Brett Holmgren on working inside the Oval

​The political science alum serves as the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Intelligence Programs on the National Security Council staff. Political science chair David Canon asked him about his work for President Obama and his time at UW​.

Back to News
President Barack Obama speaks with Brett Holmgren, Senior Policy Advisor to the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, as newly appointed Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain and Rand Beers, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, stand by in the Oval Office on October 22, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

What have been the biggest challenges and more rewarding things about working in the White House?

One thing you learn quickly working at the White House is that rarely if ever do issues come across your desk for which there are easy solutions. On top of that, many of the issues, particularly in the counterterrorism and intelligence realms, are time-sensitive and involve decisions with real consequences for people around the world.

At the same time, these challenges also make the work and long hours worth it when you see the policies you helped shape having a positive impact on the safety and security of the American people. But the most rewarding part of my time at the White House has been the opportunity to work with some of the most talented and dedicated public servants in the world. Working for President Obama has truly been the honor of a lifetime.

How has your political science degree helped you in your career?

More than anything, my degree gave me a framework for thinking about how the international system behaves and the various schools of thought for developing policy responses to the world’s challenges. My UW courses were instrumental in providing an intellectual foundation for applying theory to real world problems.

Who were your favorite professors?

Without question, Jon Pevehouse and David Leheny. As a testament to how much I enjoyed Professor Pevehouse’s lectures, I’m proud to say I never once missed his 9 a.m. course on American Foreign Policy on Friday mornings (though at times, it was a struggle).

What are some of your fondest memories of UW?

Football Saturdays and walking up State Street taking in the beauty of the campus. But above all, the friendships I made at UW have turned into lifelong bonds that I will always cherish.

What advice would you give to current political science majors and recent graduates who are interested in public service about what they can do to make a difference, either in the United States or abroad?

There are so many ways to serve — from joining the military or foreign service to Teach for America or working for a nonprofit that serves local communities. While it’s good to focus your career on certain fields or interests, be open to new opportunities as they arise. And don’t get frustrated if your dream job doesn’t pan out right away. Given the many challenges we face at home and abroad, the nation needs your skills and talents!