Carlos Monje Jr., Senior Policy Advisor for the Domestic Policy Council.
While many of us show up to work in cubicles tucked within bland office buildings, a chosen group of talented men and women spend long hours toiling for a singularly high-profile boss: the president. They work to enact policy changes and strengthen the bond between the president and the people. They document the world in pictures and help the administration operate like a tightly run ship. They seem perpetually tied to their BlackBerries. And no matter whether they work for a Republican or Democrat, the people employed by the president of the United States share at least one thing in common: A serious commitment to serving the American people. Here, a small selection of some of the bright minds who are currently working for President Barack Obama—what brought them to the White House, their roles, their expectations and their experiences.
CARLOS MONJE JR.
SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR, DOMESTIC POLICY COUNCIL
What is your role at the White House?
I work on disaster recovery and national service.
What led you to your current position?
I worked for several campaigns and for U.S. senators before being lucky enough to land in then-Senator Obama’s office in 2006. A year later, he decided to run for president. I was sent to Chicago for the campaign, and after the election, I asked to join the Domestic Policy Council.
What would you describe as “a normal day” in the White House?
Exhilarating, exhausting and humbling.
What has been your most interesting or compelling White House experience so far?
One of the reasons I am passionate about disaster recovery is because I am from New Orleans. In October, I traveled there with the president. Driving through the city in the motorcade, with the streets where I grew up blocked off, was surreal. It was a reminder of how special this institution is and how important it is to get our work right.
Was the TV show The West Wing a good primer for working at the White House, or was it a source of gross misinformation?
No. The dialogue on the show was too crisp. In real life, it takes a lot more time and work to figure out what the challenges are and what the options are to address them. On the show, it was automatic—one character barks something, another one barks back, they tell a witty joke and leave knowing exactly what’s next. Real problems tend to be more complicated, and it takes a lot more effort to understand the path forward.
Who is the most interesting/memorable person you have encountered in the White House so far?
Xav Briggs. He works at the Office of Management and Budget and just understands the process, understands the unique role that the White House can play in moving the ball forward and has a deep appreciation for the very limited amount of time we have to truly make a difference.
How do you think the public’s perception of life in the White House differs from the reality?
The White House itself has relatively few financial resources. We have limited staff and limited budget and have to fight to get good information.
How palpable is the sense of history for you when, say, you poke your head into the Oval Office or the Roosevelt Room?
It’s there all the time. I imagine that feeling never goes away.
What is your favorite spot in the White House?
Lafayette Park, which is just north of the White House, is a beautiful place where tourists and protesters cross paths with staffers and senior officials.
How many hours a day do you find yourself having to work?
Eleven to 12 is my norm, punctuated by much longer nights and weekends here and there.
What do you do to try to achieve balance in your life?
I call my family and friends from back home. I try to call someone every night on the walk home.
What do you think will be the biggest change in your life when you leave this job?
I’ll have to work a lot harder in any future job to affect change the way I can right now.