Obama Taps Alum For Chief of Staff
Published: Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 02:01
President Obama announced the selection of Georgetown alumnus Denis McDonough on Jan. 25 to serve as his fifth White House chief of staff.
As the position does not require Senate confirmation, McDonough (G ’96) assumed the position immediately following the president’s announcement.
The appointment of McDonough, 43, who previously was deputy national security adviser and worked on both Obama campaigns, follows the president’s pattern of filling key positions with close confidants.
"President Obama wants people [who] he feels very comfortable with — his inner circle," said Lynn Ross, who has served in the Executive Office of the President in the Office of Management and Budget and is currently a visiting assistant professor at Georgetown’s Public Policy Institute. "He’s signaling that his relationships and personal trust and comfort level with his key advisers are really going to be paramount in his second term."
Multiple news outlets, including The New York Times, have reported that Georgetown professor Ronald Klain (COL ’83) was on Obama’s short list to fill the post. Klain, who served as chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden, declined to comment on whether he had discussed the position with Obama or White House officials.
Klain expressed confidence in McDonough’s appointment.
"Denis is wise, strategic and a superb manager of people and processes," Klain wrote in an email. "He has the president’s confidence and the respect of key administration officials. He understands Capitol Hill and how to get things done. And he is a great person who is well-liked and well-regarded by his White House colleagues."
McDonough replaces Jack Lew (LAW ’83), who has been nominated by the president for Treasury secretary. No date has been set for Lew’s confirmation hearing.
The chief of staff is the highest-ranking White House employee and plays both a managerial and an advisory role.
"The chief of staff has to be a political antenna for the president," government professor Stephen Wayne said. "He’s got to run the White House and get the trains out on time, but he [also] has to understand what’s going on in the Washington community and be a link."
According to Ross, "The chief of staff is, I think, frankly, the second-most powerful job in Washington, next to the president."
Obama described McDonough as one of his closest and most trusted advisers.
"Given his humility, I don’t think people always appreciate the breadth of his experience and the range of his talents," Obama said in a statement. "And it’s precisely because of that intellect, that experience, his dedication, his determination, that I wanted Denis in this job."
Time will tell what type of managerial style McDonough will bring to his new post.
"Obama is a delegator," Wayne said. "He’s a big-picture, big-decision-maker kind of guy, but he leaves a lot of the details to others. Jack Lew was very good at that. ... We’ll see what McDonough is very good at."
Based on her initial impression of McDonough, Ross believes that that he will be less concerned with exercising control over the staff and will focus more on fostering communication. "[McDonough is] probably the kind of person that wants to foster collaboration for the president and give the president information about decisions that he has to make."
Ross also believes that McDonough’s appointment is an early indicator of the president’s commitment to the ambitious agenda that he put forth in his second inaugural address.
"We naturally start most endeavors being idealistic," Ross said. "[Obama] had great, smart people in his cabinet before, but I think in many ways it was more symbolic — in a good way — and now he’s become more pragmatic. He wants to be really productive in his second term."
Georgetown administrators expressed enthusiasm about the appointment.
"We are truly excited that MSFS alum Denis McDonough has been selected by the President to serve as White House chief of staff," professor Anthony Clark Arend (SFS ’80), director of Georgetown’s MSFS program, wrote in an email. "The goal of MSFS is to prepare its graduates to be creative leaders with an understanding of the ethical dimension of international affairs and a commitment to service. Denis’s work on the Hill and [in] the White House demonstrates that he is indeed this kind of creative leader."
McDonough is the fourth Georgetown alumnus to serve as White House chief of staff. In addition to Lew, Jim Jones (LAW ’64) served as chief of staff to President Lyndon Johnson and John Podesta (LAW ’76) worked under President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68).
Hoya Staff Writer Hiromi Oka contributed reporting.