White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs

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The Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs is a unit of the White House Office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States. It was formerly known as the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs.

Under President Barack Obama, senior advisor Valerie Jarrett oversees the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs,[1] with Yohannes Abraham serving as her Chief of Staff and Special Assistant to the President, directly overseeing the directors and staff of the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs.[2]


The Office of Public Liaison has been responsible for communicating and interacting with various interest groups. Under President Richard Nixon, Charles Colson performed public liaison work. President Gerald Ford first formalized the public liaison office after he took office in 1974, giving Nixon administration veteran William J. Baroody, Jr. a mandate for OPL to become "an instrument for projecting the image of a truly open administration (in contrast to Nixon’s) and to secure Ford’s reelection. Under Baroody’s direction, the office incorporated outreach efforts with consumers and women that had been located elsewhere in the White House, and the overall staff grew to approximately thirty. At the core of its activities was an aggressive campaign of regional conferences that enabled the nation’s first un-elected president to tour the country in a campaign-like atmosphere and prepare the way for an eventual reelection campaign."[3]

Some OPL heads used the office to push their own agendas. Midge Costanza used her time at OPL to broaden the influence of gays and lesbians in White House policy".[3] Faith Ryan Whittlesey used her time at OPL to increase the influence of the religious right[4] and anti-communist groups, such as the Contras in Central America.[5]

Future cabinet secretary and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole headed OPL under President Ronald Reagan from 1981-1983. Directors during Bill Clinton's administration included future cabinet secretary Alexis Herman, Maria Echaveste, Minyon Moore and future John Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill.[6]

Under the Obama administration, the Office of Public Engagement has been referred to as "the front door to the White House, through which everyone can participate and inform the work of the President." In May 2009, Obama continued this theme and renamed the Office of Public Liaison the Office of Public Engagement.[7]

In April 2009, actor Kal Penn was named an associate director in the Office of Public Engagement.[8] His role was said to include outreach to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the arts community.[9] Prior to the appointment, he was a permanent cast member in the television series House, and his acceptance required him to be written out of the series.[10]


The Office of Public Engagement seeks to allow the views of the ordinary American citizen to be more readily heard within the administration. The Office also seeks to coordinate events that bring members of the administration in contact with members of the public. The "town-hall" style meetings held by President Barack Obama since being elected are an example of this policy at work. The Office also acts as a cheerleader for the administration and seeks to ensure, along with the Office of Communications, the coordination of the administration message amongst different departments in order to ensure full and balanced exposure.

The Office of Intergovernmental Affairs works closely with state and local officials elected by the American people to ensure America's citizens and their elected officials have a government that works effectively for them and with them. Due to the importance that state and local governments are to the creation and implementation of national policy, it is especially important for the Office to provide a readily accessible method of direct communication for local officials to discuss and raise awareness of local concerns.

Key staff[edit]

Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs: Valerie Jarrett

  • Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff for the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs: Yohannes Abraham

Office of Public Engagement

  • Director of Public Engagement: Jon Carson[11][12]
    • Deputy Director of Public Engagement: Brian Bond[7]
    • Deputy Director of Public Engagement: Buffy Wicks[7]
      • Associate Director of Public Engagement (Youth, Arts and Asian American & Pacific Islander Communities): Kal Penn
      • Associate Director of Public Engagement (LGBT Communities): Gautam Raghavan

Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Director of Intergovernmental Affairs: David Agnew[13]
    • Special Assistant to the Director: Irene Hsu [13]
    • Deputy Director, States and Territories: Jewel James [13]
      • Associate Director, States and Territories: Michael Block[13]
      • Staff Assistant, States and Territories: James Schuelke [13]
    • Associate Director, Cities, Towns, and Counties: Kellyn Blossom [13]
    • Associate Director, Tribal Nations: Charles Galbraith [13]

List of Assistants[edit]

The following have held the office of Assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs (Public Liaison)

Barack Obama[edit]

George W. Bush[edit]

Bill Clinton[edit]

George H. W. Bush[edit]

Ronald W. Reagan[edit]

Jimmy Carter[edit]

Gerald R. Ford[edit]

Richard M. Nixon[edit]


  1. ^ Leadership Bios
  2. ^ Slack, Donovan. "More White House staff changes". Politico. 
  3. ^ a b White House Transition Project. p. 4.
  4. ^ Martin, William (1996) With God On Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway. p. 235 ISBN 0-7679-2257-3
  5. ^ Sklar, Holly (1995) Washington's War on Nicaragua. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. p. 244 ISBN 0-89608-295-4
  6. ^ White House Transition Project. p. 21.
  7. ^ a b c "President Obama Launches Office of Public Engagement: A New Name, Mission for White House Liaison Office" (Press release). Office of the Press Secretary. 11 May 2009. Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  8. ^ The Atlantic
  9. ^ CNN.com: Actor Kal Penn joining the Obama administration
  10. ^ "Kal Penn tackles a new role: White House liaison". Los Angeles Times. 2009-04-10. 
  11. ^ Washington Post. "Ex-journalist to face the press" by Anne E. Kornblut January 28, 2011 On January 28, 2011 Obama White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley announced that Jon Carson will lead the Office of Public Engagement, filling the vacancy left by Tina Tchen, who becomes first lady Michelle Obama's chief of staff.
  12. ^ Research and Ideas. Biography of Jon Carson. Carson was previously Chief of Staff at the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and was the field director for Obama's 2008 campaign.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g "About Intergovernmental Affairs". White House Web Site. Retrieved 15 July 2013. 

External links[edit]