Ex-politician talks about White House job

“Do things that matter to you, and people will notice,” Director of Strategic Initiatives and Engagement at Carnegie Mellon Rick Siger said to an audience at Hamburg Hall on Wednesday.

Siger talked about how he started from Pittsburgh, worked in the White House under the Obama Administration, and finally went back to Pittsburgh to join the faculty of Carnegie Mellon. In his speech “From Pittsburgh to the White House and Back: My Time in the Obama Administration,” Siger offered advice and stories from his journey to help students develop.

“Work hard, always follow through, and people will notice,” Siger said. He observed that people who did not work hard hardly followed through, so he concluded that success entailed being a person that people could rely on. Furthermore, Siger said that governing is not just about skillful management, not just about relationships, and not just about good ideas — governing is also about persistence. “Keep going at it. Keep going at it,” Siger said.

Siger recalled that his big wins in the Obama administration came after he and his colleagues “tried and tried and tried.” When working in the White House, holidays were rare for him, Siger said. But he enjoyed what he was doing, and at his lecture he encouraged students to do things that were important to them. Siger emphasized that one should be confident. “At some point in your career, you will realize that people are looking for you to lead. Be ready, and buy into yourself,” Siger said. By saying that, Siger reiterated diligence as an important virtue for one’s success; however, Siger reminded the students that this simply was not enough. Students should never be afraid to take a risk, and they should be able to seize any chance. To do that, Siger said, one should “buy into” himself.

Siger also said that good motives should not be questioned. Politics is serious business, and audiences should know that not everything on TV should be trusted. The in-fighting between parties was not the whole picture, because politician’s main goal is to work for the prosperity of the country. For example, Siger recalled the moment when Obama’s team won the election.
In that solemn moment of power transfer, Bush shook hands with Obama and wished Obama and his team the best. Siger remarked that people at Washington DC work hard with the hope of moving the country forward “because they love this country.”

Siger’s job required him to organize people from several different backgrounds. When asked how to work with such disparate groups, Siger advised listeners to read as much as possible and to ask a lot of questions in order to know enough to make the right decision.

Raised in Pittsburgh, Siger left after high school to pursue an undergraduate degree at Columbia University. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science, and shortly after served as Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Trade in the Cabinet of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. In Virginia, Siger led government-wide initiatives on rural economic development, energy policy, federal base realignment, closure actions, as well as travel and tourism. He served on the 2008 Obama-Biden campaign for nearly 18 months as Director of Advance for the Iowa Caucuses, National Advance Lead, and then National Trip Director for Vice President Joe Biden.

In Washington, Siger served as Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of Commerce. As a member of Commerce’s Executive Management Team, he partnered with the Secretary and Deputy Secretary in the general management and strategic decision-making process for the Department. Siger served the Obama Administration in other key roles at Commerce beginning in January 2009, including Chief of Staff to the Deputy Secretary and Director of the Office of White House Liaison.

Siger also served as Chief of Staff at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). At OSTP, he facilitated policy development and implementation across a broad spectrum of science, technology, and innovation issues, including global climate change, privacy, and cybersecurity.

About a year ago, Siger decided to go back to Pittsburgh. “Pittsburgh is awesome,” Siger said. Siger believes in this place and this university, and he wants to “help Pittsburgh grow.” Now Rick Siger is the Director of Strategic Initiatives and Engagement at Carnegie Mellon. In that role, he serves on the University’s senior management team, focusing on strategic planning, economic development, and stakeholder engagement.