Valerie Jarrett, co-chairwoman of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison, took a moment to talk with BlackEnterprise.com about how the transition is faring and how she personally plans to execute her job.
What do you plan to do to make government transparency a reality in this administration?
In the course of our transition we have reached out in an unprecedented way to include people from all around the country in preparing for the transition. My office has reached out to a wide range of constituency organizations as well as state and local elected officials to seek their input on how our offices could better serve the people of America. That has never been done before. Group after group have said that they can’t believe that they have been invited to participate before the president-elect has even taken office.
Can you give me an example of one of the groups you have reached out to?
We had a meeting a couple of weeks ago where more than 2,000 community organizers from the group Realizing the Promise came to Washington D.C. and had a series of policy discussions with our transition team around the issues that are important to their group at the local level. The same day I spoke with a consortium of foundations, a couple hundred people who are the leaders of foundations throughout the country, to figure out ways that we can make sure that the philanthropic community is coordinating at the federal level so that dollars can be best leveraged. Those are just two examples on one day of where we touched more than 2,000 people.
We aired the meeting with the 2,000 people online. That is something that we will be continuing to do in the administration, to have town hall meetings available online so that the people who can’t come to Washington or who aren’t physically able to participate in our sessions can view them. We are reinforcing our open and transparent approach.
Has it been complicated serving as the co-chairwoman of the transition team and preparing for your new position as assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations and public liaison?
Complicated? No. Challenging in terms of sleep? Yes. We are all working really hard, but the stakes are high. Our challenges are enormous, but our opportunities are endless. We have a transition office in Chicago and Washington, and I go back and forth every week. What is palpable in both offices is this energy and enthusiasm and excitement about the possibilities that lie ahead.
I think already President-elect Obama has assembled in record speed an extraordinary cabinet full of diverse and rich ideas. He has had a series of meetings focusing on the economy and national security, two key issues that are important to the nation. There is a steady flow of announcements each day in the course of this transition, each one sending a strong