About

Research Interests

Community/Economic Enrichment Health Homelessness Housing Legal Services Poverty Science Social Justice

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Groups

  • Johns Hopkins University

  • Community Impact Internships Program

  • Center for Social Concern

  • CSC Student Organizations

  • Alpha Phi Omega Kappa Mu

  • Impacts

    This Impact is private

    2020 Peer Mentor Weekly Blogs

    This summer, I had the opportunity to work at Baltimore’s Bureau of Budget and Management Research (BBMR), which is the executive office that coordinates research and planning for the city’s operating budget. During my internship, I worked to lay the foundation for the city’s Equity Assessment Program; over the next several years, this initiative will implement an equity lens in both executive agencies’ annual budget requests and their day-to-day operations.

    In this capacity, I found that other cities such as Seattle and San Antonio had accomplished this by creating an equity-focused questionnaire for executive agencies to complete when submitting their budget requests. Because most budget work is an iterative process in strong-mayor systems such as Baltimore, this approach allows ample time for reflection and research into how to make expenditures more equitable. After analyzing budgetary data in Excel and visualizing my results using Tableau, I proposed sets of questions to ask agencies depending on the specific character of their revenue and expenditures. Finally, I wrote a full report on my results, presented them to the BBMR team, and drafted an exit memo to guide whoever picks up my work next.

    Because my project has been a foundational one, I’ve developed my strategic and critical thinking skills in the context of municipal executive government. For example, when confronted with the tens of thousands of line items present in Baltimore City’s appropriations, I looked for broad trends and applied both my prior knowledge and my on-the-job research to figure out what equity might look like for certain agencies. This bird’s-eye exploration of governance allowed me to contextualize my hard skills in terms of the goals they might help my future employers reach. I got to practice analyzing and visualizing data using software such as Tableau and Excel; by combining geographic and numeric information with an equity lens, I learned how to make data tell a story. If these quantitative and qualitative elements are combined and presented well, those stories become our links to the halls of power.

    In short, my time at BBMR has been a monumental step on my path from being a policy wonk in training to becoming a savvy and compassionate public servant.

    Made an impact between 07/23/2020 and 07/26/2020 with Johns Hopkins University
    2020 Peer Mentor Weekly Blogs

    As a governmental organization, BBMR has a large ability to impact Baltimore’s nonprofit and government organizations. Specifically, because of Baltimore’s strong-mayor system, BBMR is a gatekeeper in the policymaking process. Most of the City of Baltimore’s spending, whether at the level of a budget to be set or a vendor contract to be signed, must be approved by our agency.

    Naturally, this has large implications for other agencies, but it also creates the context and environment in which Baltimore nonprofits must operate. Many nonprofits partner with their communities to better connect them to the services that their local governments provide. Others work to fill in the gaps in the provision of those services. In Baltimore, these services are facilitated by BBMR and the Department of Finance.

    In this light, there might be room to work with local nonprofits to promote budgetary equity and proper service provision. By working with community partners to identify local priorities and factor them into budget decisions, communities’ needs could be more wholly met. Among CIIP placement areas, community partners that work in similar spaces to city agencies, such as Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition, Bikemore, FreeState Justice, and the like, might be opportune colleagues.

    However, there may be some difficulties in creating these relationships. For one, rules and regulations governing the financial aspects of Baltimore City’s operations may make such cooperation difficult to formalize. Additionally, because of BBMR’s focus on financial policy, our budget analysts might not have the specific areas of expertise that officials at other agencies do.

    For these reasons, having those agencies work with community partners and other stakeholders throughout the budgetary and programmatic consideration process might lead to more productive conversations Additionally, such relationships might create more opportunities for further cooperation in executing the agencies’ goals, should they intersect with those of the partner organizations. My specific work in laying the foundation for BBMR’s Equity Assessment Program may be able to help identify places in the governing process where such relationships can be built. By ensuring that agencies are asked about their stakeholder relationships during the budget process, BBMR can encourage them to think more critically about how they cultivate them.

    Made an impact on 07/18/2020 with Johns Hopkins University
    2020 Peer Mentor Weekly Blogs

    As I reach the end of my internship, not only is the final goal of my major project becoming clearer, but its place in the organization is as well. I recently had the chance to virtually sit down for a socially-distant informational interview with Mara James, my supervisor and BBMR’s Legislative and Engagement Lead. In that role, she is primarily responsible for much of the outreach that BBMR does, both internally and externally. With regards to the City’s internal budgetary process, Mara handles many of the day-to-day tasks that must be taken to keep Baltimore’s budget flowing, such as answering agency officials’ budgetary questions, approving vendor contracts, hires, and salary changes, and ensuring that the proper procedures are followed for all grant- and spending-related actions that agencies take. Externally, Mara also has a large role in ensuring that Baltimore’s budget process is accessible to the general public by checking social media to see where BBMR might want to put out PSAs or other communications to clear up misinformation regarding the budgetary process, as well as coordinating and tracking drafts of the fiscal notes appended to each piece of local legislation.

    Throughout all of her communications with City staffers and Baltimoreans at large, Mara works to apply an equity lens to her work, ensuring clarity and transparency in the process. She looks over all the bill responses/fiscal notes, publications, and other responses/communications to the public to make sure that they make minimum use of jargon while explaining everything that might not be intuitive.

    Her use of an equity lens is a part of her work that has gained even more importance in recent months. The nationwide budget squeezes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the breaches of trust between the government and the governed caused by police violence, and ongoing tensions between the states and the federal government have put a greater spotlight on good governance.

    Herein lies both my new set of tasks and the source of my newfound understanding of my role. I have recently been assigned to look over the financial data regarding Baltimore’s response to COVID-19. My objectives are largely the same as they are for my larger project; I will analyze the City’s expenditures to determine how equitable they’ve been. The lesson was almost immediately apparent to me: As a public servant, many of your day-to-day duties won’t change, even in a time of crisis. However, during those crises, the underlying principles behind those duties become even more important.

    For example, the emergency spending approval process is central to the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. When in a state of emergency, many of the regulations regarding government spending no longer apply. This includes equity-based standards such as minority- and women-owned business contracting requirements. Nonetheless, the people with whom the government does business will directly impact which communities have more resources to build their resiliency against the pandemic.

    This has large implications for my ongoing project as well. When I first started researching what went into a citywide budget equity assessment, the prospect was daunting. Cities like San Antonio and Portland that had done major work on this front had entire teams dedicated just to their equity assessment projects. As far as I was aware, the project I’d just started was one of the first review documents that BBMR was going to produce on the topic of equity, and with the data that I had, there was little to no chance that I would be able to go as in depth as those cities had in their various question-based tools for agencies.

    I soon realized that the point was not to have all the answers myself within two months; in fact, it was precisely because other cities had entire equity teams and years of experience that the scope of my project would necessarily be different. So, I reframed my project. Instead of trying to answer the central policy question of “who gets what,” I realized that figuring out where inequities might be and developing a procedure with which to interrogate that question is my role this summer. This is no less powerful than any other step along the equity analysis process; in fact, I will essentially be recording the principles that will be the basis of BBMR’s equity work in the future.

    Made an impact between 07/09/2020 and 07/13/2020 with Johns Hopkins University
    2020 Peer Mentor Weekly Blogs

    Growing up, I went to inner-city public schools for grades six through twelve. I didn’t live nearby; they were magnet schools, wherein an advanced academic program open to students from any school zone is hosted at an otherwise comprehensive and neighborhood-based public school. Even though I was in the magnet program, however, I sometimes felt more comfortable with students from the local neighborhood than with my classmates.
    It wasn’t that I had more in common with them; actually, it was quite the opposite. My middle and high school stood at the crossroads of two historically ethnic neighborhoods, and they had large first-generation American and immigrant populations. A majority of the schools’ populations lived below the poverty line, and some students faced housing insecurity.
    For my part, I grew up in a single-parent immigrant household. Based on that alone, my odds of achieving upward mobility likely weren’t great. While I wouldn’t say that I had the easiest of upbringings -- for most of my life up to that point, I didn’t have easy access to transportation or to groceries beyond boxed and canned products -- the fact that I could attend such a program spoke to the privilege that I did have. In high school, I took advanced coursework, participated in award-winning extracurricular activities, and was given a wide support network in my early professional development. Today, I attend one of the world’s most prestigious universities, which has opened even more doors for me academically, professionally, and personally.
    On the other hand, I often felt that quite a bit separated me from my friends and classmates in the magnet program. It was as if I was dropped into a world completely foreign to the one I’d been familiar with for so long. I was the loud and unpolished counterfactual to my friends, who, for the most part, knew how to navigate an educational pipeline seemingly designed to parlay the opportunities they’d been given into even bigger and better ones. (There were, of course, those who came from circumstances closer to my own; I tended to feel most comfortable around them.) As an example, until they rapidly became accessible to me, the very notion of a “prestigious college” wasn’t anything more than an ideal that my mom would push me to look into.
    In short, there was both congruence and disparity between me and the various groups of people and ways of life that made up my middle and high school communities. Each illustrated the blessings and misfortunes that created my lot in life, and looking back at it all, I’m faced with the truth at the core of my life: It was largely thanks to having the luck of meeting the right people and being able to access the right opportunities at the same time that I’ve been able to live such a life. Almost every day of the last eleven years has been a humbling reminder of that fact.
    That is the reason that I find myself called to public service. It shouldn’t take an immense amount of luck for someone who grew up like me to find themselves where I am today. The good news is that, to this end, the funding, resources, and opportunities necessary to give everybody a viable path to the life they want to lead already exist. It’s a question of whether or not people have access to those opportunities. Public service and policymaking are the mechanisms through which entire systems can change to reflect the needs of its population.
    In this light, the work that I’m doing with the BBMR is an especially good fit for where I see my life leading me. For a government, a budget is more than just a line-item listing of things to throw money at. It’s a moral document outlining your priorities and to whom those priorities cater. The equity work that I’m doing blends the data visualization and communication methods that are central to public health advocacy with the ultimate goal of making Baltimore’s budget align with the values and desires of the city’s communities. For me, this type of work hits close to home.

    Made an impact between 07/02/2020 and 07/06/2020 with Johns Hopkins University
    2020 Peer Mentor Weekly Blogs

    The Bureau of the Budget and Management Research is the fiscal and policy research arm of Baltimore City’s government. While the BBMR annotates local legislation for fiscal considerations, guides and produces research on various policy and economic issues facing the city, and assists agencies and legislators in policymaking, one of its primary responsibilities is to build out the city’s budget. In Baltimore’s strong-mayor system of governance, this mostly entails iteratively working with departments and agencies to identify funding priorities and propose dollar amounts that progress those goals.
    Recently, the BBMR has also taken a large role in Baltimore’s Equity Assessment Program. Created via legislation in late 2018, this initiative is meant to ensure that agencies actively aim to close structural and institutional disparities in their policies. Because of the BBMR’s continuing role in the budget process (which is itself a natural gatekeeper for these policies), they are in a prime position to ensure the use of that equity lens.
    My main project this summer will be to draft sections of the BBMR’s introductory report on the project. Generally, this will entail analyzing budgetary and outcome data on a variety of the city’s programs. I will work to get a sense of where each department’s money comes from, what it’s allocated to, and who those investments benefit.
    Admittedly, this is a broad goal with a number of components. I am fortunate, however, that these components align with my personal and professional goals for this internship. For one, I will be compiling and visualizing this budgetary data, mostly based on a line-item report that spans nearly 30,000 rows in Excel. Additionally, other cities’ efforts to use an equity lens in budgeting will frame my thinking as I figure out which specific questions I want to ask and answer with the data. Researching those initiatives is another task that I’ve been working on. In short, I’m working on both my quantitative and qualitative research skills. By getting practice in tools such as R and Tableau as well as researching similar policies across jurisdictions, I hope to become a better policy researcher and advocate.
    In general, I also wanted to learn more about local and executive governance (as opposed to legislative and federal, where most of my prior experience lies), and the BBMR’s role in the budgetary process has given me a rare opportunity to watch the anatomy of governance at work. This has, by and large, been the most exciting thing about working in public service -- it’s always an adventure. Even if your schedule is blocked out down to the smallest details, you’ll never know exactly what the day has in store for you.
    To develop my understanding of the city’s policy and budget making processes, I’ve gotten the opportunity to listen in to budgetary hearings, legislative working groups, and internal goal-setting meetings. From finance and housing to health and police, I’ve been able to learn about many pressing policy issues in Baltimore City from the inside, which is an experience that will surely serve me well in public service in the future.

    Made an impact on 06/22/2020 with Johns Hopkins University
    2020 Peer Mentor Weekly Blogs

    Organizational politics describes how groups of people interact with one another to achieve a common aim. It also outlines processes such as collective action and oversight, which can have an effect on how well the organization pursues their interests. As you might expect, governments are a particular analytical interest of organizational politics. They are an interesting case because not only do they have to deal with the individual interests of bureaucrats and elected officials across the organizational chart, but they are also charged with aggregating the interests and beliefs of their jurisdictions’ constituents. Further complicating things is the fact that every single member of the government’s organizational chart is themselves a constituent with their own political beliefs.

    Often, legislatures are intentionally vague when defining bureaucracies’ directions and powers. Because many of the government’s responsibilities and powers are split up amongst the bureaucracy, a phenomenon called a “turf war” may arise when different agencies attempt to pursue similar initiatives. Counterterrorism is the best example. The United States intelligence community, law enforcement agencies, the military, and even logistical agencies like the Postal Service all have a part to play in national security. Sometimes, they pursue similar aims with little communication. The result is a muddled process that dampens effectiveness.

    I imagined that local government would be less susceptible to such a thing, especially owing to its smaller scope. Both the increased ease of communication as well as the more communal, good-faith nature of local governance seem like they would ward against organizational confusion.

    To be clear, this has mostly been the case. The same community-oriented “spirit” of governance that I mentioned exists among the City Council members also seems to exist for Baltimore City employees. Everybody that I’ve run into, whether within the BBMR or in another agency, seems dedicated to their public service. Everything that I’ve heard regarding communication with other agencies sounds as if people are willing to field questions and give answers.

    But, at times, that same dedication to their mission reduces flexibility in adapting new initiatives. Take the example of the BBMR’s Equity Assessment Program. In the initial draft of the legislation creating that project gave oversight and management duties to the Bureau of Planning. Eventually, however, that clause was struck without replacement, leaving no designated leader for implementing equity in the city’s development. Most agencies weren’t fully aware of the change and its implications either, as they were under the impression that the BoP would be handling most of the leadership.

    This placed many of the City’s agencies in a holding pattern as they waited for further instructions. No agency took charge of the project -- to handle all the interagency communications for such a large initiative is a daunting task. In other words, the project stalled not because agencies didn’t think the EAP was important but because resources were limited, and the time that it would take to put together the necessary research and reports would almost certainly place strain on the rest of any agency’s purview.

    To be sure the lesson I’ve learned here isn’t that local government is inherently flawed due to its resource limitations. Instead, I’ve learned that it in fact has more flexibility than other levels of government to get around those limitations. After all, developmental and programmatic equity start in the budget planning process -- remember, politics is a question of who gets what, with surrounding questions of when and how. By looking to build equity into budgetary discussions, the BBMR has found an efficient way to progress the City’s goals. This creativity and flexibility is what excites me most about working in local government.

    Made an impact between 06/18/2020 and 06/22/2020 with Johns Hopkins University
    2020 Peer Mentor Weekly Blogs

    It’s often said that all politics is local. Even federal officials in the safest of seats need to win local primaries, drum up support from geographically and culturally different bases, and work with local elected officials to ensure the continued safety of their seats every ten years. Pundits often talk about candidates’ electoral prospects as the sum of their favorability among several geographic and demographic groups. As much as this might sound like a DC politico’s tokenistic parlor game, this aggregation of local interests into national decisions is indeed the very foundation of America’s political system.

    At times, though, this lofty ideal falls flat. This past fall, I was honored to intern at the House of Representatives, working on legislative research for my own Member of Congress. While serving my friends, family, and neighbors was one of the greatest honors of my life, it also highlighted the wide gulf between our government in theory and in practice.

    Surely, neither the Democratic nor the Republican Party national platforms are optimal for any community in America. Why, then, is the vast majority of votes completed on a party-line basis? Why do politicians’ speeches and ads all sound the same? Why are buzzwords and slogans the order of every day in DC?

    Another aspect of our government as designed is that it governs slowly. Real change happens at the local level. My time at the BBMR is already showing me why that is. This week, I had the opportunity to listen in on the City Council’s budgetary hearings, wherein each major department of Baltimore City’s government provided a broad overview of their budget requests for the upcoming fiscal year. They supported their requests by outlining the deliverables and indicators that they’d met in previous years and anticipate meeting in the future.

    At first glance, this seems even more tedious and non-inclusive than the federal government -- who has the time or willpower to sit through several hours of line-item debate? As it turns out, though, the City Council certainly does. And they aren’t simply sitting through it, either. No matter how seemingly minute any individual agency’s requests or goals were, the Council made sure to grill the relevant staffers on any inadequacies or questions that they had. In a marked contrast from the pages and pages of irrelevant, earmarked, and pork-barreled spending that constantly skates by in every federal budgetary measure, the City Council hearings were refreshingly laden with oversight.

    Another thing that stood out to me was that the Council members seemed like colleagues in the truest sense of the word. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the atmosphere in the hearing was jovial; after all, it was still a budget hearing. But the conversations were certainly more friendly and the proceedings more colloquial -- in a way that didn’t feel at all like the Congressional old boys’ club.

    While I understand the design of our federal government and the reasons behind it, just my first week working in local government has given me a newfound appreciation for what seems to be the workhorse of American governance and policymaking.

    Made an impact on 06/01/2020 with Johns Hopkins University

    This Impact is private

    This Impact is private