Delaware and the nation lost a special and gifted public servant with the recent passing of Nancy Anderson. A long-time aide to Senator Bill Roth, Nancy died in June, her years far too few but packed full of several lifetimes of achievement working to ensure the people of the state she loved received the most worthwhile, efficient and productive service their country’s government could offer.
Nancy was a rare and exceptionally capable, caring and creative public servant. Tough as nails, smart as a whip, impossibly tanned and with a penchant for chain-smoking, Nancy was the de facto Bill Roth office data center in the days before computers, her smoke-filled cube piled high with earmarked Congressional Record upon Congressional Record.
Always the last to leave the office, Nancy could recite from memory every vote Senator Roth had cast during decades in the Senate, and her knowledge of the workings of that institution – precedents, parliamentary procedure and so on, rivaled anyone’s on the Hill.
I think it is fair to say that Nancy leaned a tad bit more to the left than most of her Roth colleagues, and she leveraged her significant influence with the Senator to encourage his support of social safety net programs and environmental legislation the rest of his caucus may not have embraced with the same enthusiasm. She was the original “compassionate conservative” before anyone had heard of the term.
Beyond her mastery of arcane policy, through the years Nancy personally helped literally thousands of Delawareans and some of our state’s most important institutions navigate the federal bureaucracy and grant-making process, working to make higher education and small business loans and rent payments a reality for many who otherwise had limited options.
None of which is to say that Nancy also wasn’t a tenacious watchdog of the taxpayer’s precious dollar. She was devoted entirely to fulfilling the role of Congressional oversight of federal spending and did everything in her power to ensure public programs were managed as effectively and efficiently as possible. Nancy demanded responsiveness and accountability –for her, these were federal government obligations that had real, significant impact on the lives of people she knew and cared about.
The Roth Senate staff was always a bit different than others on the Hill in that the majority of professional (ie, policy) staff actually hailed from the home state. So it was with Nancy. Born and raised in Wilmington, later moving to Rehoboth, Nancy never really left the state despite working in Washington for nearly 30 years. Throughout her career in government, Nancy met and spoke every day with good Delawareans whose lives were directly impacted by the decisions made on Capitol Hill – something she never forgot.
There is underway a political stalemate over the federal budget; that is not inappropriate, as big issues are at stake – for starters, the shape, size and sustainability of massive programs like Social Security and Medicare and indeed the solvency of our government. Yet, for those who have never had reason to engage with the federal government (or are not economists), talk about entitlement spending and debt limits can seem very abstract.
Americans who have had to approach their government for help of some kind – or simply to ask that it fulfill an obligation – know the experience can be deeply personal and often daunting. For them, a functioning government is a matter of great urgency.
So after the cameras move on from the current debate, the successful operations of our government – the delivery of the services it is contracted to deliver – will as always rely on the performance of agency employees across the federal bureaucracy; so, too they will rest on the Congressional staffers charged by our Constitution with the oversight of our government and with troubleshooting its complexities for constituents in need. We can only hope that there are still Nancy Andersons working late hours in Washington, thinking, caring and doing the things she did over three decades, making our state and nation so much better in the process.