Public Service Offered Way to Have Positive Impact
By Mary Branham, CSG Managing Editor
Alan Calandro was never a big fan of politics, but he did like public policy.
That’s one reason he migrated from working as a business manager in private industry to public service, where he thought he could make an impact.
“I was under the impression that problems can be solved with the right amount of information and a quality set of information and analysis,” said Calandro, director of Connecticut’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. “My focus was on trying to get into public policy so I could have an impact in a positive way and provide quality information to decision makers so they could make the best decisions they could and, hopefully, produce better public policy.”
Calandro, a 2012 CSG Toll Fellow, likens his office to the Congressional Budget Office, which is tasked with providing unbiased fiscal analysis to both parties. Connecticut’s fiscal office is tasked with helping the finance and appropriations committees develop the tax and revenue package as well as the state budget.
While both committees are headed by Democrats, Calandro’s staff of 27 also works with the minority Republican party and some Democrats who have other ideas. When working with those diverse groups, the staff keeps their conversations and work confidential.
Even during the busy time of providing information for budget preparation, Calandro and his team are reviewing more than 3,000 pieces of legislation during a session on which they must produce fiscal notes. On top of that, they are getting requests regularly about the costs of various and sundry things.
It makes for a challenging job, but one that Calandro relishes.
After earning his business degree from the University of Connecticut, he earned a master’s degree in government from the College of William and Mary. He learned about the nonpartisan offices dealing with fiscal issues and focused on getting a job at the Connecticut capitol.
That was 20 years ago, and Calandro has worked his way through the ranks, starting off as a policy analyst.
“When you are a rank-and-file person and staff analyst, you start seeing all the things you wished you could change,” he said.
So when he moved to management, he started to move the organization toward more technology. He believes technology can streamline things and free up analysts’ time to do more analytical thinking.
“One thing I recognized early on is that there’s a tendency—especially 20, 30, 40 years ago—for people to process things,” he said.
With technology, there’s no need for the processing work. He automated some processes, like filling out forms for the various bills under consideration, for instance.
“By removing all those processes, now the analyst focuses on thinking about the concept and determine what information they need to analyze the concept,” he said. “It’s much more in the analytical realm.”
It helps that Calandro knew the system and its problems. He also takes into account what his analysts and administrative staff have to say when he makes decisions in the department. He calls his management style “collaborative, but focused.”
Calandro credits his father, Peter, with his attitude of working to move forward in a team-focused way.
“My father told me at various times in my life when I was doing something, if I would say, ‘I can’t do it,’ he’d say, ‘I don’t want to hear the word can’t. Can’t is not allowed,’” Calandro said.
He realized that was a conceptual way of thinking. “It’s one thing to say, ‘I can’t jump across a 300-foot chasm by myself.’ It’s another to say, ‘I can’t do this task.’ You can; you’ve just got to figure out a way to do it.”
Figuring out a way to do things is the one thing he likes most about his job.
“I am allowed to be creative,” he said. “I am allowed to try to come up with creative solutions to things.”
The most challenging part of his job, he said, is trying to satisfy all the different people his office serves. Sometime, he said, he can’t be everywhere he needs to be and he can’t always tell people it’s because he’s attending another meeting that might involve views that are opposite of what they hold.
“It’s trying to weigh all those different demands and my natural tendency is that I want to help people,” he said.
In fact, that’s what keeps him going.
“I got involved with public service because I wanted to do something positive for the world,” he said. “That’s sounds very cliché and idealistic, but that was my motivation for getting into public service and public policy.”
That’s a lesson he hopes resonates with his children; Calandro and his wife, Roseann, have two daughters, Caroline and Laura.
Public service, he said, “is a noble thing to do.
“It’s not like the ‘60s with the mentality of people trying to get involved,” he said. But it’s still around.
“I did it back in the 1990s. I felt that way then and I’m sure there are people feeling that way right now, trying to get into public service,” he said. “It’s not a dead belief.”