[sweet spot]
Budgets Without Borders
Spanning the globe, crunching numbers
by Trisha J. Ratledge
courtesy of Jason Orlando

Jason Orlando ’94 was always drawn to an international career, but he figured overseas positions were limited to spies, CIA wonks and military folks. There didn’t appear to be a place for “budget nerds” like him.

But while working as deputy director of budget formulation for the District of Columbia, Jason discovered a niche: The U.S. Treasury has a division made for those who travel all over the world to crunch numbers and dispense bottom-line advice to foreign governments that want help in improving their financial systems.

Jason was delighted to have finally found a way to work overseas using his background and skills in budgeting and public finance. In 2004, he scored an interview and within a month, he was on a plane to Tbilisi, Georgia, the former Soviet republic south of Russia, for a preliminary candidate mission to see if he could establish a good working rapport with the budget officers in the Georgia Ministry of Finance.

“Before you go as an adviser, they send you in to see if you’re the right fit,” Jason says. “There has to be good chemistry.”

That candidate mission was a success, and in November 2004 he returned with his wife, Amy (Powell) ’94, for a two-year assignment to assist the government of Georgia as a U.S. Treasury resident adviser specializing in budget policy and management.

Moving from a Western culture to the former Eastern Bloc was disorienting at first — from learning the customs and language to navigating daily life in a country with a rocky infrastructure and spotty power and heat.

In the midst of these changes, Jason and Amy were preparing for another new chapter; daughter Sophie was born just as they were getting settled.

The Georgia assignment was followed by the family’s current two-year assignment in Costa Rica, where Jason’s minor in Spanish has come in handy. In both overseas assignments, Jason says he hit a political sweet spot in which the governments had just changed power and the offices he worked in were ripe for change. Even so, in order to help his counterparts strengthen their budget policies and procedures, he has to first earn their confidence.

“We probably spend a third of our time as teachers, a third of our time as advisers and a third of our time actually doing the work,” he explains. “You have to have a connection. It’s hard to be effective if people don’t like you.”