Matt Kienzle is a former teacher pursuing the MPA/MAIR to facilitate a career change. He began working at the U.S. GAO last summer and has taken evening courses as part of the Maxwell-in-Washington program.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has a boring name. Thankfully, it was not a boring place to have a summer internship. GAO is a Federal Government oversight agency that has Congressional authority to investigate any agency or program where Federal money is spent. I was fortunate to secure an internship at an agency that does meaningful work, employs good people, and allowed me freedom to produce quality products.
I was placed on the Leadership and Executive Development Program Team in the agency’s Learning Center, and immediately assigned to complete useful and visible long-term projects. During my first week, I was tasked with analyzing the effectiveness of the nineteen Leadership Development courses at GAO, mandatory for all employees promoted to management, and presenting recommendations to senior staff about how to improve them.
The project required me to utilize many of the skills that are taught and reinforced at Maxwell. I gathered both quantitative and qualitative data to determine which courses were functioning as intended, which could be improved, and why. I attended many of the courses to better understand how they function in practice, a technique that had the added benefit of allowing me to take courses that are only open to managers.
Another reason my experience at GAO was positive is that the team I worked with was very supportive and allowed me to independently complete tasks. I was given assignments and projects, and expected to complete them in a timely and competent manner. Autonomy allows me to produce better work because I feel greater ownership over the product. For example, twice a year, the agency hosts a Leadership Speaker Series, which brings experts in the leadership field to GAO to present to employees. My supervisor granted me the responsibility to identify the speaker, negotiate terms, and organize logistics for the agency-wide event.
Since I was primarily working on projects independently, I quickly learned that I was expected to meaningfully contribute during team meetings and update coworkers on my progress. Initially, it was an intimidating prospect, and doubly so because GAO is a fairly complex agency that can be difficult to understand. Despite the learning curve, it was satisfying to reach a level of familiarity with the agency, and to engage in projects in which I was responsible for calling meetings both to discuss my progress and solicit opinions.
Overall, my experience at GAO was highly positive and I am looking forward to an opportunity to return in the future.