“Are you interested in lowering your interest rates by an average of 33 percent?” On the other end of the line could be a consumer with high credit card debt, or it could be someone like Natalie Maddox ’02, investigating debt collection companies and gathering data that could drive government policy.
As part of her job as Senior Public Policy Analyst with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Maddox, twin sister of Nicole Maddox '02 featured on page 50, has reviewed issues such as the Immigrant Investor Program, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) performance, and financial products specifically focused on debt settlement agencies. According to the agency’s website, the GAO is the “investigative arm of Congress,” focused on producing non-partisan, objective reports and recommendations related to the payment of public funds, recommendations that could end up as laws.
“We push for recommendations at the agency level. So every time I can push for recommendations that an agency implements, I count that as a win,” said Maddox. For debt settlement agencies, that meant banning deceptive marketing practices and putting a cap on the fees the companies could charge. “Consumers had to pay $500-$800 just to sign up, then they had to go delinquent on their cards, and often times they wouldn’t see any results from the companies. Now, these companies can’t charge consumers until a service has been rendered.”
While affecting public policy and creating reform is the end goal, hundreds of hours of research go into each report. “In grad school, we do everything on the computer, but for my job, the real information is in the hard copy and the follow up meetings where I can ask about every detail in the report,” she explained.
It’s not all reading reports and conducting interview though—detective work is involved, as well. Federal agencies rely on GAO analysts like Maddox to uncover the truth about how money is being spent and where fraud might be happening. “[Looking] into debt collecting companies who prey on individuals in debt, we actually went undercover and did a lot of covert phone calls pretending to be customers to see how they would communicate with a customer. The companies provided false information and gave a deceptive understanding of who they were.”
Looking back, Maddox knows that her work, which was used to create new policies, helped plenty of the United States’ most vulnerable consumers. In fact, non-partisan, independent government review agencies play a key part in our legislative system of checks and balances.
However, while the GAO is non-partisan, they do sometimes investigate issues with political undertones. Maddox most recently reviewed The Immigrant Investor Program (EB-5, which is set to expire this winter), a 1990 program that grants Visas and Green Cards to immigrants who invest in American companies and create jobs in the country.
“Both sides have different views about reauthorizing the program. The Democrats want to see more transparency and tighter controls, but they want the program to stay around, while Republicans push for complete reform and advocate for certain aspects of the program to expire,” said Maddox.
In addition to her work at the GAO, the 32 year-old attorney has her juris doctor degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. While earning her master of science degree in public policy from Carnegie Mellon University, Maddox said that, “about halfway through my first year I knew I still wanted to be an attorney. In 2008, I accepted the GAO position in Washington, D.C. and went to law school at night in Baltimore.”
Never one to pass up on a challenge, Maddox is also a partner in her Maryland law firm where she represents clients in family court, many of which are pro bono cases. At our time of speaking, Maddox had just accepted a special detail opportunity to work on Capitol Hill for one year in an Investigative Counsel position with the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, a standing committee which conducts hearings on potential federal judges, among other things.