Former Solo Finds Satisfaction In Government Work
Jamie Mills spent a significant amount of her career as a busy litigator in a solo employment practice, but she still found time for pro bono efforts dedicated to creating programs that protect women and children from violence.
Now Mills can devote all of her time to advocacy, as the new senior advisor for policy analysis for the state Office of Policy and Management. In the newly created position, Mills will serve as a liaison for social researchers and lawmakers, helping to organize statistical analysis projects and surveys for legislative purposes.
When Ben Barnes, secretary of OPM, approached Mills with an opportunity to work for administration of Gov. Dannel Malloy, she jumped at the chance. "It was an easy decision to make," she said. "I think this is an opportunity to work with an energetic and gutsy governor who believes in developing data-driven public policy."
Moving from a lucrative private practice to government work often means a pay cut, but that "wasn't a factor," Mills said. Instead, she liked the idea of refocusing her energies to help solve problems on a statewide level. "It was more about how I want to spend this time in my life, and where I feel I can be most engaged and most impactful. The [pay] is not as important to me as it was 25 years ago."
In August, Mills shut down her Hartford-based law practice, which she had run for 26 years. Although working in an office with dozens of other people has been an adjustment, Mills said she enjoys the opportunity to be part of a group effort.
She will ask for data from a variety of state offices, including the Judicial Branch and public protection agencies. For instance, she might try to determine the length of time it takes for a typical domestic violence complaint to be investigated. Or gather statistics on household incomes, education levels, and ages of children in homes where domestic violence is reported. That type of information could help the state target outreach and education efforts regarding domestic violence.
Mills will be working with academic researchers at the state's colleges. "We'll be asking them to help provide data analysis and evaluation, which can be used by policymakers in our state," she said. "It's a dream job for me, working with some of the sharpest public policy makers I could have ever hoped to work with."
Mills said her legal career has prepared her for the new role. "As a litigator, you're an advocate and because of the nature of the clients I represented, I was often challenging systems and my focus was usually on holding people accountable through litigation," she said.
In many of those representations, she took on some of the state agencies she will now be working to help.
Mills recalled a case in which she represented an employee of a juvenile detention facility called the Hadam Hills Academy, which was closed down when state funding dried up.
She also represented several plaintiffs who challenged "improper responses from the state." Some of those plaintiffs included victims of sexual assault whose records were made available to the public. As a result of those lawsuits, she worked to create a new policy to protect such records. "I represented the Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services agency for over 20 years, and in that role, I was an advocate for creating policies to make sure privacy rights of victims were proteced," Mills said.
Unique among state agencies, OPM provides staff assistance to the governor as well as having oversight of agency activities. The Malloy administrated has emphasized the collection and analysis of data in making policy decisions. But that's been a challenge, as OPM's staff has been cut from about 275 employees to 140 over the past 15 years.
So the goal, said Mills, is to do more for less, which is why part of her mission is to build a working relationships with college professors. "My charge is to establish the capacity for the state to share its data with legislative committees," she said. "I'll be looking to obtain high quality data analyis and evaluation from applied researchers in academia."
Mills said one project might entail looking into why more people are being held in state jails after they have been charged with a crime, but before they are convicted or sentenced.
But criminal justice is one of the many areas in which OPM performs research. Mills is interested in exploring other topics.
Speaking hypothetically, she noted the debate about stem cell reseach in the state. "We might talk to economists who are able to give us a forcaste and make some informed, data driven analysis of whether stem cell research is a smart investment for the state to get involved in," Mills said. "I am very excited to be part of an effort to study ways to improve the state."•