Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Miller tackles bureaucratic entanglements

Bryan Miller


After graduating in 2013, Bryan Miller became a business and data analyst with Dell Compellent in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

Bryan Miller wants to weed out inefficiencies.

"Working for the Department of Veterans Affairs, I found the deeply embedded bureaucracy made local policy innovation difficult — even though individual regional facilities were relatively efficient," the second-year student says. "I want to make program and policy improvements on a bigger scale."

Because moving a bureaucracy away from business as usual requires a broad range of analytical skills, Miller enrolled at the La Follette School in fall 2011 to pursue a Master of Public Affairs. "Getting a bachelor of science in policy analysis at Indiana University-Bloomington was a good start, but the sophisticated skills offered by an MPA will give more credibility to the analyses and recommendations I make," he says.

Miller, who is treasurer of the La Follette School Student Association, is focusing his MPA studies on building a public management skill set that he can apply broadly. "I'm interested in health, poverty and education policy, but I'm also naturally drawn to the relatively mundane operational aspects of the public sector — ongoing administration, agency operations, broad program implementation, etc.," he says. "With such broad interests, I am not likely to spend my entire career as a public manager in one sector. I want to develop the necessary skills to make the biggest positive impact, regardless of my environment. La Follette offers that flexibility."

The La Follette School's core quantitative skills courses are widely applicable to just about any sector, Miller notes. "The solid foundation created by La Follette's quantitative courses makes the program even more flexible."

A summer internship with the U.S. Government Accountability Office allowed Miller to apply the skills he gained during his first year at La Follette. He spent the summer in Dayton, Ohio, as part of GAO's Acquisition and Sourcing Management team. "I performed a congressionally mandated analysis of executive agencies' use of service contracts to measure compliance with Office of Management and Budget guidelines and to ensure there was an appropriate workforce balance between government employees and contractors," says Miller, who has a project assistantship with professor David Weimer for the 2012-13 school year. "I also analyzed a portfolio of high-profile Department of Defense weapons programs to determine the impact of schedule and budget overruns and to measure the fiscal impact of concurrent development and production."

Prior to enrolling at Indiana University-Bloomington, Miller worked in the private, public and non-profit sectors in contracting/purchasing, facility operations and project management roles. "My professional experience started in material management and operations for some small private electronics manufacturers, then I moved into public sector purchasing and contracting, and later into contract biopharmaceutical services," he says.

Most of the work was for small companies and organizations, so Miller wore many hats at once and developed skills in project management, procurement planning and regulatory compliance. "Along the way I learned more about information systems and making smart use of technology," says Miller, who won a fellowship for his first year of the MPA program. "Before coming to La Follette, I utilized many of those skills at once as a project manager for an information technology team working for a local nonprofit. To further develop and apply that experience at a higher level requires the kind of diverse education and analytical skills that La Follette's MPA program offers."

The program's small size is another benefit. "The small class size gives you a better opportunity to get to know the faculty members and learn where your interests might align," he adds. "It lets the faculty get to know you better, too, which can really open up opportunities in your area of interest. With larger programs (and the larger class sizes that come with them), that familiarity just wouldn't be possible."

Those features prompted Miller to apply to La Follette. His visit to campus confirmed what he had heard about the campus emphasis on public service. "When I met with associate director Don Moynihan and student services coordinator Mary Treleven, I was really impressed with their dedication to the school and their focus on making sure that La Follette was a good fit for both of us," Miller says. "The rest of the La Follette staff has been similarly helpful. A program so small and dedicated yet so flexible was very attractive. It's a great combination that I didn't see in any other school I considered. Larger programs that I considered seemed more likely to wall students into a small set of classes, but La Follette really encourages you to explore other departments to get the education you want."

"La Follette's active and diverse faculty brings real-world credibility to the classroom, and the small class size makes their knowledge really accessible," Miller adds. "The faculty wants you to succeed and will go out of their way to help you."

When he graduates, Miller plans to return to the public sector, preferably at the federal level. "There are so many opportunities to apply strong policy and public management skills domestically," he says. "The benefits of good stewardship go well beyond what I do directly; promoting good policy and practice in one area helps to promote further improvements in related areas. I won't have to look far to find an area where I can make a positive impact. Using my skills to improve the lives of others, even if just in small ways, is very rewarding."

— updated September 9, 2013