2007 Rising Star: Karen Richey

Job: Government Accountability Office
Position: Senior cost analyst

Career in brief: Richey has been in her current job for six years and in the government information
technology community for 11 years.

Why Richey is a Rising Star
You could say that Karen Richey and her job as a senior cost analyst at the Government Accountability Office are a match made in heaven.

“I loved math and statistics all throughout school,” said Richey, who earned a bachelor’s degree in those subjects at the University of South Carolina. “I like the numbers, I like the analysis and I like the objectivity of it all.”

At GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, Richey gets to apply her analytical skills at the Center for Technology and Engineering, where she supports audit teams on a variety of government programs, including defense systems, information technology development and modernization, and management systems and methods. To do this, she examines cost estimates and data on risk and earned value management.

But the job isn’t just about numbers. Richey travels to government and contractor sites to interview staff members about how they are using best practices. She collects data for audits and makes recommendations for improvements. Lawmakers rely on those findings to assess whether taxpayer dollars are being spent prudently.

“At GAO, we get the best of both worlds,” Richey said. “We get to use the numbers as a way to be objective with the findings, but then we also go deeper to get the story behind the numbers.”

Her biggest project in her eight years at the agency was the first document of its kind, GAO’s “Cost Assessment Guide: Best Practices for Estimating and Managing Program Costs.” A draft version was released for comment in July.

For the guide, she led a two-year effort to compile government and industry best practices in one sourcebook and create a standardized approach for analyzing program costs. She poured herself into the project, working long hours to complete the project with two other GAO analysts, Jennifer Echard and Carol Cha.

“I went to my husband and said, ‘Look, I’ve got to get this done. It will make life easier once it’s done, but I’ve got to work nights and weekends.’ He was very good about it,” she said.

In compiling the 350-page guide, Richey sought the advice of experts in government, industry and higher education.

Larry Reagan, vice president of government solutions at Price Systems, said Richey’s ability to reach across traditionally separate lines of business to achieve a consensus on the guide was remarkable.

“The effort required to get this diverse team...to agree on a set of best practices for all future government programs is a reflection on Karen’s dedication, professionalism and respect,” he said.

“Her leadership, including a willingness to listen and understand the needs of many, has resulted in a solid foundation for the future.”

Richey’s work at GAO has proved to be her calling. She joined the agency in 1998 but left in 2000 to return to the Navy Department, where she had started her government career. She then realized that GAO was where she was meant to be. About a year later, she was back.

“As soon as I left, I thought, ‘I need to get back’ ” to GAO, she said. “I realized that there is more opportunity and ability to have an impact at GAO.”

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