White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs

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

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

Office of Public Engagement

Office of Intergovernmental Affairs

List of Assistants

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

Officeholder Term start Term 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
Valerie Jarrett January 20, 2009 present Barack Obama


  1. Leadership Bios
  2. Slack, Donovan. "More White House staff changes". Politico.
  3. 1 2 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. "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. Loftus, Tom (2014-11-06). "Abramson resigns to work for Obama". The Courier-Journal. Retrieved November 7, 2014.

External links

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