Jump to content

White House Office of Public Engagement

Coordinates: 38°53′51.24″N 77°2′20.93″W / 38.8975667°N 77.0391472°W / 38.8975667; -77.0391472
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

White House Office of Public Engagement
Agency overview
Formed1974; 50 years ago (1974)
HeadquartersEisenhower Executive Office Building
Washington, D.C., U.S.
38°53′51.24″N 77°2′20.93″W / 38.8975667°N 77.0391472°W / 38.8975667; -77.0391472
Agency executive
Parent departmentWhite House Office

The White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE) is a unit of the White House Office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Under the administration of President Barack Obama, it combined oversight of OPE and the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) under the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPE-IGA). President Donald Trump restored the prior name of the Office of Public Liaison (OPL) and re-separated IGA. President Joe Biden changed the name back to OPE but kept IGA separate in his administration.[1]

The current director of public engagement is former mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, Stephen K. Benjamin, who assumed office in April 2023.[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 election in 1976. 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 Christian right[4] and anti-communist groups, such as the Contras in Nicaragua.[5]

Future cabinet secretary and U.S. senator Elizabeth Dole headed OPL under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 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]

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

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]

President Donald Trump initially announced his intention to appoint Anthony Scaramucci to oversee the Office of Public Liaison in his administration, pending a review of Scaramucci's finances by the Office of Government Ethics.[11] However, George Sifakis was appointed instead in March 2017.[12][13]

Joe Biden announced on November 17, 2020, that the office will be known as the Office of Public Engagement in his incoming administration, and was first headed by Cedric Richmond until his resignation in May 2022, when he was replaced by Adrian Saenz in an acting capacity.[14]

List of directors[edit]

The following have held the office of Director of Public Liaison at the White House:

Image Name Start End President
Chuck Colson July 9, 1970 March 10, 1973 Richard Nixon
William Baroody March 10, 1973 January 20, 1977
Gerald Ford
Midge Costanza January 20, 1977 September 1, 1978 Jimmy Carter
Anne Wexler September 1, 1978 January 20, 1981
Elizabeth Dole January 20, 1981 February 7, 1983 Ronald Reagan
Faith Whittlesey March 3, 1983 March 19, 1985
Linda Chavez April 8, 1985 February 4, 1986
Mari Maseng May 12, 1986 July 1987
Rebecca Range September 2, 1987 January 20, 1989
Bobbie Kilberg January 20, 1989 April 6, 1992 George H. W. Bush
Cecile Kremer April 6, 1992 January 20, 1993
Alexis Herman January 20, 1993 February 7, 1997 Bill Clinton
Maria Echaveste February 7, 1997 June 29, 1998
Minyon Moore June 29, 1998 February 5, 1999
Mary Beth Cahill February 5, 1999 January 20, 2001
Lezlee Westine January 20, 2001 May 25, 2005 George W. Bush
Rhonda Keenum May 25, 2005 March 20, 2007
Julie Cram March 20, 2007 January 20, 2009
Tina Tchen January 20, 2009 January 5, 2011 Barack Obama
Jon Carson January 5, 2011 March 14, 2013
Paulette Aniskoff March 14, 2013 January 20, 2017
George Sifakis January 20, 2017
Acting: January 20, 2017 – March 6, 2017[15]
September 25, 2017[16][17] Donald Trump
Johnny DeStefano September 25, 2017
Acting: September 25, 2017 – February 9, 2018
March 18, 2018
Justin Clark March 18, 2018 December 7, 2018
Steve Munisteri
December 7, 2018 February 2, 2019
Tim Pataki February 2, 2019 January 20, 2021
Cedric Richmond January 20, 2021 May 18, 2022 Joe Biden
Adrian Saenz
May 18, 2022 June 30, 2022
Keisha Lance Bottoms July 1, 2022 April 1, 2023
Steve Benjamin April 1, 2023 present

Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs[edit]

During the Obama administration, there was a director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs who sat above the public engagement director and intergovernmental affairs director.

Image Name Start End President
Valerie Jarrett January 20, 2009 January 20, 2017 Barack Obama


  1. ^ "Incoming White House Public Engagement Director On His Plans For The Job". All Things Considered. NPR. December 11, 2020. Archived from the original on January 25, 2021. Retrieved December 12, 2020.
  2. ^ McCarthy, Mia (February 27, 2023). "Former South Carolina mayor replaces Bottoms at White House Office of Public Engagement". Politico. Retrieved February 27, 2023.
  3. ^ a b "The White House Transition Project" (PDF). White House Transition Project. March 2009. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016.
  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. ^ "The White House Transition Project" (PDF). White House Transition Project. March 2009. p. 21. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016.
  7. ^ "President Obama Launches Office of Public Engagement: A New Name, Mission for White House Liaison Office" (Press release). Office of the Press Secretary. May 11, 2009. Retrieved May 11, 2009.
  8. ^ Ambinder, Marc (April 9, 2009). "Actor, Comedian, Associate Director of Public Liaison". The Atlantic.
  9. ^ "Actor Kal Penn joining the Obama administration". CNN. April 7, 2009.
  10. ^ Daunt, Tina (April 10, 2009). "Kal Penn tackles a new role: White House liaison". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ Gasparino, Charles; Schwartz, Brian (January 31, 2017). "The Story Behind Scaramucci's Delayed Appointment Amid Trump White House Bickering". Fox Business. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  12. ^ "President Donald J. Trump Announces White House Staff Appointments". whitehouse.gov. March 6, 2017. Retrieved August 2, 2017 – via National Archives.
  13. ^ Kamisar, Ben (January 12, 2017). "Scaramucci lands White House job". The Hill. Retrieved August 2, 2017.
  14. ^ "Biden Taps Several Senior Campaign Aides For Key White House Positions". NPR.org. Retrieved November 17, 2020.
  15. ^ Sink, Justin; Cirilli, Kevin (March 6, 2017). "Trump Names Sifakis as Public Liaison, Passing Over Scaramucci". Bloomberg. Retrieved September 3, 2017.
  16. ^ Delk, Josh (August 18, 2017). "Public Liaison director leaving White House". The Hill. Archived from the original on September 1, 2018. Retrieved August 21, 2017.
  17. ^ Cook, Nancy (October 15, 2017). "Kelly tries to get empty administration jobs filled fast". Politico. Archived from the original on March 31, 2018. Retrieved October 15, 2017.

External links[edit]