Defense budget expert and SIA alum shows students the possibilities with an MIA degree

SIA grad Ryan Crotty speaks with SIA student Matthew Macar
SIA grad Ryan Crotty speaks with SIA student Matthew Macar Credit: Vanessa McLaughlin

Ryan Crotty,a Penn State School of International Affairs alum, returned to the school on Wednesday to present on U.S. defense budget policy challenges as part of Professor Dennis Jett’s Colloquium on Current Policy Challenges (INTAF 590). Students not only got an overview of the issues facing the defense budget, but also a look into Crotty’s career and the career possibilities in their own futures.

Jett organizes the semester-long event to bring thought leaders on topics ranging from food security to terrorism. The program features 14 speakers and the topics vary depending on the current issues of the day.

Crotty, deputy director for defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., talked about the “Guns vs. Butter” model, summarizing the ongoing debate in U.S. politics between defense and domestic spending.

“Last week I had to testify in front of Congress about the defense budget,” he said. “A congressman asked, ‘You’re telling me about how we should spend our money on defense. So, why is defense spending more important than the starving children in my district?'”

Crotty called the question false dichotomy, stressing that defense spending and civilian programs are not mutually exclusive, but noted the central role these questions have in debates over the size and role of government in society and the economy.

At CSIS, a nonprofit research organization, Crotty works on long-term defense spending trends and identifying challenges and opportunities facing the Department of Defense in a time of budget tightening. He explained his work focuses on the management and application of defense resources, the strategic implications of resourcing decisions, and the effects of these decisions on the defense industrial base.

In his job, Crotty mentioned he uses the skills he learned at SIA weekly, if not daily. SIA forced him to hone his public speaking ability and develop comprehensive, concise writing skills. Specifically, Crotty referenced Jett’s classes in helping him be able to quickly compile data and present it succinctly.

“Professor Jett’s two pagers, in two days mirror real life,” he said, referring to Jett’s assignment of a two page paper on a Monday, and making it due on Wednesday. “For example, when my boss needs a proposal and wants me to write up all the relevant information and present it, I usually only have a short amount of time to do all the work.”

These skills got a workout when, on a recent Thursday afternoon, Crotty was invited to testify before Congress the following Wednesday morning. Even though his oral testimony was six days away, he said he was required to submit his 5 pages of written testimony three days after the invitation, and then still had to write his oral testimony.

“Knowing that what I wrote and said would be in a binder in the Library of Congress for all time, gave a heavier weight to it all,” he said. “I felt the gravity of this as I wrote.”

Students listened intently to Crotty’s talk explaining the trends in the defense budget, and some of the political and administrative aspects of his job. His knowledge and presentation impressed students.

“To know that he came from our program instills confidence and pride in SIA,” said first-year M.I.A. student Matthew Hobbs. “We study and practice our skills, but it’s encouraging to see the reality of what we could become, and that we could have a job like this.”

Crotty also advised students to network when looking for jobs, and to make sure their resumes showed measurable skills. While many job applicants will state they have good communications skills, for instance, they are somewhat subjective. Crotty credited his Quantitative Analysis class at SIA for teaching him the measurable skills of economic and statistical analysis.

“It’s inspiring to have an SIA graduate come and give a talk like this,” said first-year student Matthew Macar. “It makes me proud of this institution when an alum returns to speak about a topic because he is an expert.”

Click here to view Crotty's full presentation