Decorative quote from state budget director Karen Walker

New State Budget Director Takes the Helm
Insights from North Carolina’s New State Budget Director Kristin Walker

State Budget Director Kristin Walker shares perspective on her new role and the road ahead for OSBM as she takes leadership of the state budget office.

On November 1 Kristin Walker assumed leadership of the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) as North Carolina’s new State Budget Director. 

Before her appointment by Governor Roy Cooper, Kristin served as Chief Deputy Budget Director since 2017. Prior to that, she was a fiscal analyst for the North Carolina General Assembly.

Kristin recently shared a few lessons she’s learned along the way and her perspective on what she sees on the horizon for OSBM and its role in state government. 

What are your top priorities for OSBM?

The top priority for OSBM should always be effectively managing our state’s resources with integrity and wisdom. It’s a question of how we achieve that. We need to remain focused on building a highly capable and diverse team in the state budget office and investing in outstanding data and analysis. 

In the 16 years I’ve been in state government, I’ve seen a shift in the adoption of evidence-based policy-making. Today, North Carolina is considered a leader among states for its efforts in this field. I see OSBM as a driving force in continuing that effort and keeping North Carolina at the leading edge of the trend. We want that kind of thinking ingrained in everything we do in our agency and across state government.

Of course, to meet our mission we need to have the right people on our team. Like many state agencies, OSBM has felt the pressures of a tight labor market.  We want our analysts to go on to work in leadership positions across state government; we just sometimes don’t want them to go quite so quickly.

We need to make sure we support our staff in meeting the growing complexity of budget and analysis work by embracing new tools and technology. We need to continue to connect with and assist agencies, and we need to find new ways and formats to do so.

I’m particularly excited about some of the training  opportunities our staff is working on for state government, such as the Performance Management Academy and a state budget professional certification program. We want to help other agencies as they also work to develop the highest-quality staff.

 It’s tempting to think OSBM is all about the numbers, but our work is much more about people.

How do you see state government evolving in the coming years?

There’s always been pressure on government to demonstrate its efforts have a positive impact. When I first went to work in government more than 20 years ago, there was the legacy of Al Gore’s $600 hammer. I was fortunate to work in an agency, the National Science Foundation, that took data and evidence seriously and knew how to do it well. It wasn’t just about measuring outputs – or even outcomes – but long-term impacts, secondary effects, and unintended consequences.

I think the expectation that government be accountable is intensifying, as is scrutiny on how we demonstrate impact. We see OSBM’s Operational Excellence efforts as supporting the state’s ability to embrace best practices in using data and evidence to elevate how we operate and to measure that impact.

To that end, OSBM will continue advocating for research and evidence, performance management, and strategic planning. We offer training opportunities and are building a performance management community of practice for state employees. We’ve partnered with various agencies on process improvement and program evaluations. The NC Office of Strategic Partnerships helps agencies develop connections across government and research institutions to increase state capacity for this work. And we recently added a Chief Scientist to our team to provide expanded direction ingraining evaluation and evidence into state decision-making. 

What do you anticipate will be the top challenges for the state budget office?

I’ve already mentioned the need to recruit and develop a high-quality staff in the face of increasingly complex state policy and budget management. I think in addition to that, uncertainty remains a challenge for our work.

The economic uncertainty born out of the global COVID pandemic hasn’t dissipated the way we might have expected. Today we are still seeing mixed indicators affecting state revenue projections. And, of course, in North Carolina we always face uncertainty from the potential impact of natural disasters. 

What’s the most common misconception about OSBM?

I think there is often attention paid to just one element of OSBM without appreciating all the roles our agency plays. It’s not just  developing the Governor’s Recommended Budget, managing the budget, and administering the requirements of the State Budget Act. OSBM is home to the Central Internal Audit Office, which helps support all internal audit functions across the state and staffs the fraud and waste hotline. Thanks to the economists, the state’s Census Liaison, and the State Demographer on our team, OSBM is a source of significant data about the state for policy makers and researchers. We provide training to state agencies and work as partners on evaluations and process improvement projects. The NC Office of Strategic Partnerships and the NC Pandemic Recovery Office both fall under OSBM’s umbrella of services.    

What inspired you to work in the state budget office? Is this the career path you thought you’d have?

I never really thought about working on budgets until I was offered a job in the Fiscal Research Division at the NC General Assembly.  In fact, I can remember taking a public management course in graduate school and there were whole sections on “getting the budget office out of your way.” Budget offices are often confused with accountants and accounting, and we are often seen as regimented busy bodies who like saying no. I think OSBM has defied those stereotypes and we continue to start from yes, approaching each request from an agency as an opportunity to partner with them to achieve their goals and objectives.

I often say the budget office is like grand central station; all the trains come in full of interesting ideas and people. And if we are doing our jobs right, all the trains go back out on time and better off for having been through our office. We work in the most exciting place in state government and every day I learn something. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s the best advice you’ve received about getting things done in government?

I had a wonderful professor in policy school who had been a county executive for decades. He taught all of us about perspective: about not getting too bogged down in the weeds, but also about not forgetting the people we serve on the other end of all these great, shiny (and often naïve) ideas we had.  

One of my first mentors in state government stressed that public policy requires you to play the long game. There are a lot of wonderful ideas out there, but it takes the right combination of timing, people, and resources to get things done. The best practitioners know how to seize the moment when those three come together. It is transformative when they do.

More About Kristin

State Budget Director Kristin Walker being sworn in
NC State Budget Director Kristin Walker was sworn in by NC Secretary of State Elaine Marshall

Before joining the state budget office in 2017 Kristin was a Fiscal Analyst for the North Carolina General Assembly for more than 10 years. She has also worked for the National Science Foundation managing multi-million-dollar grant programs in the social and behavioral sciences. She has her undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and a Master of Public Policy from the Sanford School at Duke University.

Kristin enjoys volunteering in the community, particularly youth-focused causes. She was previously on the board of Read and Feed, a non-profit which provides afterschool tutoring to underserved students in Wake County.  She is a sustaining member of the Junior League of Raleigh, which she credits for providing her with many leadership opportunities in conjunction with service to the community.  

She lives in Raleigh with her husband, two kids, and their dogs Wally (Sir Walter Raleigh) and Murphy. While her kids might be hopeful there’s a third dog in the works (Manteo?), it’s unlikely. In her spare time, she indulges in her passion for exploring all the nooks and crannies of our state—especially places where her family can enjoy the outdoors. She loves both the beach and the mountains and during the pandemic her family instituted State Park Saturdays, making the most of North Carolinians access to some of the best parks in the nation. 

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