Alumni Spotlight: Josh Varcie
Q&A with Josh Varcie
Since 1975, the Congressional Budget Office has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process. Each year, the agency’s economists and budget analysts produce dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates for proposed legislation.
Josh Varcie '19 has been working with CBO as an Assistant Analyst since 2021. In this Q&A, Josh reflects on his time at Northwestern and how his Economics degree prepared him for his current role
Reflect on your time in the Economics department at Northwestern. How did your time at NU impact who you are today?
Varcie: When I first came to Northwestern, I was quite unsure of the career path I wanted to take. I decided to major in economics because it was a popular major at the school and I knew it involved numbers. After taking a few courses in the economics department, though, I started to see the many different career paths I could pursue with an economics degree. My coursework in economics, combined with joining the Northwestern Political Union (an undergraduate policy debate student group), piqued my interest in public policy and set me on the path toward the career I have today.
What do you consider to be the most valuable aspect of your time at NU? What did you enjoy about your Economics education at NU?
Varcie: Some of my most valuable experiences at Northwestern came from my interactions with others. I often remember getting into long-lasting discussions with my friends, dormmates, and professors about all types of issues. Although we often disagreed, having these discussions broadened my perspective and made me a more critical thinker. I would also be remiss not to recognize the invaluable advice from my advisers, who helped steer me in the right direction.
One of the things I enjoyed most about my economics education at Northwestern was getting to teach other students. I served as a TA for Prof. Ogawa’s Introduction to Microeconomics course and was also a mentor in the Peer-Guided Study Groups program for Econ 201 and Econ 202. I found teaching to be a rewarding way to meet other students and improve my own understanding of economics.
Describe the work of the CBO. What types of issues would be brought to the CBO, and how do they go about producing their reports?
Varcie: Since 1975, CBO has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process. Each year, the agency’s economists and budget analysts produce dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates for proposed legislation.
CBO is required by law to produce a formal cost estimate for nearly every bill that is approved by a full committee of either the House or the Senate. Those cost estimates are only advisory. They can—but do not have to—be used to enforce budgetary rules or targets. Moreover, CBO does not enforce such budgetary rules; the Budget Committees do.
Cost estimates show how a bill would affect spending or revenues over the next 5 or 10 years, depending on the type of spending involved, and describe the basis for the estimate. For most tax legislation, CBO uses estimates provided by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, a separate group that works closely with the Congressional tax-writing committees. In addition to preparing formal written estimates for bills approved by committees, CBO provides many more preliminary informal estimates as committees are considering which legislation to advance, as amendments to legislation are being debated, and at other stages in the legislative process. For more information, see How CBO Prepares Cost Estimates and CBO’s Cost Estimates Explained.
My work in the Health Analysis Division mostly focuses on assisting CBO in producing its analytic reports. CBO’s reports cover every major area of federal policy, including spending programs, the tax code, and budgetary and economic challenges. Most reports are written at the request of the Chairman or Ranking Member of a committee or subcommittee or at the request of the leadership of either party in the House or Senate. Typically, the reports present a set of options for changes in the federal program or tax rules under consideration, estimating each option’s budgetary and economic effects and discussing its benefits and drawbacks. As with the agency’s other products, those reports make no recommendations.
Describe your position with CBO. How did your Economics degree prepare you for the work that you do now with CBO?
Varcie: I work as an Assistant Analyst in the Health Analysis Division at CBO. The Health Analysis Division analyzes a range of federal programs and policies that include Medicare, Medicaid, and subsidies provided through health insurance exchanges. The division produces reports on a range of policy issues and plays a key role in certain estimates of proposed changes in health care programs.
Assistant analysts acquire real-world experience by working under the direction of experienced analysts to support the Congress. Assistant analyst positions are entry-level and for those with an undergraduate degree. The positions last for three years. Assistant analysts work on research, data analysis, statistical analysis, database management, literature review, and quality assurance. Most pursue a graduate degree at the end of their term, often in economics or public policy.
In my role at the CBO, I regularly use many of the tools I learned in my economics degree. CBO’s analyses often employ econometric techniques, such as difference-in-difference and two-stage least-squares regression modeling. Coming into CBO with an understanding of these modeling techniques from my econometrics courses at Northwestern has helped me tremendously in my work. Likewise, my coursework in public finance and public policy, including Professor Manski’s “Analytic Methods for Public Policy Analysis” course, equipped me with the skills needed to understand the complex policy issues analyzed by CBO.
What do you enjoy most about your work with the CBO?
Varcie: My favorite part about working at the CBO is that I get to learn about and contribute to the most important public policy issues of our time. CBO has a collegial work environment, which consists mostly of economists or public policy analysts with advanced degrees, and analysts are always willing to take the time to teach me about the (many!) policy areas in which they have expertise. Likewise, CBO brings in numerous guest speakers throughout the year, so I learn about all different types of issues, even though my work is centered around health care. As someone who is interested in pursuing a public policy graduate degree, I cannot think of a better place to learn about policy than the CBO.