White House Fellows
|SPRING 2001||VOLUME 26||NUMBER 2|
From the Director
Introducing the New Director
|Experiencing the Transition|
White House Fellows Program Survey
Domestic Policy Trip Appalachia
On Friday, January 19, I left work knowing that I would be the only person in the White House Chief of Staff's (COS) Office to return on Monday, January 22. As a White House Fellow, I have had the privilege to witness first-hand the transition of presidential power and to serve two Administrations of different political parties.
On Saturday, January 20, I started the day by attending the farewell ceremony for President Clinton and ended it by celebrating the inauguration of President Bush and Vice President Cheney at an Inaugural Ball.
The Chief of Staff's office is an ideal place to be to witness how federal policy gets developed, proposed and implemented. I've had the opportunity to work not only on substantive policy issues but also to learn from differing management styles. I've tackled issues as diverse as racial profiling, increasing access to federal government and its services to individuals with limited English proficiency and the United Nations World Conference Against Racism. As the only person in my office who stayed on after January 20, I was also asked to coordinate the White House transition efforts. I helped write the Executive Order creating the Presidential Transition Coordinating Council and helped develop the transition memorandum of understanding signed by the outgoing and incoming Administrations. I'm currently helping to lead President Bush's efforts to legislatively pass and administratively implement the New Freedom Initiative to increase access and opportunity for the 54 million Americans with disabilities.
I feel honored to witness how two Administrations-one Democratic and one Republican-formulate domestic and international policy. That privilege is a testament to the White House Fellows Program's integrity as a non-partisan program that exists to serve the President and his Administration and thereby to train leaders who act always in the best interests of our nation.
The transition to the new Administration has been a fascinating experience for me at the Treasury Department. I woke one morning and nearly everyone I worked for had disappeared. Thankfully, new Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and his Chief of Staff were very familiar with the White House Fellowship program. In the previous administration, I worked on Holocaust asset restitution with Deputy Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, a person I had long admired. I also helped develop the 2001 National Money Laundering Strategy.
After the transition, the new Executive Secretary designated me to be the unofficial Deputy Executive Secretary of the Treasury Department. With this promotion in responsibilities, my office was moved near Secretary O'Neill's overlooking the White House and now I write Treasury's weekly memorandum to the President. The best part of my new role is the opportunity to see what goes on throughout the many departments of the massive Treasury Department. The Executive Secretary and I manage the paper flow throughout the Department. We are the gatekeepers who determine what the Secretary needs to see.
I have also continued to assist with Treasury's anti-money laundering initiatives, and I will be representing the Department at an upcoming series of Financial Action Task Force/Asia Pacific Review Group meetings in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. My Fellowship year has truly been everything I hoped it would be.
This year I have been assigned to work on the President's Domestic Policy Council. In the Clinton administration, I followed all major education headlines and helped prepare Q&A for senior staff, who in turn used that information to brief the President. I worked with the speechwriters to edit the President's education remarks, and I answered inquiries regarding administration policy vis a vis legislation and budget negotiations. Additionally, I kept a list of education "deliverables" (I love the beltway language!) that the President could deliver at the most opportune time for policy impact. These often took the form of ready-to-be-released studies that highlighted successes for the administration, grants or announcements of new Federal initiatives.
After January 20th, I was nervous about the reception I would receive by the new administration. I was fortunate, however, that President Bush decided to begin his first week by unveiling his education proposal, "No Child Left Behind," which gave me an opportunity to take part in policy discussions and briefings that quickly followed the release of this plan. Since then, I feel as though the DPC team has accepted me and has afforded me a measure of trust in working on policy. My overall responsibilities have changed as has the function of the DPC overall. Instead of frequently responding to news stories and events, President Bush has a more focused legislative agenda and rarely comments on breaking news stories. I spend less time preparing talking points and editing statements, and more time helping with negotiations on the Hill. This is a bit strange at times, considering that some of my former DPC colleagues are now working for the Senators and Representatives who sit across the table from the White House during negotiation sessions!
As a White House Fellow assigned to the U.S. Department of Defense, I have witnessed democracy in action during one of the nation's most disputed transitions of presidential power. What struck me most about the transition was the rock-solid stability of the American institutions of government, nowhere more evident than at the Department of Defense.
The day after the presidential elections, when the results were still in dispute, we welcomed a military delegation from Poland on the receiving lawn of the Pentagon. There was no confusion or question about who was in charge-things just went ahead as planned. In many countries, where military might is often used to ensure political outcomes, that would not have been the case. But in the U.S., the nation with the greatest military power, we saw a very orderly transfer of power, which speaks to the strength of the military's deference to this country's founding principle of civilian control of the military and to the stability of our political system.
During my time with the Department, the leadership has been struggling with how to transform the military to face the new threats of the 21st century. Unfortunately, they have also had to deal with several high-profile incidents, including the terrorist attack on a surface warfare vessel in Yemen. It has been interesting to see how top-level officials responded to these emergencies and have tried to push changes through the system to help ensure that these emergencies do not recur. Former Secretary of the Navy, Richard Danzig, repeatedly stressed that the Navy's greatest asset is its people, and that we have the responsibility to protect them to the best of our abilities, whatever the cost. I developed tremendous respect for Secretary Danzig, especially from observing his handling of the incident in Yemen, where I think he turned a tragedy into a chance to celebrate what is best about America.
The transition has been extremely seamless for me. I am a fully integrated member of Secretary Thompson's senior staff at HHS. The most substantive project I have worked on is a report to Congress on U.S. readiness in responding to a bioterrorist attack. The comprehensive report includes input from six agencies. I am very fortunate because following the Fellowship year, the Navy is sending me to George Washington University to earn a PhD in Engineering Management with a concentration in Crisis, Emergency, and Risk Management. I am hoping that my work on bioterrorism at HHS will be a solid foundation on which to build a dissertation.
I have also worked on several initiatives involving the reorganization of the Department's ten regional offices. Additionally, I shadow Secretary Thompson to several events each week. One of the highlights was a Kennedy Center board meeting I attended with him. I volunteer in the Kennedy Center gift shops, so it was fascinating to sit in a meeting with Alma Powell, William Daley, and Jim Johnson and observe their discussions about the upcoming schedule and infrastructure improvements. I have attended several black-tie events with the Secretary and regularly run with him on the Mall.
This year has been simply amazing. I am glad I was a Fellow during a transition year. I have definitely been thrust outside my comfort zone-a regimented engineering environment-but the experience has enabled me to grow so much professionally and personally. I can't wait to return to the Navy to use my new leadership skills.
The Transition of Presidential Administrations was one of the extraordinary experiences of this Fellowship Year. In retrospect, it was-at once-turbulent, frenetic, exhausting and rewarding. The Fellowship has provided a fascinating vantage point from which to witness what may well be the most intriguing election of our nation's history.
I started the year serving as a Special Assistant to Janice Lachance, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management. My five months at OPM provided me with an invaluable perspective of our nation's civil service and allowed me to participate in and contribute to the Presidential Transition from the outset.
With the Inauguration, I moved to the Office of the Vice President, where I am currently serving as the Director of Operations for Vice President Cheney's National Energy Policy Development Group. In this capacity, I have found myself deeply engaged in helping to develop a Strategic Plan for the Group, participating in the formation of policy, organizing and attending meetings with members of the President's Cabinet, the Vice President and the President, and countless members of Congress, as well as with industry, environmental and consumer groups. The hours are very long, and on a day-to-day basis, the experience is rather intense-but I could not have asked for a more challenging-and rewarding-work placement.
I've had the privilege of serving as the Fellow to Secretary of Commerce Don Evans. It has been a phenomenal experience. He has allowed me to shadow him to the majority of activities he engages in during the day. Additionally, I work on some personal projects relating to promoting entrepreneurship and economic development in the Pacific Islands and within minority communities. One of the highlights thus far for me has been sitting in on the closed-door meeting between Secretary Evans and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. At the meeting's end, I was able to speak to President Mubarak in Arabic for a few minutes.
Finally, on May 8, the Institute for International Education notified me that I was selected for a Fulbright Fellowship to Singapore for 2001-02. My proposal is to conduct a work experience there for six to twelve months on two issues. Half of my time will be spent working with nonprofits that serve physically challenged people to improve this population's quality of life. The other half will involve interviewing and working with senior public sector officials to learn how they adapt Western leadership models to an Asian, multi-cultural environment. The project will prepare me to promote humanitarian efforts to assist physically-challenged people and to serve as a public sector leader with global responsibilities.