KYLE MELATTI '22
Government Accountability Office | Strategic Issues
Week 10: And That It Folks!
July 26 - 30
Dear AGS Family,
I now offer my final thoughts and reflections from the past 10 weeks with GAO. This has truly been one of my favorite internships and professional experiences so far. From studying for the LSAT to reading books just for fun for the first time since 5th grade, this summer has been as much about intellectual growth as professional development. I feel so close to law school and the real world that the culmination of my years at Duke and my professional experiences from this summer have made me feel ready for the next adventure.
I learned a lot at GAO. I learned what a Continuing Resolution was, and then I learned that I would be working exclusively on a report about them. I learned about how different agencies handle problems and challenges very differently. I learned about the relationship between the legislative branch and the executive branch, with GAO’s efforts to hold the executive branch agencies accountable on behalf of Congress.
I was also given much responsibility. I was in charge of the analysis for a federal program. I wrote summary papers, led interviews with the agency, led interviews with national organizations, and drafted many workpapers that the team can use over the coming months. I worked with others to produce quality work, getting to know as many of my GAO colleagues as possible. And most of all, I had fun in everything I did for GAO. It was a true honor and pleasure to be a federal servant, and it has inspired me for the future.
But in everything I did, I had the motivation to produce good work and the encouragement to learn as much as I could.
I have always wanted to give back to the country that has done so much for me and my family. Both my parents are immigrants from Brazil who came here in search of a better life. My mother actually moved here right after graduating with a law degree. But since the United States does not recognize law degrees from most other countries, she was unable to pursue her dream of becoming a practicing public attorney.
The combination of wanting to follow in my mother’s footsteps and giving back to the country led me to pursue a career in public service. Interning for the GAO this summer, mixed with my prior experience with the federal government, made me feel as though federal service was not only effective and tangible, but also very enjoyable.
I believe in America’s institutions for public-policy making. I believe in the ability of public servants to see those policies through, ensuring their effectiveness and benevolence to the American public. After this summer, I believe now more than ever that my generation will soon be in a position to lead the government and make the change our country needs. This inspires me for federal service even more for the future, hopefully as an attorney.
Lastly, I thank everyone at AGS including our sponsors and donors who have made this Program what it is today. Without AGS, I would not be where I am today. It’s been a pleasure reflecting each week on my progress with GAO, and I hope you have enjoyed reading about my summer experience!
Signing off for the last time,
AGS 2021 Summer Fellow
Week 9: How is it already Week 9?
July 19 - 23
I can’t believe my internship is almost over! That’s right, my 10-week internship with GAO and summer fellowship with AGS are nearing a close. To me, and most likely many of you, the summer has just flown right by.
After celebrating GAO’s Centennial last week, this week continued on like most others. I started Monday by leading yet another interview session with a national organization that represents recipients of one of our case study programs. While I am not allowed to share specifics, I found it interesting to navigate the very different perspective this national organization had shared compared with the one from last week. Reading between the lines of the responses has been one of the greatest skills I acquired this summer. I’ve noticed that national organizations are willing to speak much more candidly about federal programs than the federal agencies that operate those programs themselves.
Part of the reason for this insight is because GAO is an auditing agency. No one likes to get audited, so I believe some agencies have reluctance in responding to GAO’s questions when they are anecdotal or testimonial in nature, as opposed to data-driven studies based solely on verifiable facts. So the questions I still had after interviewing agency officials in entrance conferences got answered right away by the national organizations who have much more leeway in their responses.
After debriefing that Monday interview, the rest of the week proceeded with a few fun events like a Strategic Issues Team Trivia game, the GAO Executive Council (Comptroller General, General Counsel, COO, etc.) Town Hall Meeting, and a panel on Site Visits with GAO work. The Town Hall meetings have been a highlight of my time at GAO because it shows how accessible even the very top leaders of the agency are. Everyone at GAO operates on a first-name basis, so everyone in the organization refers to our agency head as “Gene.” Gene Dodaro has been Comptroller General of the United States for a few years now, but he is approaching 50 years of federal service. Such a cool guy!
We ended on Friday with a Strategic Issues Intern Presentation, where all the summer interns in our mission team got to present their work thus far. We got to answer questions from the mission team as well as talk about advice for future interns who are operating under virtual conditions. Unfortunately, GAO reopens the week after my internship ends. If circumstances were different, there is a chance I could have had a couple of weeks in DC in the office. Alas, I am grateful for the opportunity to have served GAO, my government, and my country in this fantastic role. Looking forward to wrapping up next week!
Week 8: GAO Turns 100!
July 12 - 16
Kicking off this week with a BYO Ice Cream Social with other interns, I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable weeks of my time at GAO.
GAO celebrated its 100th Birthday this week! At a capstone centennial event, Members of Congress shared their appreciation and thoughts on GAO’s work for the last 100 years. To my surprise, some of the Members of Congress weren’t born yet when GAO started, but you’d think otherwise. That being said, each Senator and Representative who attended the event shared positive and encouraging words about GAO’s nonpartisan, fact-based mission to support Congress.
The same day as the centennial event, I got to lead another interview session, but this time with an NGO related to our engagement work. I got to lead through our prepared list of questions as well as come up with others on the spot. Overall it was an excellent experience preparing myself for interviewing in legal, judicial, and other formal settings. This week I also led my first team meeting with my engagement team. I’ve really enjoyed seeing myself progress from knowing very little about GAO to being so comfortable with its procedures to lead a meeting.
Lastly, I met with my Analyst “Buddy”, each of whom is assigned to an intern to help facilitate their transition to working in Strategic Issues, and we had an excellent conversation about GAO. I can’t believe I only have a couple of weeks left of school. Also, I registered a couple of weeks ago for the AGS Seminar class with Professors Feaver and Miles, so I’m excited to bring what I learned from this summer to the classroom conversation. On another personal note, I’m studying hard for the August 14th LSAT. Wish me luck!
Week 7: Who Said D&D Isn't Cool?
July 5 - July 9
I can never complain when having a Monday off.
That’s right, when holidays fall on weekends, government employees still get to “observe” the holiday on the business day closest to it, which means we got Monday off. Unfortunately, that meant that Tuesday was a catch-up day with a lot of work to get done. Somehow I still found some time to attend a meeting on the Budget Reconciliation process from the Brookings Institution.
The middle of the week was mostly routine, further developing notes and analysis for the engagement. A couple of events stuck out. The first one was a meeting with all of the current and former Duke students who work at GAO. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of familiar faces from even MPP students who were my TA’s in courses not too long ago. There were also some people who had worked in GAO for a while who received their Master's degree from Sanford years back and who are now very successful in the organization. The second event in the middle of the week was my last Director Meeting. There are a handful of Directors (senior managers overseeing many engagements at a time) in Strategic Issues, and SI interns get to meet most of the members of the Senior Executive Service on their mission team.
I closed the week out as I do many weeks, with an intern-only “coffee chat” on Fridays. This is an opportunity for what some would argue as the nerdiest interns on the planet–by which I mean analyst interns–to get together and talk about anything from Dungeons and Dragons to our favorite historical fiction sci-fi book. I don’t know much about Dungeons and Dragons, but I was very much entertained by the acting skills and vivid details of my fellow interns. I don’t think I’ll be playing anytime soon, though.
This week was also my mid-internship evaluation period (it went great!). At the end of an internship with GAO, those who receive high marks on their final evaluation and who worked 400 hours or more can be offered a non-competitive job offer to come back after graduation. Isn’t that neat?
Week 5: In the Groove
June 28 - July 2
Another entrance conference in the books!
For those of you new to my blog, welcome back to another week at the GAO. As part of GAO’s mission, we are divided into teams around certain topics like Homeland Security and Justice or International Affairs and Trade. My team is Strategic Issues, formerly known as Government-Wide Issues, serving areas like the Federal Budget, Tax Policy and Administration, Human Capital, the Census, Collaborative Governance, Regulation, and the High-Risk List.
Within my “big t” Team, we are assigned to small 3-4 person “small t” teams working on a months-long project called an engagement. I work on the impacts of continuing resolutions, a regular part of the budget pushing back the date that Congress has to decide full budget amounts for the federal government. Part of our inquiry is taking a look at case studies in the federal government, objectively chosen under a set of criteria. An entrance conference is GAO’s official way to tell an agency they are being studied. For other Mission Teams, this could involve deep dives into finances, official policies, and procedure papers. While Strategic Issues does do a lot of that type of work, our engagement more focuses on testimonial evidence from administrators and program recipients.
This week I got to experience some of that testimony at another entrance conference with a new agency. While I wasn’t leading this one, it was still exciting to be a part of this step of the engagement. I really feel like we are getting the ball rolling on some conclusive findings. We asked our prepared set of questions another with a couple of others that I had. I was the designated note-taker for the day so that meant that I had to write up an official Record of Interview to keep in our folder for the engagement. Part of GAO’s standards requires that anyone with an analysis or auditing background should be able to look at our folder and understand exactly what is going on at any time. I think that’s pretty neat because I would not have contrived such an organizational structure on my own. This was the only major happening this week, but more to come!
On a personal note, I had my wisdom teeth removed on Monday so I truly have no idea how anyone understood a word I said at the entrance conference Tuesday morning. Hopefully, I will start to feel better by next week!
Week 5: In the Groove
Welcome back to another eventful week!
One of my favorite parts of the GAO internship so far is meeting new people. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, everyone at GAO is so impressive, passionate, and talented. This week I got the chance to talk with one of the Senior Analysts in charge of the GAO High Risk List. To give a very brief introduction, this is a list of federal outlays that cost $1 billion or more, and something about the way they are being managed has caused GAO to be very concerned.
A great part of GAO’s mission is to hold the government accountable in order to mitigate fraud, waste, and abuse, and therefore the High Risk List serves as a great tool to do that. The Senior Analyst I spoke to is another member of the Strategic Issues Mission Team. Strategic Issues (SI), is in charge of the High Risk List, and therefore coordinates with all the other mission teams in order to develop a list every 2 years. I got to learn a lot about the behind-the-scenes process ranging from defense/contracting related issues to the effectiveness of GAO High Risk List reports. I learned about why some programs, especially in DoD, stay on the list for decades at a time.
I also got started this week on a Trace and Verify project, which is one of many steps GAO takes on every engagement in order to ensure accuracy and professionalism. Similar to a “peer review” process in academia, one of the first steps in any GAO engagement is getting key data and citations checked by other members of the team. Eventually, as we move towards publishing the final product on Continuing Resolutions, there will also be time for our Managing Director, the COO, and the Comptroller General, and the agencies we audit to all comment. All of this happens to ensure that GAO is being independent in its investigation and that all information is accurate and represents the message we are trying to get across.
As you can tell, this week was spent heavily on engagement work, which is very pleasant for me because I am really starting to enjoy our project. Since my team put me in charge of one of the programs we are using in our case study, I have also gotten accustomed to the responsibilities and duties required as the lead for that case.
This upcoming week we will be doing another entrance conference with one of the other agencies we are taking a look at. On a personal note, I will be getting my wisdom teeth removed on Monday, so wish me luck!
Week 4: Ok, Almost Halfway Done!
Welcome back everyone to the Kyle Melatti blog for my internship this summer with GAO’s Strategic Issues mission team. This week was filled with events, excitement, and learning. On Tuesday we had our “entrance conference” with the agency we are auditing, as well as a meeting with our Congressional requesters to make sure that our approach matched what they wanted. The entrance conference gives the audited agencies an opportunity to understand the scope and methods of GAO’s inquiry as well as time to answer some initial GAO questions.
I got to lead the very first entrance conference we had. This was a bit nerve-racking because the system we used to hold the teleconference gave a little beep each time someone new joined the call. As the teleconference was getting started, I heard at least 15-20 beeps of different agency officials joining the call. Nerves subsiding, I asked agency officials with vigor and force from our carefully planned list of questions. No one likes to be audited, so I tried to make our questions seem as conversational and natural as possible. My supervisors all told me I did an excellent job afterwards, with one even commenting that it seemed as if I had conducted many of these interviews before.
After our meeting with Congress, it was finally time to start documenting everything that happened on Tuesday. GAO operates under special auditing guidelines so that any trained external auditor can look at our work and understand exactly what is going on and why decisions were made the way they were. Naturally that adds up to quite a lot of paperwork and writing on our end, but I think it also makes it better for our team to be on the same page.
Finally, a pleasant surprise came at the end of this week. I was typing away at an assignment on Thursday when I got a notification from the Washington Post on my phone saying that President Biden was going to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. I had happily been hearing in previous days that the House and Senate were moving Juneteenth through the legislative process fairly quickly, but I had no idea it was going to be signed just a couple days prior.
I sent a screenshot of the WaPo article to the intern group chat and within 20 minutes we got a notification from the higher ups that we would have Friday off! Yet another of the many blessings for working in government!
Week 3: Ok, I'm an Analyst Now!
Another fantastic week at the GAO!
We kicked off this week preparing for an upcoming “entrance conference,” which informs an agency that they are about to get audited. At these meetings, we tell them what initial questions we have as well as the scope and duration of our engagement. I learned a lot about this process, especially the difficulties in trying to coordinate meetings with everyone from the different offices. Before this internship, I certainly thought that each department was more or less isolated and worked individually to accomplish its mission. Now I am starting to understand the extent to which agencies conduct inter-government work. Our entrance conference isn't until next week, so stay tuned!
The middle of the week was packed with meetings and some very advanced courses. Since my engagement is in the Federal Budget cluster within Strategic Issues, I also took a 4-hour training course on the budget. I learned about everything from reading budget justifications to understanding the differences between appropriation, apportionment, and obligations. Also in the middle of the week, I got to meet the Comptroller General! Around once a year, the CG (Gene Dodaro) listens in on the Strategic Issues teamwide meeting. Coincidentally, this week’s team meeting is also when the interns introduced themselves to the rest of SI. Everyone I’ve talked to at GAO says that Mr. Dodaro never forgets a name or a face, so hopefully he’ll remember me if we cross paths in the future.
Lastly, I wrapped up the week with a couple of fun events to get to know others at GAO. First I went to a virtual Meet and Greet with my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss: the Managing Director for Strategic Issues. Dr. Sager was so kind and friendly and made a good pitch for anyone wanting to stick around GAO for the long term. I also went to a virtual GAO Intern Coffee Chat, where I got to meet all the other interns, even those who are not stationed at Headquarters. I really enjoyed this event because on a typical engagement there is only 1 intern. This means there are relatively few times for interns to talk to one another in the pandemic era (especially when we are using Skype for Business and not Zoom). I not only got to meet interns from all over the country, but I also learned that there are two Duke MPP students who are interns as well!
But I have to end this week’s blog post by thanking AGS for supporting me in this endeavor. I would not have acquired my dream of federal public service without the professional development I accredit to AGS, as well as the many unique opportunities afforded to students in the organization. If you’d like to learn more about the ways you can get involved, check out our AGS Council or General Body Membership applications. As always, feel free to reach out with any questions!
Week 2: Ramping Up
May 31 - June 4
Welcome back everyone to my internship with the Government Accountability Office this summer! This concludes my second week with the agency, an organization that I am growing even more fond of every day.
Everyone from my immediate engagement team and the Strategic Issues mission staff to analysts from Cybersecurity and other teams have all been so helpful and professional. When you’re used to being one of the most impressive people in a room, my experience with GAO has been quite the opposite. GAO has subject matter experts in every topic, and they are staffed with analysts and auditors of the highest caliber.
Most of my work this week revolved around finding my fit within my 4-person team. Our team is wrapping up the design phase of our “engagement” (GAO-speak for project), which means meeting with Congressional requesters and scheduling meetings with audited agencies. Before this, however, we had to get final approval to move forward with the execution of the design. Every few weeks, the Chief Operating Officer of GAO conducts an Engagement Review Meeting. This is part of GAO’s long-standing process to hold engagements to the highest scrutiny, which means filling in members of the Executive Committee and the Senior Executive Service of where we are in the process.
My engagement deals with Continuing Resolutions (CRs), and their impact on federal entities and programs. While I cannot share which agencies and programs my team and I are in the process of analyzing, I can only say that I am tremendously enjoying the process. We got final approval and then scheduled meetings with House and Senate Staff as well as the targets of our study. I also drafted the questions for the federal program that I am personally responsible for analyzing over the course of my internship.
Lastly, I wrapped up most of the mandatory training videos and learning modules for new hires. Interns in many ways are treated exactly as freshly hired graduates from masters and doctoral programs. This means attending trainings for the federal budget process, evidence gathering, public policy analysis, and complete independence from partisanship and bias.
As you can tell, I have already learned so much about the federal government and the GAO. Next week we will be wrapping up our questions for the entrance conference with targeted agencies and submitting them for review. Stay tuned!
Week 1: The GAO? What's That?
Can you believe I’m about to be a senior? Me neither. Welcome to my blog everyone.
My name is Kyle Melatti. I’m a Public Policy and Political Science double major, and I also have the proud privilege of serving as one of AGS’s student Co-Chairs. As I prepare for law school, take a summer course, and make a valiant effort to go to the gym, I have also somehow found the time to intern for the federal government. I’ve had an interest in government since I was a child because both my parents wanted to pursue careers as public servants in their home country of Brazil. When they came here they decided that path was no longer an option.
Given that I want to give back to the United States for all that this magical place has done for my family and myself, combined with the fact that I’m really good at policy work, I decided to intern at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this summer. I first learned about them after a year-long research project for former Navy Comptroller and current Sanford Professor Doug Brook. We worked on a project analyzing whether or not the Department of Defense was an anomaly on one of GAO’s risk-assessment tools. In addition, I have never been one to enjoy spending other people’s money, so I take very seriously GAO’s commitment to ensuring tax dollars are spent efficiently.
GAO is a legislative branch agency, and most of its analytical and audit work comes at the direct request of committees and Members of Congress. They split the requests between 15 different mission teams, some of which include Applied Research and Methodology (ARM), Defense Contract and Management (DCM), and Homeland Security and Justice (HSJ). Most of the interns there are grad students, so I am very pleased and honored that GAO has allowed me to come on their team as one of the select few undergraduates.
I was assigned to the Strategic Issues mission team, which has oversight over areas such as the High-Risk List (risky federal programs at $1 billion or more) and the federal budget process. While one Managing Director runs the Strategic Issues team, dozens of analysts are split into small groups of 3-4 to complete congressional requests. GAO assigns interns to some of these multi-month projects, called “engagements.” My engagement is about the effects of Continuing Resolutions (CRs) on government agencies, paying particular attention to how agencies and programs might face uncertainty or financial harm as a result of CRs. The real meat and potatoes won’t start until a couple of weeks from now where we start conducting agency interviews. This past week has been mostly onboarding and training to make sure us interns know how to navigate GAO and its document management--after all, at my first ever internship back in 2017, I accidentally deleted the entire file server!
Hopefully, you’ve gotten to understand a bit about my internship and who I am. I look forward to sharing with you how my engagement progresses over the coming weeks. Until next time!