Dr. Rebecca Blank serves as Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at the Department of Commerce.
How did you become interested in working for the Federal Government?
This is my third time working in government service. I spent a year as a senior staff economist on the Council of Economic Advisors (CEA) in the administration of President George H. W. Bush. The CEA is the organization inside the White House that provides economic advice to the President. I came back to DC as a presidential appointee with the CEA in the second term of President Clinton. Now I am back, serving as the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs at the Department of Commerce. Government service provides an opportunity to actually be part of the policy development process. In every government job I’ve had, I’ve gained new insights into the economic issues that I work on.
What inspired you to pursue your field of interest?
I started college as an English major. I certainly never thought “I want to be an economist when I grow up!” But I took an introductory economics class and it was so interesting that I took another. And I never quite escaped after that. Economics requires rigorous math and analytical skills, which I found challenging but fun. At the same time, economics has a lot to say about how the world works. After graduate school I became increasingly interested in how government policies could (or couldn’t) affect behavior and economic outcomes. That led me into lots of interesting research areas. And my research on the impact of policy in turn opened up opportunities to work directly on real world policy issues inside government.
What keeps you motivated?
I know it’s a corny thing to say, but I care about trying to help make the world a better place. I care about the fact that too many people in America are currently without jobs or without adequate health care. I’m privileged to be in a position where I can collect information and work on policies that might help reduce these problems. I may not make the final decision on most issues, but I’m part of the process. And I love working with a group of smart and dedicated people. I’m always angry when I read statements about the alleged incompetence of government workers. The people who I work with every day are committed and hardworking, and that motivates me to come to work ready to do the best job that I can in my position.
What has been your favorite moment since you’ve been working at Commerce?
For almost 20 years I’ve been working on trying to improve the measurement of poverty in the United States. I’ve written articles about this and served on various commissions and advisory boards. I received word this past winter that the Administration was going to propose adding funds to the part of the Commerce budget that I oversee, asking the Census Bureau to develop and publish a Supplemental Poverty Measure with many of the improvements that I and others have been talking about. Public policy doesn’t move fast, but it was really a high point to be in my job when this change happened.
Recently, what has been new and exciting about your work?
Among other things, I oversee the Census Bureau which is in the midst of launching the 2010 Decennial Census, which is designed to count every man, woman, and child in America. It’s been absolutely fascinating to be involved in the final planning and launch of this effort. And it’s challenging and often sobering to deal with the criticism and firestorms that the Census generates. Being part of the 2010 Census has demanded management skills, substantive knowledge, and political savvy. Of course, it’s not just an interesting project, but one of the most important things that will happen this year. Our political representation depends upon the data from the Census. And over $400 billion in Federal dollars are allocated to states and localities each year based on data from the Decennial Census.
Maggie Chen is Special Assistant to the Council on Women and Girls
Source: White House.gov Blog Feed