How To Series: Internships at the GAO

GAO Photo

~Patricia Palao Da Costa

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the auditing arm used by the United States Congress to improve and ensure government efficiency and accountability. Known as the “congressional watchdog”, GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that responds to congressmembers’ requests, legislative mandates, and other investigative needs issued by the legislative branch of government. After completing a program audit, the agency will almost always publish a public report that details their conclusions and recommendations for the program and/or respective agencies. To fulfill their vast role and requests, GAO has fifteen mission teams and eleven field offices that house general analysts and other specialists to ethically and comprehensively complete each assignment.

Internship Opportunities: Management and Program Analyst

GAO offers internships in both the operational and mission teams of the agency. My internship was for the International Affair and Trade mission team as a Management and Program Analyst (Student Trainee), based out of the Los Angeles field office. Most engagements are completed within 8-12 months, and since the internship length is 400-640 hours, each intern’s experience and engagement phases will differ. Each team will have a Director, an Assistant Director, a methodologist, a lawyer, an Analyst-In-Charge, and a number of other analysts as needed. Throughout their time, interns receive ongoing training, instruction, and education on the engagement as well as the organization of GAO as a whole. The internship has two main purposes: to provide enriching and applicable experiences to the student trainees, and to assess the intern’s abilities for the potential employment offer to join the Professional Development Program after graduation.


Start by taking courses that directly relate to this career. Research Methods, Quantitative Methods, Law in Public Policy, and Performance Management/Program Management and Evaluation were the most helpful in learning the material and skills needed during my internship experience. Second, check the GAO website for internship application openings. There are spring, summer, and fall internships with application windows beginning 4-6 months before the hire date and closing as soon as the maximum number of applicants have been entered (usually within a couple weeks). And lastly, network and connect with professors, guest speakers, or other individuals that are associated with GAO already in some capacity. Feel free to email me or connect with me on LinkedIn if you have any questions or are interested in learning more about the internship process!

How To Series: Internships at the County Government 

~Erin Niemi 

hr intern

County of Ventura Internships

As a young person trying to establish a career in public service, one of the highlights of my 2021 was getting to intern at the County of Ventura in their Public Service Internship Program. The Program consisted of various work opportunities within different County agencies and departments (e.g., County Executive Office, Human Services Agency, the Fire Department, etc.) and opportunities to learn more about each field while gaining real-world career experience. 

My internship took place within the County Executive Office in the Human Resources Division on the recruitment team. During my internship, I got to use my former academic background in communication and my current academic background in public policy and administration to learn how the Human Resources department advertises and recruits for open job positions, as well as acquire additional soft skills in the workplace, such as time management, teamwork, and how to become a leader. My favorite part about the internship was being able to hone in on my creative side and work on social media and advertising campaigns for open recruitments in the County, as well as channel my analytical side and assist with larger projects requiring organization and critical thinking. 

Current County Role

I work as an HR Business Partner Assistant within the CEO Office, Human Resources Division. There, I assist with certification, written exam development, social media marketing, and Equal Opportunity Employment recordkeeping and organizational tasks. I enjoy my work because I get to bring my creative side into every project I do while simultaneously interacting with the taxpayers of the County of Ventura in order to help them find a career role they can succeed in. I believe a lot of the skills I learned in my internship carry over into my job today; and because I have a foundation of soft skills, knowledge of the County, and the human resources field, I find my work to be rewarding and relevant in today’s evolving workplace. I especially love the ability to make a positive impact on our constituents’ lives on an individual level, and I am dedicated to serving them with every daily task I complete. 


My recommendation to anyone wanting to join the County or to work either in an internship or in a full-time role is… just go for it! If you have a passion for anything in your career, whether its medicine, construction, environmental science, or public administration, there is a job for it at the County. I also recommend visiting the County HR website at to find a job that interests you and to check out our resources to learn more about our application process and organizational values. When you fill out your application, be sure to answer each question as fully as possible and showcase the skills you bring to the table. Details never hurt, and don’t be afraid to be yourself when you answer the questions! I believe careers within the public sector offer you an extremely rewarding career, and I encourage people to seek out careers where they can make a positive impact in their communities while remaining true to themselves and utilizing their talents.

How To Series: Human Resources in Local Government

~Katie Reynolds


The Public Sector: Government Agencies 

When referring to Public Service ,there can be some confusion about exactly what types of organizations are included. The Institute of Internal Auditor (IIA) clarifies what is meant by the term Public Sector, to provide guidance for their members and to identify specific criteria to appropriately classify organizations around the world as being in the public sector. 

According to IIA, the Public Sector consists of governments and all publicly controlled or publicly funded agencies, enterprises, and other entities that deliver public programs, goods, or services. The Public Sector may exist at any of four levels: 

  • International (multistate entities or partnerships).
  • National (an independent state).
  • Regional (a province/state within a national state). 
  • Local (a municipal-level body such as a city or county) (Duke & Danesco, 2011)

The County of Ventura is a “general law” county, governed by a five-member, elected–by-district Board of Supervisors. The Supervisors appoint a County Executive Officer (CEO) to oversee the County budget, day-to-day operations, as well as to advise, assist and act as an agent for the Board of Supervisors in all matters under the Board’s jurisdiction. 

The services provided by the different agencies and departments include general government administration, elections, public protection, such as law enforcement, fire protection, and watershed protection, public ways and facilities including construction and maintenance of roads, healthcare, environmental health, public assistance, libraries, and recreation and cultural services. In addition, enterprise funds account for the operations of the Ventura County Medical Center, the Santa Paula Hospital, and Ambulatory Clinics, Ventura County Health Care Plan, two airports: Camarillo and Oxnard, Channel Islands Harbor, Waterworks Districts providing sanitation and water services, and Parks. 

My Journey With the County of Ventura

I applied to the County because I needed healthcare benefits for my family and had heard they had great plans. Additionally, I was eager to rise in the workplace and understood I could promote within the County without losing coverage. My first appointment in 1992 was as an Office Assistant III for the Ambulatory Care Clinics Operations Manager. After six months, I was promoted to Management Assistant II.  

My career development at the County has been remarkable and very rewarding. I have been promoted repeatedly and today am a Personnel Analyst III working for the County Executive Office in support of departments and agencies throughout the enterprise. I truly am committed to the applicants for each recruitment and the departments and agencies I serve. I believe that in a small way I can contribute to creating the amazing lifestyle available here in Ventura County by supporting the County as it serves its constituents.


Whatever your goals you can probably find a position within the County of Ventura that would be of interest to you. As a Senior Human Resource (HR) Business Partner, I have been asked many times how to find the jobs available at the County. I direct inquiring individuals to the HR web page which has helpful information. It is also a good idea to review the information under the “How to” links to prepare for the different examinations and the selection interview.

It pays to do research. Every public sector enterprise has a rich presence online. You can learn much about each agency and the departments within each agency by spending time linking on links and reading the information posted. If you have questions about job opportunities the Human Resource department is your first contact. I encourage you to take time to investigate opportunities.

I invite you to check out all the public sector opportunities throughout the County, such as cities, school districts, water districts, and special districts. They all offer ways to contribute while fulfilling your professional endeavors. 

If you have questions, please, feel free to contact my email at

How To Series: California Natural Resources Agency

~Jacqueline (Jacki) Phelps, MPPA 


The California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) is an executive branch agency within the state that reports to the Office of the Governor. Specifically, CNRA oversees and supports the work of twenty-six state departments, conservancies, and commissions that are charged with managing the diverse natural resources located within the 100-million acres of land that make up the state of California. A comprehensive list of agencies within CNRA can be found here. The mission of CNRA is to “restore, protect and manage the state’s natural, historical and cultural resources for current and future generations using creative approaches and solutions based on science, collaboration, and respect for all the communities and interests involved.”

In addition to this overarching mission, each agency within CNRA has a specific mission and role in managing the state’s resources. The California Coastal Commission (Commission) is a CNRA agency with a mission to protect and enhance California’s coast and ocean for present and future generations. This is done in partnership with local governments by regulating development activities along the state’s approximately 1,200-mile shoreline in order to protect resources such as sensitive habitats, water quality, public access, and recreation. 

While completing my undergraduate degree at UC Santa Cruz and searching for potential internship opportunities, I became familiar with the Commission and was immediately drawn to its strong mission. The Commission has six offices located along the coast, including in Santa Cruz and Ventura. Although there weren’t any internships posted online, I contacted the district director in the Santa Cruz office, conveyed my interest in the agency, interviewed, and was offered an internship opportunity. I knew immediately that the Commission was a great fit for me and while still working to complete my degree, successfully passed the examination process that is required to be eligible for a paid position. After graduating I applied for and was offered an analyst job in the Commission’s Ventura office. Currently I hold the position of district supervisor and have been working in the Ventura office for nearly ten years. 

Applying for a job with the state can seem daunting, as there are often several steps that need to be taken prior to becoming eligible for employment. Most often, an interested candidate must successfully complete an examination for the specific job classification that they are interested in, and then they are able to participate in the application process. The CNRA website provides helpful information on this process. Additionally, most agencies have a “Jobs” tab on their website with additional information on the hiring process and the positions available. For example, the Commission website has links to the appropriate application forms, examination announcements, as well as a list of available paid and volunteer positions. If there is a specific agency that you are interested in, I encourage you to try and connect with employees of that agency to gain insight on the work of the agency, as well as the skills that would help to make you a successful candidate. Additionally, the human resources or recruitment office of that particular agency can offer guidance to ensure that you are completing the appropriate steps to become eligible for employment. 

In the Environmental Policy and Planning course that I teach, we take an in depth look into the functions of many CNRA agencies, as well as the laws that they implement. Employees of local agencies and organizations also join us to not only share their work but also their path to obtaining their current position. Additionally, course assignments give students the opportunity to conduct in-depth research on an environmental policy topic of their choosing. This allows for research into specific agencies, like those within CNRA, as well as existing laws and policy frameworks. In class this summer, students examined several interesting and pertinent topics including wildfire, coastal public access, and temperature increase as a result of climate change, and they were able to share their findings and analysis with the class.  

This winter term I will also be leading a capstone project in partnership with the County of Ventura Resources Management Agency to research and analyze existing laws and policies relating to environmental justice in order to propose recommendations for the El Rio/Del Norte Area Plan Update. This capstone is a great opportunity to gain insight into policy creation through the lens of environmental justice.

Please feel free to get in touch with me at or connect with me on LinkedIn if you have any questions about the course or if you are interested in learning more about a career in the environmental field!

How To Series: Land Use Consulting

~Helen Eloyan


I have had the privilege of working with developers, owners, and other visionaries to help accomplish projects, and ultimately community goals, through my work as a private sector land use planner. Albeit it is a “behind the scenes” role, but it provides a chance to help develop future community landmarks (+ bragging rights for cool projects). Since starting my career, I have been to some of the most beautiful, random, and unique places in our community and California. I have also had the opportunity to serve various industries, like agriculture/farmworker housing, renewable energy, mining, various commercial operations, and future innovative clean technologies. 

The path to success, throughout each project, has shown to be meaningful collaboration and effective execution. Meaningful collaboration is early outreach to stakeholders and coordination with appropriate departments on the local, state, and federal levels; community/advocacy groups; and government leaders on behalf of the client to find well-rounded and informed solutions. Effective execution is simply producing high-quality work efficiently– attention to detail and persistence are critical character traits to have or develop. Clients heavily rely on land use consultants for guidance, expertise, and ideas for new projects and communities. I highly recommend taking an environmental policy course to understand the dynamics of government agencies and the California Environmental Quality Act– this is usually the most daunting part of a project for clients.

Another important aspect of my work is that it requires a lot of problem-solving, technical reading, interpreting legislation/zoning codes, and describing engineered plans in a way that a layperson may understand. The best advice given to me has been to write simply (not simple mindedly), only speak on what you know for certain, and no matter how daunting or stressful a situation is, focusing on doing good work will get you through. 

Starting Out

I first entered the private sector after graduating with a B.S. in Environmental Science and Resource Management. I did not have any relevant experience outside of my capstone and was working full-time as a loss prevention detective. I had applied to at least 90 jobs before I got hired at a local consulting firm. The position was not exactly what I envisioned, but it turned out to be a great steppingstone.

After a year working, I applied for a job that I was very unqualified for, only because I had read a Business Insider article the day before. The article described how women are less likely to apply for a job if they do not meet most, if not all, of the job criteria whereas men just applied even if they are totally unqualified. This specific job posting called for 12 years, and I only had one year. Apparently, the loss prevention experience was interesting enough to snag an interview, and I was found to be a good fit. My recommendation, regardless of where you find yourself, is to always put your best (and most authentic) foot forward, no matter how uncertain you think that step is. 

If anyone is interested in working in the private sector or land use planning field, please feel free to reach out or add me on LinkedIn. 


How To Series: City Planning

~Joel Hayes, MPPA

new city planning pic

Understanding City Planning 

City planning, also known as urban planning, works to shape the design and functions of the environment and the social and economic activity that take place in a given area.  According to the American Planning Association, the goal of planning is to “maximize the health, safety, and economic well-being of all people living in our communities” (APA, 2021). Planners at the city or county level will typically work cohesively with other departments, such as building, engineering and public works on projects and development. A planning development project typically goes through a process that can include a review of parking, landscaping, and architectural features to ensure appropriate design and land use zoning. Thereafter, building permits are often  granted to allow construction to begin. 

Planners use tools, such as zoning maps, to determine where, when, and what should be developed. These decisions are mostly based on comprehensive or general plans that are created through a long process, typically including public input, and are voted on by a city council or county board of supervisors. This process is often a guiding factor in determining the zoning and development that takes place in certain areas. City planners share some administrative authority. However, they rely on approved ordinances and guidelines set forth by a city council or board of supervisors who hold the greater decisional power when it comes to approving specific decisions, such as special use permits or zoning changes. These decisions may receive public commentary and are held in public view, to allow for feedback by citizens and stakeholders, and to help guide the city council or planning and zoning commissions in their decision making. Planning is often a social job, and if you ever want to buy an undeveloped parcel of land to build a home or to make modifications to a structure, you will often speak to a planner in that jurisdiction. There are multiple types of planning, including transportation, development, and neighborhood planning, to name a few. 

Getting Into Planning

My entrance into planning came at a later point in my career, after beginning my career working in the nonprofit and administrative world as a program associate and an assistant to a CEO. In the beginning of my journey to my planning career, I was worried that my previous experiences would not translate or help me with employment in planning. Those initial inclinations were false, as some of the skills and projects I managed from grant writing to achieving USDA organic certification and becoming familiar with environmental policies and agriculture have helped me in my journey. I encourage those who may not have majored in planning or architecture to not feel like you don’t have a chance to get into a planning career. One thing I learned very early on as an intern at the County of Ventura’s planning division was how many people did not have planning backgrounds– many transitioned from other careers in the nonprofit or public administrative realms. Following my internship, I was able to land a job as a development review planner for the City of Rowlett, Texas where I work on reviewing development applications that include special use permits, rezonings, sign permits, and more. I also work on long-range planning documents, which includes updates to ordinances and historic preservation. I frequently present to the planning and zoning commission on projects, and I work daily with citizens to assist with planning-related inquiries. 

Helpful Courses and Resources 

For anyone interested in a planning career, in California specifically, I’d encourage you to review and become acquainted with the California Environmental Quality Act.

Two great government job posting sites that include planning jobs and internships are GovernmentJobs and CalOpps.

The American Planning Association has a job posting board for planning jobs and internships. Local chapters are a great tool to connect with planners and attend social networking events.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on a federal level assists in providing expanded funding, research, and grants for housing, environmental projects and more. 


It may be helpful to get connected with planners on LinkedIn to learn how they began their careers and seek their advice. I was able to form great connections through LinkedIn and had planners review my resume and make suggestions based on their experience. Local cities and counties often have internships that may not be posted; sometimes, if you inquire about interning, you may be granted an internship and gain experience. The County of Ventura has a paid internship program and spans over many county departments. Reviewing a city or county’s planning division website can be beneficial in learning about local codes, general plans, and may assist you later on by showing an employer your passion and dedication. Furthermore, if you are interested in planning, and if you have any questions, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. 

Wishing everyone the best in their public administration careers.


How To Series: Working in Civil Society

~Patricia Palao Da Costa

Civil Society Picture

Understanding Civil Society

Civil Society, or the Third Sector, distinguishes itself from the Public and Private Sectors in many ways. It is composed of organizations that are mission driven and (often) tax exempt, depending on the country in which it is located. Many refer to these organizations as nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and community groups. Notable organizations include the United Nations (UN), American Red Cross, and the Goodwill. It might surprise readers to hear that some of these nonprofits are in fact profitable entities, and often use these funds to expand their reach and impact in their targeted populations.

Aside from their taxation code and their focus, these nonprofit organizations also have a unique internal organization and hierarchy. Unlike private corporations where a CEO has the final say on decisions, nonprofits have a board(s) of directors that elect and hire their CEO, and they have the final say on many internal decisions. The CEO handles the day-to-day goals and operations. Another significant difference is the roles of employees in nonprofits. Though many private and public organizations hire specific people to do certain tasks, tasks in nonprofits may be outsourced, divided among a few employees in different programs, or handled by the CEO themselves, depending on the size and budget of the organization. The “services” that these organizations deliver are often very different within the sector. Charities, or foundations, offer grants or financial assistance to other organizations or specific populations, while other community organizations will focus on one service (i.e., food banks offer free meals, health clinics offer free or low-cost health services, shelters offer room and board to the homeless, etc.). Other differences exist, but these are the main ones that someone should know before entering the sector.

Entering the Nonprofit World: Positions I’ve Held

After completing, and enjoying, a nonprofits introductory course as an undergraduate, I reached out to a friend for a reference to apply to the foundation they worked for. As soon as I got my foot in the door, later employment opportunities were easier to obtain because of my previous experience. Aside from sharing my social and policy interests, the positions I’ve held also serve to show the wide array of roles and organizations in the sector:

Fundraiser, Latter-Day Saint Philanthropies

In this faith-based organization, I solicited donations for collegiate scholarships, university program funding, and international relief projects.

Special Projects Intern, United Way of Utah County, Help Me Grow Utah

In this chapter-based, international organization, I created a resource database for employees to share research-based developmental information to parents in Utah.

Parent Support Specialist, United Way of Utah County, Help Me Grow Utah

In this capacity, I offered and scored developmental surveys to parents for children aged 0 to 5 and connected families to basic needs and developmental resources in the state.

Open House Coordinator, United Way of Utah County, Sub for Santa

I trained community volunteers to assist families in applying for Christmas assistance and organized community open houses where families could complete their applications.

EveryDay Strong Liaison, United Way of Utah County, EveryDay Strong

I helped design, plan, and implement an adolescent mental health initiative to guide families through mental health distress, uncertainties, and crises in their adolescents.

Education Coordinator, Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley

In this chapter-based, international organization, I created after-school programs for children aged 6 to 18, along with a system of homework assistance and completion.

Program Director, Boys & Girls Club of Santa Clarita Valley

I trained and supervised program employees and designed and implemented developmentally-enriching programs and activities for children aged 5 to 13.

Operations Administrator, Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Tri-Counties

In this chapter-based, international organization, I run and send reports for the board of directors, CEO, and Director of Operations, as well as document weekly financials.

Helpful Courses & Useful Resources


  • Nonprofit Management
  • Civic Engagement
  • Public Budgeting
  • Leadership
  • Program Management & Evaluation


Recommendations For Anyone Interested

Get connected! Most, if not all, nonprofits are very selective about who they hire because of their limited budget and time with training, preferring individuals who have nonprofit experience. If you don’t have prior experience, it will always pay off to get an “in” from a previous or current employee who can act as a character and/or professional reference. Find ways to show your connection to the organization from the beginning.

Be comfortable wearing multiple hats! If you are adaptable, appreciate change, and enjoy learning new skills, this is a great field for you.

Do your research! Missions are not just pithy statements that organizations create. Many application and interview questions center around your connection to a nonprofit’s mission and how your interests and knowledge align with it. If you’ve found a mission that you don’t mind getting paid less to do, you’ve found the right organization for you.


If you are interested in this sector, and you have any questions or need a connection to an organization, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn!