When Congress needs information on the environment, John Stephenson’s phone starts ringing. Clean air, clean water, toxic chemicals, safe drinking water, hazardous waste cleanup, climate change. You name it. If it’s in the environmental protection realm, Stephenson gets the call.
Stephenson is director of natural resources and environmental issues for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress that has firmly established itself as independent and non-partisan in the world of dependant and partisan politics, due largely to the work of people like Stephenson.
“My work—my reports and testimony—results in recommendations to Congress and federal agencies for improving the nation’s environmental laws and programs,” he says.
Stephenson earned his MBA from Xavier in 1983—with an accounting concentration—which he combines with a bachelor’s degree in industrial management from Purdue University to create reports that are not only factually thorough but also complete in their understanding of both the business and private sectors. He also occasionally finds himself in the hot seat, sitting at a table in front of a panel of Congressional committee members testifying about his findings.
While being questioned by members of Congress can be nerve-wracking, everything he does undergoes multi-level reviews and checks to make sure it is factually correct. “We guard our reputation for independent, fact-based work carefully because without it we are just like any of the hundreds of special interest, trade association and lobby organizations that proliferate in D.C.,” he says. “There are a very few truly independent organizations that provided unbiased analysis in D.C. and GAO is revered as the gold standard.
“And it’s important for Congress to have an organization like GAO it can turn to and be assured that the analysis will be fact-based, unbiased and non-partisan. Both sides of the aisle have confidence of the quality of GAO.”
While stressful, Stephenson says he “truly enjoys” his work. “I feel I’m making a difference in improving the way the federal government works and providing good stewardship of the taxpayers’ dollars,” he says.