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Cynthia Bascetta: Fighting the GAO's Battle of New Orleans

Cynthia Bascetta
Cynthia Bascetta ((Photo--Sam Kittner/SamKittner.com))

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From the Partnership for Public Service
Sunday, April 5, 2009; 11:00 PM

After 30 years, Cynthia Bascetta of the Government Accountability Office was set to retire to her home in Fredericksburg, but then New Orleans called her name.

In her role as director of health care, Bascetta oversees two major GAO reviews of the Big Easy, working night and day to help ensure that the devastated city's health care infrastructure is rebuilt effectively.

"There is still so much work to be done--I couldn't turn away from it," she said.

While her broad assignment involves use of federal money by state and local grantees to provide primary care services to the population in the greater New Orleans area, Bascetta is most passionate about her work exploring sorely needed mental health services for children.

"This vulnerable population was hit especially hard by the storm and its aftermath," she said. "We are trying to find the barriers to mental health services for children in New Orleans and examine whether federal programs can address them."

Bascetta's dedication and passion has engendered loyalty and respect at the GAO, the independent congressional watchdog agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. Bascetta's role is to analyze and report on use--and possible misuse--of government funds for health care.

"She is an honest broker of what is working and what needs to be fixed," said Nancy Zapp of the Federal Health Institute.

GAO co-worker Kay Brown said Bascetta's expertise is built on years of experience and thoughtful work.

"She is a particularly skilled leader who pays attention to both her staff and the demands we face for high-quality work that is useful to Congress and the public," said Brown.

Early on, Bascetta fought to make HIV treatment and prevention a federal priority, helping to inform Congress that the nation faced an emergency that warranted intensified federal resources.

In the 1990s, Bascetta led GAO's work to improve federal disability policy. Her research and recommendations on Social Security led to important changes, such as the "Ticket to Work" program in 1999, which allowed many of the program's beneficiaries to return to work while keeping their health care benefits.

Bascetta has also spent many years working on the needs of our nation's veterans, providing testimony at the first congressional hearing on the conditions at Army's Walter Reed Medical Center that backed up the explosive disclosures of a Washington Post investigative series.

"Cynthia understands both VA and Social Security disability programs, and has used that understanding to press administrators to find solutions that will better serve the beneficiaries and the taxpayers," said Patrick Ryan, a former deputy staff director for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

In addition to her recent work in New Orleans, Bascetta has worked in Illinois as GAO's state lead inspecting the economic stimulus spending approved by Congress. The stimulus law mandated GAO report every 60 days on the use of the funds, with teams spread across the nation.

"The stimulus work is the most dramatic example of the impact of GAO's mission to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent efficiently and effectively," she said. "We are collaborating across these teams to ensure both accountability and transparency in the use of the funds to achieve the intended purposes of the Act."

Bascetta's retirement doesn't seem to be coming any time soon.

"The chance to affect public policies that results in more effective and efficient programs across the country is a tremendous advantage of federal service," she said.


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