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Janet Eissenstat
Janet Eissenstat
Director of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships
June 7, 2006

Janet Eissenstat
Good Afternoon and thank you for your interest in the White House Fellows Program – one of the nation’s most prestigious programs for leadership and service. This non-partisan, highly competitive program has a remarkable 40 year tradition of bringing talented Americans to Washington to work at the highest levels of the government for one year as special assistants to cabinet officials. This week, members of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowship are meeting to interview potential candidates for the next class of White House Fellows.

Terrell, from Chicago writes:
Hi, Can you please explain ezactly what the Fellowships Program is and how it relates to the United States Citizens? Thanks,

Janet Eissenstat
Terrell, thank you for your question. The White House Fellowship Program was founded by President Johnson in 1964 as a way to give Americans first-hand knowledge of the workings of the Federal government. President Johnson believed that too many talented young Americans feel disconnected from the workings of government. In order for government to be successful, citizens must be actively engaged not just at the voting booth, but also in the decision making process. Fellows learn how to get results in Washington, they learn how to make decisions in complex environments and they learn powerful leadership lessons. Our program alumni take what they’ve learned back home and use the knowledge to help building stronger communities.

Carrie, from Washington, DC writes:
Ms. Eissenstat, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I have recently graduated from college and am planning to continue on and get my Masters. I am also interested in the White House Fellowship program. What are the requirements for the program and what do you look for in your candidates? Thanks again

Janet Eissenstat
You’re welcome, Carrie and good luck with your Masters. Our formal requirements are quite straightforward. Applicants for the program must be U.S. Citizens who are not currently working for the Federal Government, unless they are military personnel. When the applications are reviewed, several criteria are considered: Has the applicant finished their undergraduate degree and are they working in their chosen profession? Does the applicant have a record of remarkable professional achievement? Has the applicant shown evidence of strong leadership skills; Does the applicant have a demonstrated commitment to public service; and Does the applicant have the knowledge and skills necessary to make a significant contribution to the government. Of course, the commissioners also try to assess the strength of one’s character, one’s attitude, and the ability to work well with others.

Jack, from Mt. Shasta writes:
What's the history of the fellow program? How many fellows are there?

Janet Eissenstat
Jack, we have such a wonderful history. I’m so glad you asked. Since the Program’s founding in 1964, over 600 people have come to Washington to serve as White House Fellows. The 600 people have been witnesses to history and often active participants. The first class of Fellows met regularly with President Johnson to discuss the issues of the day. Forty years later, meetings with the President are still an important part of the Program. When the Fellows meet with President Bush in candid off-the-record discussions, it is always insightful and inspirational. Each year, the Commission recommends to the President that he name between 11 and 19 individuals as Fellows.

Michael, from Virginia Beach, Va writes:
Hello there, I'm a student at Regent University and will be graduating in May 2007 with a joint degree in Law and Public Policy. One of the prospects following graduation is working for the federal government. My question is how does the White House Fellows program differ from that of the Presidential Management Fellowship? Are they one and the same? Are they two distinct programs yet have some overlap? I am familiar with the hiring process for the Presidential Management Fellowship, but how does one get consideration for the White House Fellows program? Thank you, in advance, for your consideration of my questions - Michael

Janet Eissenstat
Michael, I’m glad you asked that question because the two programs are often confused. In short, the Presidential Management Fellowship program is designed to recruit talented employees for the Federal government with the goal of long term service. Many top government workers found their way into government through this great program which brings about 600 people to Washington each year. The White House Fellows program, by contrast, is designed for short term exposure to the Federal government. Only between 11 and 19 White House Fellows are selected each year. The goal for our Fellows is that they will gain exposure to the workings of government and gain and expertise in how to get things done working in conjunction with government and gain exemplary leadership skills. They should then put these skills to work in the private and non-profit sectors or at the state and local government level until the nation needs their service at the national level as is so often the case with some of our famous Alumni like former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, Labor Secretary, Elaine Chao, Senator Sam Brownback and Congressman Joe Barton. To be considered for a White House Fellowship, you do not need sponsorship from any academic or other institution, you only need to fill out the application available on our website at

Brady, from Georgia writes:
Ms. Eissenstat,I am a government teacher here outside Atlanta and my question is what type of fellowships are there in the White House? Are they religious based? Is this a legacy thing for after the Bush Administration?

Janet Eissenstat
Brady, thank you for being a teacher! The White House Fellows program is specifically customized based upon the talents of the individuals who are selected each year. This year we have twelve Fellows, three are serving in the White House and the other 9 are working at various cabinet departments. Fellows are assigned to cover a wide variety of issues and each cabinet secretary makes an independent determination about how best to utilize the talents of the Fellows. The program is non-partisan and inclusive in every way. President Bush is extremely supportive of the Program and like the program’s founder, President Johnson and all of the Presidents in between, he believes firmly in the importance of developing strong leaders for tomorrow.

Jean, from Illinois writes:
Do many scienitst apply for the internships? If not, would that be useful?

Janet Eissenstat
Jean, thank you for asking about scientists. We strongly encourage scientists to apply for the White House Fellows Program. There are many places their particular talents can be put to great use. In fact, this year one of our Fellows who formerly worked as a member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories is now working at the National Security Council. Many scientists apply for the Program and we would love to see more scientists apply in the future.

John, from Washington, DC writes:
Does the White House sponsor programs for entry-level civil servants such as myself, a GS-7? I'm not particularly interested in the PMF or White House Fellowship programs.

Janet Eissenstat
John, thank you for your question. If you are already serving in the government, then your particular agency is likely to offer professional development opportunities either as part of a natural career progression or as optional education program. I urge you to talk with your direct supervisor to see what is available at your particular agency. Since you mentioned the Government Service compensation scale, I thought I would mention that White House Fellowships are in fact paid Fellowships. Each Fellow is paid as a GS-14, step 3 during their year of service.

Daniel, from Great Barrington, MA writes:
What do White House Fellows do and how long do they work in the White House? What is the age requirement? Thanks.

Janet Eissenstat
Thank you for your question Daniel. There are no age restrictions for White House Fellows, but the Program is designed to give selected Americans government experience early in their career. Selection for the Program is merit based and each person is evaluated on their individual talents. This year, our youngest Fellow is 26 and our oldest is 39. Fellows are expected to work in the White House or at a cabinet agency for a period of one year – from September 1 to August 31. Each Fellowship is customized. One Fellow might be leading an interagency task force on an important issue, while another Fellow develops a strategic plan for a new program. In addition to working full-time, Fellows also participate in an education program that exposes them to great national leaders. Throughout the year, the Fellows meet in informal, off-the-record discussion session with over 100 cabinet officials, business leaders, Ambassadors, educators, non-profit leaders and think tank representatives. Through these sessions, they gain an incredibly broad understanding of current issues and the challenges of strategic leadership. The Fellows also participate in several domestic and international policy trips where they have a chance to see the first hand effects of decisions made in Washington.

Tyrone, from Florida writes:
Good day: During my enlisted in the Marine Corps I was very interested in participating in an executive branch fellows program but upon inquiry, I noticed that the positions were reserved for military officers of the Department of Defense only. Now that I am off active duty (on inactive reserve duty), and in college full-time, is there any way that I can obtain a fellowship with the White House or any of the department's or agency's of the President's branch? I would also like to inform you that there are eager enlisted service members who would be, in my estimation, elated and highly motivated to jump at an opportunity such as the Fellowship programs of the government. Thank you and God Bless the United States of America. Semper Fidelis, Tyrone

Janet Eissenstat
Tyrone, thank you for your service in the Marine Corps. You mentioned that you are in college full-time. Assuming you have finished your undergraduate degree, you are eligible to apply for the White House Fellowship Program. This Fellowship is open to both active duty service members and reservists regardless of whether they are officers or enlisted service members. There are many different kinds of fellowship programs in the Washington area and many agencies partner with private organizations to offer paid and unpaid fellowship experiences. I urge you to fully investigate the various types of Fellowship programs, both public and private, to find out which one would suit you best.

Fred, from Irvine, CA writes:
Hi, Ms. Eissenstat:Thanks for your government service. What role does politics play in the selection of the winners of the fellowships? Also, any room in the fellowships for persons over 40? Thanks. Fred

Janet Eissenstat
Fred, I am pleased to say that the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships recommends candidates to the President on a strictly non-partisan basis and encourages balance and diversity in all aspects of the program.

Marlene, from Pittsburgh, Pa writes:
How do you become a white house fellow?

Janet Eissenstat
Thank you for your question Marlene. The first step is to complete the application which is available on our website at and secure your letters of recommendation. The comprehensive application is due on February 1. All the applications are reviewed and scored independently and a pool of approximately 100 Regional Finalists is selected from the larger group. The regional finalists are then interviewed at one of nine regional panels by community leaders who are committed to finding the best possible Fellows. Based upon the regional panelists’ recommendations, approximately 30 candidates are selected as National Finalists. The National Finalists are then interviewed by members of the President’s Commission over a three day period in June at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Applying for the Program requires commitment, dedication and follow-through. Most of our applicants have researched the Program thoroughly before deciding to apply.

Kim, from Kentucky writes:
Hi Janet, Can you name some of the leaders today who participated in the Fellowship Program? How do you see it shaping leaders of the future? Thank You

Janet Eissenstat
Thank you, Kim. The Program’s alumni are truly distinguished and they have made their mark in every field of endeavor. I’m tempted to list 100 names, but I’ll just list a few notables. Charles A. Ansbacher, ‘76-77; Conductor, Boston Landmarks Orchestra; Marshall N. Carter, ‘75-76; Chairman/CEO, New York Stock Exchange; Wesley K. Clark, ‘75-76; Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe; General, U.S. Army (Ret); Paul A. Gigot, ‘86-87; Editor, Editorial Page, The Wall Street Journal; Doris Kearns Goodwin, ‘67-68; Pulitzer prize winning Author; Patrick T. Harker, ‘91-92; Dean, The Wharton School; William J. Lennox, Jr. ‘86-87; Superintendent, United States Military Academy; Sanjay Gupta, ‘97-98; Senior Medical Correspondent, CNN; Dana G. Mead, ‘70-71; Chairman, The MIT Corporation; Michelle Peluso, ‘98-99; President/CEO, Travelocity; Jane Cahill Pfeiffer, ‘66-67; Management Consultant; Former Chairman, NBC; Timothy E. Wirth, ‘67-68; President, United Nations Foundation; Of course many of the Program alumni are less well-known. However, they are doing wonderful things in their communities. These leaders have started non-profits, they serve on boards and commissions, they work actively in local government and importantly, they participate fully in national affairs. Our alumni often credit the Fellows Program for helping them gain the skills necessary to launch their community endeavors.

Joseph, from Highland, NY writes:
Does the President have an opportunity to select any of the finalists?

Janet Eissenstat
Thank you for your question, Joseph. Members of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships are meeting this week in Annapolis to interview candidates on behalf of the President. Sometime in the next few weeks, President Bush will review the Fellows recommended by the Commission to determine if he concurs with their findings.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Director Eissenstat: How many and How are the Fellowships chosen? In what area's of the government do they get to work in and for how long? Thank You

Janet Eissenstat
Cliff, that’s a great question. The executive order that created the White House Fellows Program states that we can only have between 11 and 19 Fellows each year. By design, each Fellow is placed in a different cabinet agency and the decision about where to place a Fellow is based on the needs of the particular cabinet secretary and the particular talents of the Fellow. For example this year we have Fellows at the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Homeland Security, State, Veterans Affairs, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development, NASA, and at the Internal Revenue Service. We also have Fellows serving in the Office of the First Lady, at the National Security Council and at the Office of Management and Budget. Each Fellow serves for a period of one year beginning on September 1.

Christine, from Atlanta writes:
I'm a young journalist with two years experience at network level (CNN). I am very interested in the White House Fellowship. I would like to apply in the next few years. What can I do to become a more desirable candidate? As a young journalist, what will make me marketable?

Janet Eissenstat
Christine, thank you for your question. We often have journalists apply for the program. In fact, Paul Gigot, of the Wall Street Journal, is a former Fellow so is CNN's medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta. We would love to see more journalists apply for the Program in the future. It's a great opportunity to closely observe the workings of the Federal government and to gain a greater understanding of the challenges that government leaders face. If you are serious about applying, you should start the process now and visit with some of the alumni. Successful candidates usually have taken time to carefully prepare their applications and they understand that the Commission is looking for leadership, talent and a commitment to public service.

Janet Eissenstat
Thank you for all the interesting questions. The White House Fellows Program provides a unique opportunity for gifted and highly motivated individuals to gain first-hand experience in Washington while at the same time gaining exposure through the lecture series to some of the most dynamic leaders of our time.

It is an extremely demanding year which offers unparalleled experiences and a tremendous opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to meet America’s future challenges.

We all know people who have something special to offer. Please encourage these talented individuals to come to Washington for a year, so that they too might gain new insights into how better to serve their communities, their professions and the greater good.

Thank you and have a good evening.