A Perfect Fusion

When alumna Sarah Knisely Handy ’01C found herself drafting congressional testimony for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), she realized she had traveled full circle.

“It was a perfect fusion of my personal, professional, and academic lives,” said Handy, a program analyst for the financial management office of the CDC since shortly after her graduation from Emory with highest honors in political science.

Handy, a native of Arlington, Virginia, is the daughter of an appropriations committee staffer. “I grew up immersed in that culture,” she says. “I used to hang out in my dad’s office on [Capitol] Hill. It just seems natural to me.”

When CDC Director Julie L. Gerberding was called upon to appear before the appropriations committee in March, Handy helped to prepare her, providing briefing materials on virtually every program at the federal agency, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services. The briefing included each committee member’s special area of interest and questions they had asked in past hearings.

“We must explain the science and other complex issues in accessible language,” says Handy. “Dr. Gerberding gave her statement, then answered questions. It lasted about two hours overall, and went really well.”

The hearing is the most formal, public interaction between the CDC and Congress, and is an integral part of determining the CDC’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The House and Senate appropriations committees are panels of mostly senior members that annually approve every dollar of federal spending. Washington insiders like to say there are three real parties in Congress–Republicans, Democrats, and appropriators.

Congressional members and their staffers also visit Atlanta frequently to tour the CDC’s various programs, which range from international disease investigations to bioterrorism preparedness to health education and prevention efforts, such as reducing obesity in America.

Handy and her colleagues serve as congressional liaisons.

“We are a small office with a huge responsibility,” says Handy. “There’s a prohibition against ‘lobbying,’ but we answer questions, provide information, and conduct briefings.”

“Sarah is an extraordinary young alumna who is making some very important scholarly and professional contributions very quickly,” says Randall Strahan, associate professor of political science, who co-authored a study with Hardy that has been accepted for publication by the scholarly journal Congress and the Presidency.

Handy, who has been accepted for graduate study at the London School of Economics in public policy, says she can’t imagine not being involved in legislative affairs in some way, although she doesn’t plan on running for office any time soon.

“That’s not where the appeal is for me. I’m much more interested in the process–the engine behind the operation. It’s a real challenge to attract young people to public service. The private sector often pays better,” Handy says. “But I believe it’s honorable, to work for the government and try to make people’s lives better.”–M.J.L.



© 2004 Emory University