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Archive for July, 2010

Gene L. Dodaro, an Italian American, has been the Acting Comptroller General of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office since March 13, 2008.  Dodaro oversees the 3,100-staff General Accounting Office. The GAO is the independent, non-partisan agency that works for Congress.  Often called the “Congressional watchdog,” GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars and helps ensure the government’s accountability for the benefit of all Americans. Each year, the GAO’s work saves the government and taxpayers billions of dollars and leads to hundreds of actions that improve government operations.

Dodaro was recently interviewed about his work and Italian heritage by the Voce Italiana  newsaper, an Italian American Gazette for the Washington, D.C. area. We reprint below the interview:

How did you get involved in government service?

When I was a college senior, the GAO came to recruit at Lycoming College in Pennsylvania, where I was majoring in accounting. GAO’s broad scope of responsibilities and the interesting opportunities it offered impressed me, particularly the chance to work on issues of national significance.  Shortly after graduating in May 1973, I arrived in Washington and began what has turned out to be a very rewarding career. It was one of the very best decisions I have ever made, and one that I have never second-guessed. I have a challenging and fulfilling job – and everyday have an opportunity to give something back to my country.  

What are some of the biggest challenges you currently face as Comptroller General?

Because we serve all standing committees of the Congress and most of its subcommittees, GAO helps confront the wide range of important economic, social, financial, and security issues facing our Nation. 

One of the most significant challenges is assessing the government’s responses to the current economic situation, including efforts to ensure the stability of the overall banking, housing, and financial markets; conducting oversight of stimulus programs to boost the economy, including job expansion and investments in infrastructure, and highlight the need to modernize the U.S. financial regulatory system.

Another is reviewing U.S. efforts related to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. Evaluating the government’s efforts to identify and act on credible threats to homeland and border security, including commercial aviation and seaports, as well as those involving biological, chemical, and nuclear dimensions.

Still other challenges are reviewing programs financing health care and focusing on major efforts at high risk, such as food and drug safety and the financial condition of the U.S. Postal Service. 

Tell us a little about your Italian roots?

My grandfather, on my father’s side, immigrated to America from Calabria (the Cuiti/Rogliano area) in 1906, to join his older brothers in the steel mills in Monessen, Pennsylvania. It was there that he met and married my grandmother, an Italian-American who was born in Philadelphia. In fact, I was named after my grandfather.

Two years ago, my wife and I planned a trip to Calabria, but were unable to go at that time. It remains a priority for us.

Where did you grow up? Did you feel Italian as you were growing up? Did your family retain Italian traditions?

I grew up in the Mon Valley area of Pennsylvania which was home to many immigrants attracted by industrial jobs. I was born in Monessen, a steel mill town with a large Italian population.   In those early years, the local Catholic Church, food markets, and bakeries were Italian-oriented and/or operated. 

When I was in first grade, my family moved to Belle Vernon, a nearby town with less of an Italian presence.  But because most of my relatives remained in Monessen, we frequently returned there given strong family ties. I have very strong memories of Sundays at my Italian grandparents’ home followed by visits to nearby relatives. 

While Italian food and wine (later, of course) were important ingredients, most memorable for me are many long, leisurely conversations around the dinner table.  Among my family’s Italian traditions was the serving the multiple fish dishes on Christmas Eve.             

What kinds of activities or hobbies do you do for relaxation?

With my background, it is not surprising that the priority for my free time is spending time with my family, and more so now that I have a wonderful grandson in addition to three grown children. I do enjoy sports, especially basketball and football which I played while growing up. I faithfully watch the Pittsburgh Steelers, whom I have loyally followed since the 1960’s. 

I also find movies relaxing and think an enjoyable way to spend a weekend night is dinner and a movie. Because I do so much reading in my job, I am very particular about what I read in my spare time – biographies top the list of my favorites.

What is your favorite Italian meal?

I loved my grandmother’s homemade ravioli. They were made of thin, light pasta and filled with spinach. 

Do you retain Italian traditions within your family?

Holy Rosary Church is an important part of my life, providing a nourishing spiritual home and a strong link to my Italian upbringing. My Irish-German-French wife and I truly enjoy our association with Holy Rosary, the many friends we have here, and the opportunity to expand our knowledge and appreciation of Italian culture and traditions. We both have come to love opera which complements our preference for Italian cuisine and wine.

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