Hometown: Flora, Miss.
Role: Deputy director, Mississippi Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, known as the PEER Committee. Edgar is also staff co-chair of NCSL’s Standing Committees and serves on NCSL’s Executive Committee and Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee.
Years of legislative service: 17
“Mississippi is genuinely a place where I feel like everyone knows everyone else, and that we are known as ‘The Hospitality State’ for a reason.”
Why did you choose to work at the legislature?
I actually stumbled into public service by chance. I have always loved living in Mississippi, so when my previous employer informed me that my position with the company would require me to relocate to the Florida Panhandle, I knew immediately that I would need to look for other employment to continue living in my home state. I decided to look for jobs in the Jackson metro area and saw an ad in the paper (that probably dates me a bit or is a foreign concept to some) for an evaluator with the state PEER Committee. I inquired about the position and was told it required a lot of analytical skills, which I knew I possessed, but at the time I had no idea who or what the PEER Committee was or did. Roughly 17 years later, I am still here and absolutely loving my job and enjoy getting to work with the members and staff of the Mississippi Legislature to make the state a better place for everyone.
What skill or talent are you most proud of?
It’s a toss-up between my analytical skills and my desire to constantly learn (if that’s considered a skill or talent). The PEER Committee’s mission is to “improve the economy, efficiency, effectiveness and accountability of state government through its reviews of state agency programs and issues.” We are often referred to as the “legislative watchdog” by the media, and sometimes we aren’t always the people that agencies are most excited to see show up (although I say this mostly in jest). Our purpose is really to see how we can make recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of state government so that we can make best use of the taxpayers’ dollars. That said, it’s critical to be able to go into an agency when reviewing a program (even when it’s unfamiliar) and being able to analyze the information to understand how the program operates, what the program’s goals and objectives are, and to ultimately make recommendations on improvements to make the program even better. Analyzing unfamiliar programs highlights my desire to constantly learn.
Working for the PEER Committee, you are constantly learning about new topics, agencies, programs, etc. You also get to meet a lot of amazing state employees and other people along the way. It can sometimes be hard to explain what the committee does or what program evaluation is; to this day, some of my friends don’t quite understand what all we do. I jokingly say my job is like being in perpetual graduate school, just without all the semester breaks. Our typical program evaluation process takes about four or five months from the initial approval of the project to the final production of a public report. As soon as one project is complete, you move on to the next one.
What’s the best advice you were ever given?
During my master’s program at the University of Southern Mississippi, a professor in my program evaluation class told us that there are two fundamental questions you should always ask yourself: “Are you doing things right?” and “Are you doing the right things?” At the time it made perfect sense to drill down to the efficiency and effectiveness of the program or health intervention you were evaluating. Little did I know I’d use those two questions every day during my current role as a legislative staffer.
Who or what inspires you?
My staff and co-workers. I work with an incredibly bright, diverse group of people. One of my favorite things about working at PEER is that we hire from numerous backgrounds, and we try to make sure we have a lot of various talents, knowledge and skills to be able to address the multitude of project topics we review and evaluate. We have people on staff with polymer science degrees, industrial psychology degrees, accounting, juris doctorates, etc., all the way to theology. When I am working on a project, I have access to so many incredible people’s backgrounds and can get help with areas that may not be familiar to me.
What’s one thing you love about your state?
“Mississippi is the smallest town in the U.S.,” as someone recently told me. Mississippi is genuinely a place where I feel like everyone knows everyone else, and that we are known as “The Hospitality State” for a reason. Regardless of what part of our state you are in, everyone is always friendly and happy to help you out whenever possible. You can be in another city in Mississippi but still feel like you’re in your hometown.
What are you currently reading/listening to/watching?
I may be late to the party, but I have really enjoyed watching “Ted Lasso.” The characters in the show are amazing, and I love the quick and sometimes subtle dry humor. As I pretty much gravitate toward anything humor/fantasy/sci-fi, I’m hoping to start “The Wheel of Time” series next. As far as podcasts go, I’ve enjoyed “SmartLess,” with Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes and Will Arnett.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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