Applying Trachtenberg School Lessons at the GAO

Director of Career & Alumni Services Denise Riebman tells Trachtenberg School students about opportunities at the Government Accountability Office.
by Gretchen Wieland, MPA '16
March 12, 2015

Investigative. Collaborative. Innovative. These descriptors may not typically come to mind for work in the federal government, but for a number of Trachtenberg School alumni and current students, this is the environment they’ve found at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Robert Goldenkoff, MPA ’87, director of strategic issues at GAO, began at the nonpartisan agency as an intern in 1986 while completing his MPA at GW. Not long after, he took a full-time position at GAO and, almost three decades later, is still drawn to the nature of the work and the office atmosphere.

“The work is a mixture of academic research, investigative journalism and undercover work,” Goldenkoff said. “Every day brings something different.”

Goldenkoff also enjoys the variety of policy teams on which he’s found himself, including transportation, human trafficking, science policy and energy research and development.

Linda Miller, MPP ’04, GAO communications analyst, was initially drawn to the agency because the work appeared to be both interesting and influential. In her current role, Miller works with an internal team to ensure that reports to the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice meet GAO standards. She appreciates the opportunity to make complex issues understandable.

“I like being able to shape messages and influence policy in ways that make it more accessible and relevant to peoples’ lives,” Miller said.

Miller said she also values being able to collaborate with the high-caliber staff GAO employs and likes the culture of work-life balance the agency promotes.

Both Miller and Goldenkoff credit Trachtenberg School Director Kathy Newcomer with the large number of GW students who make GAO their career “home.” Neither knew much about the organization until they learned about it from Newcomer, who regularly encourages students to apply for GAO’s summer internships—which can often lead to full-time employment.

Goldenkoff estimates that at least 45 former Trachtenberg School students have taken full-time positions at GAO. One of last summer’s GAO interns, Dharani Ranganathan, will begin her career with GAO’s Seattle office this summer as a member of its health care team.

“I’m most looking forward to learning more about all areas of health care delivery and financing,” Ranganathan said. “I’m excited to support congressional oversight of federal agencies and programs.”

Alumni at GAO stay connected to GW in a variety of ways, including through informal GAO luncheons with other alumni. Miller co-leads Writing for Public Policy, a one-credit Trachtenberg School course that trains students in workplace writing for audiences such as busy decision-makers. As well, Goldenkoff serves on the school’s Advisory Board.

Goldenkoff said that the skills he attained in his MPA coursework are still relevant each day, particularly in analyzing and questioning data.

“It’s in your DNA now,” Goldenkoff said. “It’s how you approach challenges—it’s a way of thinking.”