Alumni Spotlight: Q&A with Kiyomi Burchill, MPA ’11
Kiyomi Burchill, 28, graduated with her Master of Public Administration from the USC Price School of Public Policy in 2011. This past December, she was appointed assistant secretary of the State of California’s Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) by Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. The agency is responsible for oversight of 13 departments and one board that provide various health care services, social services, mental health services, alcohol and drug treatment services, income assistance and public health services.
Prior to the appointment, Burchill had served as a policy consultant since 2008 in the Office of Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg. In addition, she was a legislative aide for Senator Steinberg from 2007-2008, and a California Senate Fellow for Senator Steinberg from 2006-2007.
CHHS oversees a large scope of departments providing vital services for the people throughout the state — what do you consider the biggest challenges facing the agency?
Clearly, the biggest challenge for the California Health and Human Services Agency is the state budget and the budget reductions to our departments that have been needed to put the state’s fiscal house back in order. These reductions have included difficult cuts to health and human services programs on which many California families rely.
What does your role as assistant secretary entail?
I serve as Assistant Secretary for community mental health, alcohol and drug programs, and aging. What this means is that I problem solve, coordinate, and facilitate with our departments responsible for these areas. I analyze and make recommendations to the Secretary and Undersecretary on the state budget, budget trailer bills, and strategic decisions around the operations of our departments and the programs they run.
What would you ultimately like to accomplish in this role?
I believe that good policy and good outcomes in the public sector flow from high performing organizations. So I’m really focused on how to help provide guidance and support to our departments so that they can be responsive, collaborative, and effective in the work they do to administer programs that are really critical to the well being of millions of Californians. As we move towards implementing federal health care reform for 2014, I’m also thrilled to be a part of helping integrate our health systems and expand our insured population. These changes will help improve the overall health of Californians and provide Californians with much needed health security.
How was your experience as a student in the Sacramento MPA program?
I was fortunate to study with faculty members who were either highly accomplished practitioners, academics, or even both. Clinical Professor Elisabeth Kersten, who served as Director of the California Senate Office of Research, opened my eyes to strengths based leadership. Professor Chet Newland, a legend in the field of public administration, introduced me to a field rich with history and integrity. And, Professor David Suarez taught me the power of organizational culture through case studies and simulations.
What did you enjoy most about the program?
What did you enjoy most about the program? In every course, I was able to explore some policy area or organization type that was of interest to me. Even in an economics course, for instance, USC Price provided the freedom to select a topic to apply that set of skills to that interested me. In that sense, I was really able to tailor my course of study, while gaining a strong foundation in the core areas of public administration, like budgeting, economics, evaluation, and planning.
In what ways did USC Price and the MPA program help prepare you to excel professionally?
Coming from the Legislature, I analyzed issues in terms of policy problems. In the Master of Public Administration program at USC Price, I came to understand the power of organizations, and how to interpret organizational behavior and effectuate organizational change. This has been incredibly important in my transition to working in the Executive Branch, which has a fundamentally different role, and consists of large organizations. e core areas of public administration, like budgeting, economics, evaluation, and planning.
Are you able to apply the lessons, theories and concepts in your work at CHHS? If so, how?
Absolutely. One example is negotiation. It’s something I was attempting to learn on the fly. At USC Price, through numerous courses I learned interest based negotiation—both how it works and then actually practiced it! In so many cases, the ability to identify interests, as opposed to positions, has made all the difference in reaching resolution.