Office of Public Liaison

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The Office of Public Liaison is a unit of the White House Office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Under the administration of President Obama, it was called the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. President Trump restored the prior name and created a separate Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.


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."[1]

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.[1] Faith Ryan Whittlesey used her time at OPL to increase the influence of the religious right[2] and anti-communist groups, such as the Contras in Central America.[3]

Future cabinet secretary and U.S. Sen. 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.[4]

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 May 2009, Obama continued this theme and renamed the Office of Public Liaison the Office of Public Engagement.[5]

In April 2009, actor Kal Penn was named an associate director in the Office of Public Engagement.[6] His role was said to include outreach to the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and the arts community.[7] 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.[8]

President Donald Trump initially announced his intention to appoint Anthony Scaramucci to oversee the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs in his administration, pending a review of Scaramucci's finances by the Office of Government Ethics.[9] However George Sifakis was appointed instead in March 2017.[10][11] On August 18, 2017, it was reported that Sifakis would be leaving the position and that a successor had been sought since early August.[12]

Key staff[edit]

  • Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Public Liaison: Justin Clark
    • Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison: Vacant
    • Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for the Office of Public Liaison: Stephen Munisteri
      • Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director for the Office of Public Liaison: Jennifer Korn

List of Assistants[edit]

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

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 January 20, 2017 Barack Obama
George Sifakis January 20, 2017
Acting to March 6, 2017[13]
September 25, 2017[12][14] Donald Trump
Johnny DeStefano September 25, 2017
Acting to February 9, 2018
March 18, 2018
Justin Clark March 18, 2018 present


  1. ^ a b "The White House Transition Project" (PDF). White House Transition Project. March 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016.  p. 4.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Sklar, Holly (1995) Washington's War on Nicaragua. Cambridge, MA: South End Press. p. 244 ISBN 0-89608-295-4
  4. ^ "The White House Transition Project" (PDF). White House Transition Project. March 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2016.  p. 21.
  5. ^ "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. Archived from the original on April 10, 2015. Retrieved May 11, 2009. 
  6. ^ Ambinder, Marc (April 9, 2009). "Actor, Comedian, Associate Director of Public Liaison". The Atlantic. 
  7. ^ "Actor Kal Penn joining the Obama administration". CNN. April 7, 2009. 
  8. ^ Daunt, Tina (April 10, 2009). "Kal Penn tackles a new role: White House liaison". Los Angeles Times. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ "President Donald J. Trump Announces White House Staff Appointments". March 6, 2017. Retrieved August 2, 2017. 
  11. ^ Kamisar, Ben (January 12, 2017). "Scaramucci lands White House job". The Hill. Retrieved August 2, 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Delk, Josh (August 18, 2017). "Public Liaison director leaving White House". The Hill. Retrieved August 21, 2017. 
  13. ^ Sink, Justin; Cirilli, Kevin (March 6, 2017). "Trump Names Sifakis as Public Liaison, Passing Over Scaramucci". Bloomberg. Retrieved September 3, 2017. 
  14. ^ Cook, Nancy (October 15, 2017). "Kelly tries to get empty administration jobs filled fast". Politico. Retrieved October 15, 2017. 

External links[edit]