Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Friday, July 22, 2011

Workshop reports cover variety of local, state, national, international topics

Alumni help coordinate workshop projects

Several alumni provide valuable support to the public affairs workshops. Budget and policy manager Eric Pearson, a 1994 graduate, regularly helps to line up projects for the City of Milwaukee's Division of Budget and Management, of which 1983 alum Mark Nicolini is director. "The reports would not be possible without their support and encouragement," says professor Andrew Reschovsky.

At the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families, 1989 alum and senior policy advisor John Elliott served as liaison to the students working out recommendations for allocating state child welfare dollars to counties. Alumni aiding him and the students were budget and policy analyst Nicholas Bubb (class of 2008), regional operations director John Tuohy (1983) and budget director Robert Nikolay (1989).

Two alumni were involved with the Workshop in International Public Affairs. 2010 graduate Farha Tahir facilitated an analysis of U.S. government aid to Pakistan. She is program coordinator and research associate for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

For the second year, Andria Hayes-Birchler connected the Millennium Challenge Corporation with the La Follette School. Now a development policy officer with MCC, Hayes-Birchler rotated through MCC while working for the U.S. Agency for International Development as the presidential management fellow. During that time, she put MCC in touch with professor Melanie Manion, who taught the spring 2010 workshop in international public affairs. MCC became a client, and a team of four students evaluated MCC's indicators related to social investments.

Students in the domestic and international public affairs workshops covered topics that included municipal fees, methods for evaluating countries requesting U.S. aid, and options for allocating state child welfare dollars to Wisconsin counties.

Students in one section of the Workshop in Public Affairs produced three reports for the City of Milwaukee under the guidance of professor Andrew Reschovsky. One report estimates fiscal and environmental costs and benefits associated with expanding the Department of Public Works' use of compressed natural gas garbage trucks. The authors recommended the department purchase 10 compressed natural gas garbage trucks in 2012. A second explores partnership opportunities for the Milwaukee Public Library. It includes a recommendation for Milwaukee Public Library to institute a strong service-learning program with area post-secondary institutions. The third evaluates Milwaukee's system for collecting municipal fees to help the city address problems related to delayed payment. The study analyzes factors that may influence initial collection and determines that certain collection practices — particularly penalties for late payment — are strongly associated with timely payment.

"The mayor of Milwaukee was highly engaged in the final presentations," Reschovsky says. "Some lively discussion ensued regarding the municipal fees report. The assistant treasurer and a staff person from neighborhood services got excited about some of the ideas and trends the students presented."

Students in the Workshop in Public Affairs taught by Karen Holden worked on two reports in consultation with two Wisconsin state agencies and the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

A report prepared for the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families examined the allocation of state child welfare dollars to counties. Given that the current method for determining the amount of money given to each county may not be optimal for outcomes, the authors analyzed two other methods. They recommend an allocation method based on the risk of child maltreatment each county faces.

"The students presented to almost all of DCF's entire executive team, including secretary Eloise Anderson," Holden says. "Indeed the secretary asked most of the questions, including a lot of thoughtful, probing questions, not just about the study itself, but about potential implications."

Another report, prepared for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Bureau of Waste and Materials Management explored consolidation strategies to improve the efficiency of local recycling programs in Wisconsin and to help municipalities in decide consolidation is right for them. The guide considers which services to consolidate, at which level of government to consolidate, and the process of how to consolidate.

U.S. Government Accountability Office staff in three cities heard from students who traveled to the Chicago office to give an overview of individuals' knowledge of the fees associated with individual retirement accounts and 401(k)s, the transparency of these fees, and the relationship between financial literacy and the decision to roll over.

When leaving their jobs, many individuals in the United States roll their retirement savings into individual retirement accounts instead of leaving them in their 401(k) accounts. IRAs can have higher fees, which over time can reduce an individual's overall retirement savings. This report offers the U.S. Government Accountability Office an overview of individuals' knowledge of the fees associated with IRAs and 401(k)s, the transparency of these fees, and the relationship between financial literacy and the decision to roll over.

For the international workshop taught by Melanie Manion, a report for the U.S. Office of South Asia Policy analyzes the impact of China's increased activities in the Indian Ocean region on regional stability and security and on other regional players, especially India. The activities include investing in regional states, building ports and infrastructure, and acquiring energy resources. The report discusses opportunities created for U.S. government action in the Indian Ocean region.

Another group produced a report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. They analyzed the effectiveness of U.S. government aid to Pakistan in the wake of the 2009 Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act.

The third international report was a "real-time" analysis of the Millennium Challenge Corporation's annual review of the indicators and methodology it uses to evaluate applications from countries seeking U.S. development aid. The students produced sections of the report throughout the semester so MCC could take their ideas into account as agency staff analyzed the gender sensitivity of current and potential indicators.

The report is the second La Follette students have produced for MCC, thanks to connections made by 2008 alum Andria Hayes-Birchler, a development policy officer with MCC, who noted "The report influenced our selection review work."

Reports online

Workshop reports dating to 2000 are available online.