How does your internship sponsor or agency contribute to the mission of national security?
GAO is part of the legislative branch of the U.S. government—it exists in order to provide accountability for taxpayer dollars by auditing the performance of federal programs and agencies. By conducting independent analyses and reviews, GAO can make recommendations to Congress about how to improve national security–related programs and inform policymakers about complex topics in the field in a concise and easy-to-read way. Without GAO, the United States would have significantly less information about the efficacy and return-on-investment of its national security programs.
My engagement team is reviewing the implementation of a maritime security regulation, known as “10+2,” that is intended to help CBP figure out which shipments pose a risk of containing contraband, WMD, or other security threats. HSJ audits programs dealing with border security, transportation security, critical infrastructure, and emergency preparedness/response. In addition to HSJ, several other mission teams within GAO review security–related programs and issues: Defense Capabilities and Management (DCM), International Affairs and Trade (IAT), and Acquisitions and Sourcing Management (ASM).
How will this experience help you in your job search and career?
GAO’s internship program is unique in its ability to place students directly in the middle of ongoing projects. GAO engagement teams treat interns the same as they would any full-time analyst: I contribute meaningfully and substantively to the work of the engagement, and in return I am gaining practical experience in working with government agencies, writing effectively, working closely in a small-team environment, and using database software to document correspondence and analyses. As part of our review, my team has visited container shipping ports around the country, interviewed CBP officials, interviewed representatives from major importers and shipping companies, and analyzed large amounts of compliance and enforcement data CBP has collected over the years.
I believe an internship at GAO is invaluable experience for anyone looking to work in the fields of consulting or auditing. Working at GAO is a crash course in thoroughness and detail. In government auditing, our ability to write comprehensive analyses that take all the factors into account is the basis of our credibility as an organization. My interview write-ups are regularly returned to me covered in comments and changes large and small. At the same time, GAO is tasked with informing policymakers, and writing in a brief but effective way is a requirement at every level of the organization. This productive tension is at the heart of all of GAO's work, from research to summary to analysis. Learning how to balance these two competing prerogatives is a domain-general skill that GAO teaches well.
What are two interesting things about GAO that the average person doesn't know?
GAO is consistently rated one of the best places to work in the federal government. In my opinion, one of the contributors to this ranking is GAO’s great work-life balance. My co-workers often worked from home one or two days a week, and mentioned that GAO encouraged them to telework, especially since the Metro system is being upgraded. Some of the other interns chose to work nine hours each day in order to take every other Friday off. The organization has numerous sports teams and other recreational initiatives as well. Many small quality-of-life factors like this make GAO a great organization to work for, and I met a surprisingly large number of people who had been with GAO for two or three decades. In my time as an intern so far, I have attended a baseball game, a summer picnic, and regular meet-and-greets with senior staff. I also had the opportunity to attend a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing.
GAO is also one of the most diverse agencies in the federal government. As of 2013, 58 percent of GAO employees were women and 33 percent were minorities. In my short time here, I've attended three or four cultural initiatives, such as a Caribbean culture museum created by employees of Caribbean heritage. The diversity at GAO is definitely a product of a very concerted effort to hire and retain many types of people, and that effort can be felt in the people I interact with on a day-to-day basis. Employees with a variety of backgrounds and viewpoints ensure that all perspectives can be brought to bear on the work that GAO does and tangibly improve the quality of GAO's work.