For many Americans, the clashes on Capitol Hill over the federal budget are annoying background noise. For Mark Hadley, general counsel of the Congressional Budget Office, the partisan discord makes extra work for his small team of lawyers and staffers who review the budget from a nonpartisan viewpoint.
“The parties have fundamental disagreements about the appropriate size and role of government,” he said. “CBO serves the entire Congress, so that means we have to analyze more and more varied proposals.”
The nasty tenor of congressional budget debates adds to the pressure on CBO lawyers to be as clear and thorough as possible in explaining their assumptions, methods and conclusions, to protect the agency’s reputation for objective analysis.
The CBO’s independence and objectivity is a point of pride for Hadley, who is on his second stint at the agency. He was an associate analyst between 1998 and 2003 before joining Jones Day to structure derivative contracts for large financial institutions. He was lured back to the CBO in 2006 as the deputy general counsel and was promoted to his current post in 2008.
“One of the key differences between my work at the law firm is the degree of specialization,” he said. “At the firm, my practice was very specialized. At the CBO, I’m a hyper-generalist.”
Hadley’s responsibilities are twofold. He handles legal matters pertaining to CBO operations, including privacy, ethics, employment law and government contracting. He also supports analysts reviewing congressional spending proposals, interpreting how proposed legislation would change existing law.
He has no typical workday. His office handles approximately 1,000 separate legal tasks each year, although some are much larger in scope than others.
It doesn’t get much bigger than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. As with other legislation, the CBO’s lawyers analyzed how various cash flows should be treated within the federal budget and scrutinized legislative language for potential problems. The CBO offered cost estimates that it updated after the U.S. Supreme Court validated most of the reform.
“CBO’s attorneys have to be able to dive into any area of federal law and, less frequently, state, tribal and international law,” Hadley said. “It can be jarring to turn from the budgetary consequences of recent Supreme Court decisions to the financial disclosure requirements for individual employees.” — Karen Sloan