on promising practices, and the assignment of roles and responsibilities based on team members' experience and interests have remained true. I believe when GAO officials were interviewing me they were impressed that I had such practical experience already."
A summer internship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Assistant Secretary's Office of Policy and Evaluation helped Giese learn more about program evaluation in the federal government. "The experience led me to consider working for the legislative branch over the federal branch because I had a change to be more directly involved in the research," she says.
Giese also built her analytical skills through a research assistantship with Professor Maria Cancian at the Institute for Research on Poverty. Cancian was instrumental in convincing Giese to choose La Follette from the graduate programs the Maryland native was considering. "She remained committed to me by offering me a meaningful research assistantship and serving as the faculty on my independent research project, which was evaluating the results of a UW campus outreach effort to African American students after a university recruiting scandal," Giese says. "I will always remember her telling me during that project that the service I was providing was just as important as the lessons I was learning. In essence, knowledge can and does serve the people."
The La Follette School's emphasis on teamwork has benefited Giese throughout her career. "The best part of the program is the cohort-building in the first semester," Giese says. "We all took the same classes and studied together, which created a strong personal, and in the long-term, professional, network among my classmates."
Giese's network includes the many La Follette School alumni who work for GAO in Washington, D.C., and across the United States, including Boston and Denver. "Several La Follette graduates have started promising careers at GAO," she says. "GAO has an extensive professional development curriculum to help new analysts learn how to perform work according to generally accepted government auditing standards. These standards are also applied in Inspector Generals' Offices throughout the government sectors. Therefore, La Follette graduates who come to GAO tend to have very marketable skills in the matter of a few years."
Within GAO, Giese has advocated for employment opportunities and professional development for African Americans through the agency's chapter of Blacks in Government, a nonprofit organization. "A major push of our chapter has been for GAO to critically examine the impact that its performance management system has had on the ratings and career outcomes of African American staff," says Giese, who serves on the chapter's board as its immediate past president. "Our efforts eventually led to an outside study of the performance management system in 2008 that uncovered statistically significant differences between the ratings of African American and Caucasians working in the agency. I am involved in agency follow-up efforts to address concerns with ratings disparities, including training courses and information gathering among concerned employees."
In 2008 and 2011 Giese won the GAO-wide Award for Equal Employment Opportunity for her advocacy for EEO principles, diversity and staff leadership development.
Giese values that her "daily grind" gains meaning through her public service. "Everyone has to do some time of work to make ends meet, but what I do provides objective knowledge to address some of the bigger challenges of our country," she says. "Instead of just being critical of our federal government, I can provide practical recommendations for who it could work better. That has an impact on millions of lives."