A major focus of the World Affairs Council is to present programs and provide resources for young members of our community to learn about opportunities for education and jobs in the international arena. To that end we organize panels of distinguished diplomats, officials, specialists, military officers, scholars, and others, twice a year, to talk about their experiences working in the world and to provide the ups and downs of living and working abroad or in State-side international affairs vocations.
Today we’re pleased to share a recent presentation at the U.S. State Department title, “Leadership in Public Service.” The program, part of the Foreign Policy Classroom series, featured Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom on June 29, 2016. She talked about her experiences in government — on Capitol Hill, in the White House and at the State Department — as well as the challenges and rewards working to make an impact on the world. We have provided a transcript of her remarks and the Q&A as well as a video recording from the presentation for your consideration.
For details on the World Affairs Council’s International Careers/Jobs panel, set for October 17th at Lipscomb University take a look at the program announcement on the Council web site [HERE]. You can find video recordings from the last two International Careers panels HERE.
The World Affairs Council is also pleased to host a filming of the documentary “America’s Diplomats” set for September 7th at Belmont University. The film will be accompanied by remarks from Ambassador Charles Bowers and Ambassador Ron Schlicher, two distinguished diplomats who will share insights and perspectives gained in challenging careers in the U.S. Foreign Service. For details on the screening of “America’s Diplomats” check HERE.
Patrick W. Ryan
President, Tennessee World Affairs Council
Leadership in Public Service
FOREIGN POLICY CLASSROOM SESSION WITH DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE FOR MANAGEMENT AND RESOURCES HEATHER HIGGINBOTTOM
June 29, 2016
MS RICHARDSON: Good afternoon, everyone.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
MS RICHARDSON: And welcome to today’s Foreign Policy Classroom. My name is Karen Richardson and I am Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Outreach here at the U.S. Department of State. And so today, as we do with every Foreign Policy Classroom, we have the opportunity to welcome students from all over the U.S., including those at local colleges and universities who are studying, interning, and working here in D.C. So to those of you who have been here before, welcome back, and for those who have not been here to a Foreign Policy Classroom before, we’re very glad to have you here.
And I’d especially like to welcome two visiting groups. So with us today we have the Hampton University Young Diplomats – come on, let me hear you. (Applause.) All right. And we also have the students participating in the National Student Leadership Conference. Come on. (Applause.)
So it’s great to have all of you here today, and for those of you who aren’t familiar with this program, Secretary Kerry launched Foreign Policy Classroom in 2012, which is our flagship program to engage students across the country. We want to engage with you because you are the future leaders of this country and possibly our future diplomats. So we want you to be interested in and understand U.S. foreign policy and why it matters.
Click for video presentation.
So I’m happy to introduce Deputy Secretary Heather Higginbottom for today’s session on leadership in public service. In her current role as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, she shares in the global responsibilities for U.S. foreign policy and has broad management and programmatic oversight responsibilities for both the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Deputy Secretary Higginbottom, the first woman to become deputy secretary, most recently served as counselor to Secretary of State John Kerry, advising him on policy, personnel, and management issues. And prior to joining the State Department, Deputy Secretary Higginbottom served in a number of positions at the White House, specifically at the Office of Management and Budget, where she was the chief operating officer and a principal architect of the federal budget. She also served as deputy assistant to the President and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, where she advised the President on a range of domestic issues including education, immigration, economic development. And she also began her career in government service in 1999, when she joined the office of then-Secretary John Kerry as legislative assistant. She holds a B.A. in political science from the University of Rochester and a master’s degree in public policy from George Washington University.
And lastly, after – I see a GW over here, is that the – was that the wave? (Laughter.) So lastly, after this briefing, we invite you to stay for an additional 30 minutes for a session with our Diplomat-in-Residence, Elise Kleinwaks, who will be outside, and she’ll be here to discuss career opportunities at the State Department.
So with that, I would like to turn it over to Deputy Secretary Higginbottom. Thanks, everyone. (Applause.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Good afternoon.
AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Thank you, Karen, and I should have said when I just saw Karen at the door, congratulations, because she just got married. (Applause.) All right.
So this is definitely the best thing I get to do today. I’m really excited to talk with you about leadership and public service. So I’m going to spend just a few minutes talking about what I do here, some of the other aspects of public service that are really important to me, and then save some time for questions that I hope you’re thinking up as we go through this program.
So my role here, as Karen was starting to describe a bit, is the deputy secretary for management and resources. So what does that mean? It means I have a large role in overseeing our budget, our money, how we spend it, how we run the department, our platform overseas. We have posts in over 200 locations around the world. I make sure that our programs are running well, that our embassies are safe and secure, and that we’re keeping up with technology and innovation in the world as it changes.
But I get to do some other really interesting things too on policy issues. So I don’t know if you’re paying attention to the news the last couple of weeks, but the United Nations reported last week that we now have the largest migration crisis in history. Over 65 million people are internally displaced in this country or forced from their homes – excuse me, in this world. And so one of the issues that we’re working on is how we bring more refugees into this country and how we work globally to support those people who are fleeing civil war and violence and terror. And there are a lot of really, really, really interesting issues that we work on at the State Department.
And part of what we’re going to talk about today here in my remarks and as you hear from the diplomat-in-residence is how cool it is to work at the State Department. And I want to give you a sense of some of the issues that folks who sign up for a career in foreign policy and Foreign Service get to work on. It is such a wide and broad range. It includes working to stabilize fragile countries so that terrorists can’t exploit them. So we have people, we have diplomats in every country you can imagine working to forge peace to strengthen their governments and their democracies to ensure that we have more countries and more democracies that look like ours.
We’re working very hard to fight climate change. Secretary Kerry and President Obama have taken huge steps in the last several years to bring the world together to take the steps necessary to combat climate change. We work in the multilateral system, in the United Nations system and other multilateral organizations, to build relationships and alliances that help make the world more secure. That takes – a very important aspect of diplomacy, to do that. We work to settle old disputes like re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and reaching the agreement we did with Iran last year.
So we’ve got a whole suite of international diplomatic issues, and our colleagues at the U.S. Agency for International Development also work on a broad range of issues that really appeal, I think, to a lot of young people. They certainly appealed to me when I was in high school and college. And that’s how to improve the lives of people around the world, whether it’s providing education for girls and young women, 25 million of whom don’t go to school; whether it’s providing – ensuring that there’s access to clean water, there’s sufficient access to food; that, again, we’re looking at how to make countries more sustainable from a climate perspective; fighting for human rights; freedom of the press; equality for gay, lesbian, transgender individuals; and other fundamental rights and freedoms.
So that was a little bit of a laundry list, but I want to tell you a little bit about why I wanted to pursue a career in government and how I went from working on some domestic issues to working here at the State Department. And basically, when I was in high school and then in college, I really wanted to end poverty because I thought that was something I could do all by myself. I couldn’t, but I decided that I wanted to study government, and I really specifically wanted to understand urban education and what the challenges were there, because I saw education from a domestic perspective and later in my life from an international perspective as the absolute key to providing opportunity to people here and around the world.
And I decided that studying government and figuring out how to be a part of making our country stronger and better was the most exciting work I could possibly imagine. And it turned out that that was right, because every day, regardless of what job I’ve had – whether it was working on Capitol Hill for Senator Kerry, working on two presidential campaigns, working in the White House – every day I woke up and knew that my job was to try to make this a better country to live in or a better and safer and more secure world to live in. And so even when it gets frustrating and feels bureaucratic or that you haven’t made enough progress, it feels really good to wake up every single day and go to work and know that you’re trying each day to make the world and your country a better place.
So I have found that really exciting over the last 20-plus years, and I hope that while you’re here as a part of this program and hearing from speakers like me and our diplomat-in-residence, you’ll think about what mark you want to make on the world. Because one of the things I know about government is that we need more really committed, really smart, really driven young people to come into these institutions on Capitol Hill, in the Executive Branch, in the State Department, and bring your innovation and your passion and your new and creative ideas to attack those problems. And they’re not getting easier; the problems aren’t getting easier. We have new and different solutions, technological – different innovations, ways of bringing the world closer together, but the problems aren’t getting easier. And so we need new people, new ideas, and new commitment to come in.
And even when we get really successful and we make good progress on an issue, there’s always something new. I think about some of the challenges we face here, whether it’s in cyber security and how quickly that area changes and how we have to keep up with it – that’s a new set of challenges that we weren’t worrying about when I first entered government service, not in the way we have to now. So there are always new challenges, and at the end of every day you know you’ve taken steps to try to make this a stronger and better place.
One thing I’ll say specifically about the State Department, since we’re talking about Foreign Policy Classroom, is there’s lots of different ways to serve this institution and to serve USAID. So you can join the Foreign Service, you can become a diplomat, you can serve overseas. You can also be involved in law enforcement. You can be a member of Diplomatic Security and serve all around the world. You can become an IT expert in the State Department and really address the cyber security challenges we have, and also serve all over the world. You can work in the civil service on many different issues – not join the Foreign Service but be based here in Washington.
So there’s so many different ways to be a part of this organization and pursue a career in foreign policy. So as you’re thinking about what it means to pursue foreign policy or development policy, I think I would encourage you now and in the future to think broadly about what that means and what your interests are and where you want to make a difference. And if every day you’re waking up and thinking, “Okay, in my way I am improving this country and improving this world,” I guarantee you will be very satisfied with the work you do.
So I’m going to pause there and see if you all have some questions that I can answer. Questions, questions? It’s always hard to be the first person to ask a question.
MS RICHARDSON: We have two aisle microphones you can use. Don’t be shy, but please use the aisle microphones for any questions.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: All right. I feel like you should get a prize for going first.
QUESTION: Just your answer will be fine. Hi, my name is Marcus Garlington. I’m an intern here at the State Department. And speaking to innovation and leadership, what are some things that the State Department is doing that you see are very innovative and maybe a year or two years ago did not exist and are now kind of kicking up momentum and are going to be something that everybody can see some tangible evidence of innovative leadership going on?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Great question. So some examples of innovation – I think they really span a wide range. So there’s – I’ll just give a small one and then – and talk about some larger ones. But yesterday I was in a meeting at the White House and we were talking about the upcoming Olympics in Brazil, and our consulate was on the line and they had done a lot of work about how do we get information out to people who are traveling to Brazil. And so they developed an app, and it’s called U.S. in Rio, and it has all this wonderful information there. That’s something that we weren’t doing a couple years ago, because now we understand that’s how people expect to get their information and what the platform looks like.
And then we have much larger efforts underway to modernize how we access and use information and knowledge in the State Department, and lots of different sort of tools in the middle. So I think what’s important is that we are trying every day to figure out where the next opportunity is that we can pursue to make our work more effective. And it really does take people with new ideas and energy coming forward to help us think that through. So thank you.
Okay. And then over to you.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Lester Asamoah, and I’m interning in the Executive Secretariat. And one of my questions is whenever you were kind of starting out in your career, what was one thing that you wish you knew that you now know, just for some of us that are kind of trying to be in your shoes one day?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Oh, good question. I think the very first answer I’d have to that – and I probably can give you a couple – is to not be afraid to ask questions. I remember when I finished graduate school and went to go work on Capitol Hill for John Kerry, it was one of the hardest jobs I’ve had ever. And it was because it was new and there was no training program; you just sat down at your desk and you were supposed to know what you were doing. And it was – and I felt like from day one I was supposed to know what I was doing. And it turns out that’s not actually how it works, and I hadn’t had an opportunity like that yet. And it became clear to me over time I needed to find people I felt comfortable asking questions of. And it was completely acceptable. And as new people came into the office, I sought them out to say, “I bet this is confusing and you need some help, and I’m here to do that.” And so I used that approach every other position I had, even when I was getting into more senior positions where it almost felt like you should know what you’re doing – not everybody knows everything on day one. And the way you learn is by asking questions.
The second thing I’d say is that being open and generous and kind to people from day one gets you a lot in life. And it just creates an environment in which people want you to be on their team, and they want you to be – they want to be around you and they want to be working with you. And so that’s something people don’t talk about that much, but I think it was something that proved to be very helpful to me, but no one ever said out loud until I just sort of realized it. And I think you want to sort of go into an environment in which you’re building relationships, because that will help you be successful.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is James Harnett. I’m an intern with the Department of Education, and I had a question about the federal bureaucracy. So you were talking earlier about having a need to make sure that the work that you’re doing feels impactful, it feels like you’re actually making change. How do you overcome the challenges of the federal bureaucracy when it limits change? And how do you tell yourself that – how do you get yourself to think, like, this is – the work that I’m doing is important and it’s impactful? How do you get to overcome that, or is it by working against it, or working with it?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: That’s a great question. So first, I’d say when you’re working at the national level, at the federal level, or internationally, you have to understand it’s going to take longer to get things done than you might want it to. You also have to look for those opportunities when you can get things done quickly. But we have large and complex organizations often for good reasons, and so (a) it’s just – okay, what is a realistic amount of time it’s going to take to get something done? And then how do I build the team and how do I get the team to come together to have the same goal? And when you can do that – so if you go into something and you’re sort of – you want change immediately – I mean, I’m one for setting deadlines that are pretty short and really driving to them, but also being realistic about what it’s going to take. When you do that and you can bring people around it, I think you can move an institution or an organization, an office, more quickly than it sometimes seems. But on your own it’s really hard to do.
The other thing I’d say to answer that question, which is less, like, how to day-to-day do – how do you move a process forward – and by the way, I think thinking about the process and how things get done is really, really important – not the most exciting thing if what you want to do is change the world, but actually really, really important – the second thing is remembering that the organization you’re a part of has huge impact – in the case you’re Department of Ed. – in education policy, right. And so even if you can’t point to one single thing you did that day that made a huge impact, you’re part of an institution that’s making and having a huge impact.
And so one of the things I did – I took this from a colleague of mine – I have a picture on my desk that – of some young people in a program that I worked on when I was in the Senate that Secretary, then-Senator Kerry was a champion of, that literally changes people’s lives – literally changes their lives. And he was the champion of funding for that program and we got a lot of resources over time. We really increased the amount of money. So on any idea I felt kind of cynical or frustrated or I hadn’t made progress, I’d look at that picture and know the kind of impact of the policy that we were working on and the resources and the commitment, and just say, “That’s today; tomorrow we’re going to do a better job.” And I think it’s both practically how you do it and then also sort of reminding yourself that even when it feels like it’s slow or not having the impact that you want it to, that you’re part of a pretty significant, important organization in this country.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: Hello. I’m Alex. I’m from NSLC. Thank you so much for hosting us today. I have a question about American foreign policy. One of the goals that you stated for foreign policy was to spread democracy around the world. However, do you believe that such policy may generate blowback, especially in nations where the culture or the traditions may not necessarily want democracy? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: That’s a great, great question. So look, the fundamentals that undergird a democratic society – freedom of the press, the right to vote, to represent yourself, et cetera – those are really critical rights that should be bestowed on everyone in the world. And so in our work we talk about the ability for people to sort of have those basic rights, and sure, diplomacy is about having hard conversations. And sometimes there’s hard conversations. But ultimately that’s the – we want people to be able to freely elect their leaders. We want them to be able to freely express themselves. We want them to have open societies. So yeah, it can be a challenging conversation, but it’s absolutely a cornerstone of our policy.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Kaden Lewis (ph), and I’m a student with the Young Diplomats program. And I have two questions, the first being: What is the State Department’s connection to the United Nations? And also, what does becoming a diplomat entail? Like, what are the steps and – it takes to become a diplomat?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Great. Thank you for your questions. I’m going to let our diplomat-in-residence answer in detail your second question, because that’s exactly the purpose of having one of our DIRs here, to walk through that process.
The first question is: What’s the United States Government’s – State Department’s relationship to the United Nations? So obviously, we’re a key member of the UN and we have a mission in New York led by Ambassador Samantha Power that represents us and our interests in that body. And we also have an office here in Washington that works very closely with our New York mission and coordinates our reaction if there’s a – something in front of the Security Council or an issue that we want to address, we work together between here and New York to do that.
And one example of something that the United Nations has been really instrumental in – well, two examples in the last two years – in the last year. So one, I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. These are 15-year goals aimed at ending extreme poverty. And so last September in New York 192 nations adopted a new set of global goals, which will orient policy of countries all around the world to try to end and address extreme poverty – hugely important. It builds on the first set of Millennium Development Goals, which have had a huge impact and felt around the world. So that’s one really – and the United States played a very important role with other nations in shaping and developing and then ultimately adopting those goals. And the climate change agreement signed in Paris last year is another really good example. Thanks. Great questions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Sharev Thompson (ph). I’m from Chicago. And I can’t thank you enough for having this opportunity today. It’s been fantastic. My question is: We have so many – like myself and my peers, we have such motivation and such passion for – like you said, you were so passionate about curing poverty worldwide and we all have passions like these. What is your advice to make the – our passion and our motivation become something real? Because unfortunately, we’re probably not all going to have the opportunity to work at the State Department, but if there’s a way we could take our passion, our motivation, and make it something real, what would your advice be to that?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: So part of the reason I said before I wanted to end poverty is because that’s sort of where I started out. And I had no idea what that meant really or how to do it. And that was sort of what led me to have the idea that maybe government and public policy was a way to address that. I think you have to think about what impact you want to have, what issue really speaks to you, and what are the different ways to do that. So it can be in a nonprofit organization. It can be in government, lots of different ways in government. It doesn’t have to be the federal government; it could be state or local government. It could be in your community. There’s lots of different ways to address those issues.
I think for me I sort of said, “Okay. Well, I have a better sense now of the sorts of issues I’m interested in and that I’m interested in government and policy.” And I came to Washington and tried to pursue that. But it could have been – I could have accomplished that goal in lots of different ways and different organizations, different levels of the government. So I think really trying to understand what motivates you, what specific set of issues motivates you. For me, as I started studying and learning and having this conversation many, many years ago, I realized that education was the issue I cared the most about at that time, and that’s really sort of what I pursued. So I think you look – you sort of try to think about the things that motivate you the most and then look for the opportunities to advance them. And I think you can see those opportunities sort of around you in many different ways if you open up your mind that way.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you very much.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Jake Angelo (ph). I’m from Long Island, New York. And thank you so much for having us. It’s an honor. My question is: If any, what steps can we take to like – like what steps did you take to get closer to working in the State Department? Because it’s my dream to work in the State Department when I’m older.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Good. Well, again, I’m going to be excited for you to hear from the DIR, who spends their days every day telling people like you exactly how to do this. But what I will tell you is when you have a really strong view about what you want to do and where you want to do it – again, I go back to an answer I gave before – ask questions, get engaged, pursue that, figure out how you can best position yourself to do it. Build up a network, to the extent that you can, either in an educational institution or in your community so that you – it’s not rocket science. You can figure out how to best position yourself to do it. And if you find that the dream you have doesn’t work out in some way, there’s – in my belief, there are many different ways to make an impact and to work on issues that you feel really passionate about. So I would always pursue the thing I cared the most about, but I’d also be open to other opportunities as you go along.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Quinn Byrd (ph) and I’m from the Young Diplomats Program program at Hampton. And so you said you worked closely with John Kerry, the Secretary of State. And so, like, since it is, like, the election year, I was wondering, like – like, how does, like, the election, whether it’s Republican or whether it’s Democrat – like how does that, like, affect your policy? How does that affect your work?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: It’s a great question. So well, we’ll have a transition coming up. There will be a new president; there will be a new secretary of state; there will be a new deputy secretary for management and resources. But we’re committed to pursing this Administration’s policy right through the end of that transition and also making sure that whatever new administration comes in has a very clear picture of some of the international engagements that are going on, some of the very sensitive issues. Regardless of who wins the election, we want to make sure that America’s foreign policy is steady and that we have, through the transition, teams. So there will be teams that are set up and both transition teams that are set up in both campaigns before the election and that there is a good way to transmit information and be open about how the government works. It’s so important.
And I went – I worked through a transition in 2008 that you – this new team that’s coming in has access to all the information that it needs, including our policy. And foreign policy is almost more important, I think, than other areas of federal policy, because we’re engaged globally in the world, and that’s a different set of policies than even just sort of our domestic work. So it is a really, really important aspect of what we do. But really it’s about making sure we’re providing the right information, being transparent, and that we’re carrying through just to the end, January 19th of next year. Thanks.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Justin Engompa (ph) and I’m from (inaudible). And thank you very much for having us here. And my main question is: How does the State Department work with cooperating governments who may not want to push for democracy and how do you guys react to that? Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: So it’s a really good question. We – we’re engaged all over the world, and so we have to talk about a lot of issue that – with our colleagues around the world that we don’t always see eye to eye on. That’s part of the training and experience that diplomats get over the years about how to have those conversations, how to keep the channels of communication open, look for areas of opportunity. Just because you disagree on something doesn’t mean you don’t talk or try to make progress. And there are many countries with which we work closely on some issues and disagree on other issues. And that’s – we’re not looking at a world where we see every country in the image of the United States. But we do have important priorities that we want to pursue.
So I think one of the real – one of really important aspects of diplomacy is communicating with partners and with people where we have differences and trying to make progress on them. So that is really, I think, at the heart of diplomacy in many different ways. Thanks.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Kelly Sidner (ph). I’m here with the Young Diplomats. And my question to you is: You said that earlier that you enjoyed waking up every day knowing that you were going to impact the world. And my question is: Of all the projects that you have accomplished, which had the most impact on you?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: That’s a great question. It’s really hard to choose one. But I do think that the work that I’ve done that’s – that I have seen the impact on people. So I mentioned earlier a program that Secretary Kerry worked on in the Senate, and you see actually how a program takes a person and provides them with the tools to totally change their life – like that changes you. And there are actually lots of examples in which we do that at the State Department in countries all around the world, some of which I’ve had the chance to visit and see.
For example, a mobile health clinic that provides care to new moms and babies that they would not have any access to, absent that. Having had two kids, I can’t image not having access to health care. So I see it in many different ways through the programming. But I think the – I think that program is probably the sort of most powerful experience I’ve had, just because when you sit around a table with 10 people and hear about something that you’ve worked on truly transforming their lives, it doesn’t leave you. And that’s why I have that picture on my desk.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Thanks.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Caitlyn (ph). I live in San Francisco. It’s a great honor having you here. And my question is: What are some of the daily challenges or hardships that you face and how do you persevere through them?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: It’s a very good question. I think one of the biggest challenges that you face, certainly in this job or working in the White House, is that you have a set of priorities that you’re trying to advance and then you have what’s happening in the world every day. And every day you wake up to something different or you have a new challenge that drops on your lap, and you have to figure out how to respond to it effectively and at the same time still make sure you’re making progress on other things. And that takes a lot of organization and focus on process. And so it doesn’t – it can be – you can’t let it overwhelm you. It has to be a kind of we have to deal with this immediate issue and then figure out how to still make progress on five other things that are really important.
So if there were – we had a horrible – there was a horrible terrorist attack yesterday in Turkey, as I’m sure you all know, and people are very focused on it and understanding what happened and what the implications are, at the same that there is a markup on Capitol Hill of a bill that is very important to the State Department. And so it’s – that’s just an example of yesterday, but of being able to focus on both of those things and ensure that we’re making progress where we need to is really a big challenge. Thanks.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Robin Swaronski (ph) and I’m an intern here at State Department, working at the International Joint Commission. And you mentioned the importance of team-building, and I was just wondering when you were transferring to the State Department, coming from an agency like OMB and you’re transferring into a new agency that has a different history and a different culture, what specifically do you do to build team, just besides arriving with a positive attitude on day one, considering that in the State Department many of the senior officials are political appointees and they’re overseeing civil service employees who are having long-term careers?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: It’s a great question. One of the sort of underrated aspects of working in government or in a large organization is communication. So when you come in, especially as a political appointee, work in an institution where people at the senior ranks have been here for 30 years or decades, is listening and asking – again, asking questions and understanding the culture and how this institution works, what the strengths are, where there are weaknesses, and what you can do to build on them. And not assuming or presuming that you sort of walk in the door and have all the right answers; also understanding what unique attributes or experiences you bring that can help the mission of the organization.
So coming from OMB, or spending four years in the White House and coming here, one of the things that I could offer in my experience is really strong relationships at the White House and at OMB, and then sort of show that I am part of the team and want to share in the goals. And I think that it’s really about communication and trying to understand the door that you’ve just walked through and how you can be part of its future.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: You’re welcome. Yeah.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Jack (ph). I’m from Milwaukee. Thank you so much for having us. I just wanted to ask – the late and great Richard Holbrooke often talked about at the end of his life that the military part of the United States kind of just seemed to usurp the power of the State Department. Do you think that this is true, and how do you think that it should be corrected?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: So that’s a really good question. I think one thing you hear when you talk to military leaders or retired military leaders is how important they think the role of diplomacy and development is in keeping us out of armed conflict, of keeping our troops and our soldiers actually from having to engage internationally. And I think that it is important that the diplomacy and development aspects of our foreign policy are well integrated with our military.
And throughout this Administration, I think there’s been real effort to ensure that’s the case, so that from Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton at the beginning of the Administration through today, there’s (a) huge amounts of coordination. We sit in the Situation Room around a table for hours and hours every week in one conversation on lots of different issues, but to make sure we’re well coordinated. And I think that it’s important for everyone to understand that the role of diplomacy and development are really critical to ensuring that we’re not – that we’re preventing wars, not just sort of coming along after. So I think that there’s been really great attention to that issue throughout this Administration.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is John Short (ph) and I’m here with the Young Diplomats Program. And I just wanted to know, like, you say one of the problems you would work on personally was to end poverty. And you said you could probably do it all by yourself, and I just wanted to know, like, when you were thinking of that, how did you think, like, different steps that you could take to do that, and once you realized, like, you couldn’t really do it by yourself, what did you switch to or thought of? Yeah, I just wanted to know.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Thank you. So I didn’t really know what I meant by that. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. And so I started – I talked to a couple teachers, I talked to my parents, and said – I was a little sort of embarrassed to say it, because I didn’t – like, it sort of sounds crazy. And that’s where I got the idea that I really – I was very interested in government and I was interested in what policies we made that could address these problems. And so it was bit by bit. I mean, I couldn’t have told you then that I would work certainly in the State Department on global poverty or that I would really work for a number of years deeply on urban education issues, but that’s kind of what it led to. It was figuring out what aspect of this is really – speaks to me. And I thought – I had – I thought that studying government in college and understanding how to influence policy would be the way that I could do that.
And the other way I thought about doing it initially – I thought I’m going to work at an organization; I’m going to join AmeriCorps or something like that and do something really on the ground. And the reason I didn’t do that was because I was sort of drawn to the bigger policy questions. And I – so that was my own thinking and it evolved over time. But it started with what I knew I was passionate about, and then I just started talking to people and trying to figure it out.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Katrina Wyle (ph). I’m from the Department of Education. I’m interning with the International Affairs Office.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Great.
QUESTION: And I was wondering what skills, habits, or qualifications you would suggest we acquire to open doors to future opportunities and become more competitive for employment.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Great. So first I’d say, whatever job you have, do it the best to your ability. I think that’s one of the most important things that you can do. And I know when I was in college I did an internship on Capitol Hill in a House office – a congressman’s office from Texas, and I was the best intern. I was the only intern they had, but I was the best intern, and I was really trying to make them think they would never have a better intern than me, just by working as hard as I could and sort of picking up any assignment. And they hired me that summer to be their intern coordinator, and by the time I came back to Washington after I graduated from college, the chief of staff of that office was then the chief of staff for the majority leader of the House – I couldn’t have known that was coming. And so it’s just really important that whatever job you have, it’s not – that’s not a skill or ability; that’s about orientation, about how you set yourself up.
I think communication is really important, showing that you are willing to do anything, but also to step up when you’re asked to show that you have leadership skills and to be collaborative with peers. So those are kind of – with your colleagues. And those are sort of – that’s not like a specific test you should go take, but I really think that’s what distinguishes people when you work, especially when you’re younger and you’re with a group of your peers and you want to stand out, I think that’s a really important way to do it – and to have confidence.
QUESTION: Thank you.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: Hello. My name is Cam Roberts (ph). I’m from northern Virginia with the Young Diplomats. I’d like to ask: As the first female in your position, what challenges have you faced from your male counterparts?
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: That’s a great question. I am – haven’t really faced any. I would say that sometimes when I’m traveling internationally, I’ll have engagements with officials and they’ll sort of – you think maybe they expected to see an older man coming to meet with them. That doesn’t change the conversation, and I’ve actually had really amazing opportunities, working over the years for the President and for Secretary Kerry and their leaders, to open doors and give me lots of opportunities.
So I actually – I don’t feel like I’ve encountered a lot, but I do think that women who are a generation ahead of me have had very different experiences. And it’s my hope that this isn’t even a question people have to ask in the next generation. It’s a really good question. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you for your time.
DEPUTY SECRETARY HIGGINBOTTOM: Thank you. Well, thank you so much for all the great questions. I appreciate it. (Applause.)
Source: US State Department
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