When members of Congress need factual information and insights into the effectiveness of the financial laws put in place after the 2008 economic crisis, they regularly turn to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Orice Williams Brown.
Initially as director and now as managing director of the GAO’s financial markets and community investment section, Brown and her staff have issued dozens of reports examining the flaws and offering recommendations to improve the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout fund, the Wall Street regulatory reform law and the initiatives to prevent housing foreclosures.
The topics she and her staff of 130 have investigated have been complex and often politically charged, but Brown has managed to navigate these treacherous waters, providing an objective analysis for Congress and keeping the financial regulators on their toes.
“We do a lot of research, consider a variety of views and we make sure our work is fully supported by the facts,” said Brown. “We tell Congress what information we have found. Sometimes they are not happy about it, but they respect what we do.”
Under Brown’s direction, the GAO has issued reports analyzing the impact of regulations on the financial markets under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
In June, Brown’s team issued a report that found federal programs designed to help struggling borrowers avoid home foreclosures were falling short, presenting a major hurdle to the housing recovery. The report recommended a number to ways that government agencies could improve their existing strategies to help borrowers.
She also had a hand in first comprehensive audit of the Federal Reserve’s credit facilities established to respond to the financial crisis and closely examined TARP’s handling the bailout of American International Group.
Tom McCool, Brown’s former boss at the GAO, said his colleague is “incredibly sharp and insightful at picking up on the most important issues in the financial markets, and in separating the wheat from the chaff.”
“She also has enormous energy and is the engine that makes things work,” he said.” She always comes up with that extra effort to get things done and in the right way.”
Brown originally considered working on Wall Street in 1990 after earning her graduate degree in finance at Virginia Tech, but opportunities were limited because the markets were still recovering from the 1987 crash. She landed a job the GAO, the congressional watchdog agency, that she thought would be temporary. Instead, it has turned into a fulfilling career.
“I came to the government to wait for the markets to return, but on my very first assignment, I absolutely fell in love with GAO’s unique mission and role in government,” she said. “My motivation for staying was helping ensure that taxpayer dollars are used efficiently and effectively. Public service is about wanting to make a difference.”
While Brown was in the trenches conducting inquires on a day-to-day basis in her early years at the GAO, she now oversees the work of a large staff, making sure their mandates are clear, that they are working together, have the resources they need and are developing solid reports.
Brown said the work demands have increased exponentially since the 2008 financial crisis. “It’s been crazy busy,” said Brown. “For me, the biggest challenge has been finding a work-life balance.”
But Brown said the work is very satisfying, with an opportunity to do in-depth and independent examinations of the financial markets, and present a balanced picture to policymakers. And despite the pressures, Brown said, the job remains exciting, with an “opportunity to learn something new every day” and “to make the government work better.”
“After 22 years of public service, I can honestly say that I still wake up in the morning excited about what I do,” she said.
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org/nominate to nominate a federal employee for a Service to America Medal and http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.