This medal recognizes a federal employee for significant accomplishments throughout a lifetime of achievement in public service.
Position: Managing Director, Financial Markets and Community Investment
Agency: Government Accountability Office
Location: Washington, D.C.
Achievement: Provided Congress with impartial analysis and oversight regarding the nation’s financial regulatory system, issuing warnings about potential risks and making recommendations to improve the implementation of new laws and economic recovery programs.
During the past two decades, Orice Williams Brown has become a trusted expert for members of Congress on financial regulatory matters, from investigating hedge fund abuses in the 1990s to examining the full panoply of laws and policies put in place as a result of the 2008 economic crisis.
As the managing director of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) financial markets and community investment section, Brown and her team have played a critical role in helping ensure new financial reform laws are effectively implemented and that citizens and businesses received the intended economic recovery assistance quickly and correctly.
In the past few years, Brown has overseen dozens of reports that carefully examined and offered recommendations to improve the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the Wall Street regulatory reform law, and initiatives to prevent housing foreclosures. She is also a leading expert on the government’s flood insurance program and on the activities of the Federal Reserve.
“Orice is a strategic thinker,” said Patricia Dalton, GAO’s chief operating officer. “She’s good at perceiving what the issues are, determining the most important information and developing recommendations that are practical and will have the greatest impact. When she speaks, people listen.”
In the wake of the financial crisis, Brown was instrumental in building and co-leading a multidisciplinary team to monitor the TARP program that created financial stability for major banks, insurers and the auto industry. The GAO has produced comprehensive reports every 60 days, and made more than 70 recommendations to improve Treasury's management of TARP-related programs and activities. This included evaluation of the government's ownership interest in major financial institutions, and its management and monitoring of these investments, as well as exit strategies.
Brown also played a pivotal role in the first comprehensive audit of the Federal Reserve’s credit facilities, which were established to respond to the financial crisis, and in more than 40 reports that analyzed various aspects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, including potential impacts of regulations on the financial markets.
In addition, her team examined the federal program designed to help struggling borrowers avoid home foreclosures, finding it was falling short and recommending a number of ways to improve existing strategies to help borrowers.
“The GAO team Orice leads has made a series of recommendations to help homeowners understand their rights in the foreclosure process,” said Nikki Clowers, a director at GAO. “For instance, they don’t need to leave their home immediately, since the process can take from one to two years, and it is better if the property does not become vacant. We made the recommendations to bank regulators and they have taken action.”
Gene Dodaro, the comptroller general of the United States, said Brown has provided expert testimony to Congress on complex financial matters and worked closely with senior officials in the executive branch to correct problems and improve program performance and regulatory oversight.
“She has the best qualities of what you want in a public servant and is someone who stepped up in a national crisis and took on difficult issues with courage and excellence,” said Dodaro.
The topics Brown and her team of 125 analysts investigate are complex and often politically charged, but she has managed to navigate these treacherous waters, providing an objective analysis for Congress while keeping the financial regulators on their toes.
Brown said that she and her staff do a great deal of research, consider a variety of views and make sure their work is fully supported by the facts.
“We tell Congress what information we have found. Even if they might not agree with what we have found because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear, they respect us for maintaining our integrity,” she said.
Her team is currently involved in examining financial institutions labeled “too big to fail,” exploring regulatory lessons that might be gleaned today from the savings and loan crisis of the 1990s, and she has had a hand in leading GAO’s examination of the duplication and fragmentation of federal programs and services.
In the late 1990s, Brown reviewed the near-collapse of Long-Term Capital Management, a hedge fund, calling attention to these entities that are lightly regulated despite managing trillions of dollars in assets. In the lead-up to the most recent financial crisis, her 2006 work warned of the risks associated with alternative mortgage products.
Brown's research also brought to light a range of structural issues and management challenges plaguing the Federal Emergency Management Agency's $3.5 billion National Flood Insurance Program after Hurricane Katrina. Her work predicted the financial shortfalls now being experienced, and helped prompt congressional program reform efforts in 2012.
After earning her graduate degree in business administration with a concentration in finance at Virginia Tech, Brown landed a job at the GAO that she thought would be temporary. Instead, it has turned into a fulfilling career.
“I absolutely fell in love with GAO’s unique mission and role in government,” she said. “I want to help make government work better and safeguard the public trust and taxpayer dollars.”
The Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals are presented annually by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service to celebrate excellence in our federal civil service.