Katie Malague ’94 is no stranger to outsider politics. In 2003, she quit her job as a management consultant with Accenture to join the presidential campaign of
a little-known governor named Howard Dean. For the next
year, Malague and her colleagues organized a campaign that
perhaps came closer to delivering an outsider general election
candidate than any in recent memory — until 2016, at least.
“It was among the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had, but
also the most satisfying,” Malague says of her work with the
Dean campaign. “I felt like I was in the center of everything —
and the morning news would dictate how my day would go.
It was exhausting and exhilarating. Working on a presidential
campaign is a fascinating way to watch history unfold.”
Malague, who received Bucknell’s Young Alumni Award
in 2009, was no mere spectator to history. Gov. Dean’s team
changed the way presidential campaigns are run. “Campaigns
in the 2008 cycle tried to learn from Dean’s campaign, studying
what went well and what went wrong,” Malague says. “Each
cycle can draw lessons from the past, particularly more recent
efforts to leverage data and social media.”
These days, Malague finds herself in a much different role, as
director of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Strategic
Planning and Performance Improvement, working inside the
very Washington gates that “Deaniacs” once hoped to crash.
Malague has not been involved in electoral politics recently
because of her role as a federal executive and, she says, because
she’s now more attracted to governing than campaigning. “As
a civil servant, I get to take the long view, rather than battle
the 24-hour news cycle,” she says.
Malague is happiest working on projects that foster
collaboration and improve the effectiveness of government,
such as an initiative she ran in 2008 while working at the
Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit
organization focused on improving the transition between
outgoing and incoming presidents.
“The transition is genuinely a nonpartisan issue, despite
occasional partisan flare-ups,” Malague says. “Presidential
transitions are fundamentally about the safety and security
of the country, smoothly passing the baton, and having the
incoming team ready to begin on day one.” Malague’s project,
Ready to Govern, contributed to two new laws passed by
Congress and a well-regarded, orderly transition between the
George W. Bush and Obama administrations. That year,
she also served on the Obama-Biden Transition Team at the
U.S. Office of Personnel Management, providing incoming
administration officials with information needed to make
strategic policy and personnel decisions before the inauguration.
Though she admits that she still feels pangs of nostalgia
when she watches the news from the campaign trail, Malague
says she’s glad to be sitting this presidential cycle out. “When
I worked on Capitol Hill after Bucknell, senators often
referred to their ‘esteemed colleagues from the other side of
the aisle.’ Today, that underlying civility and mutual respect
almost seems quaint. While politics aspires to bring people
together, it now just as often creates distance — and that has
consequences,” Malague says.
Some of those consequences can be felt in her workplace.
“Negative campaign rhetoric about the federal government has
a damaging effect on those who work day in and day out for their
country as public servants,” Malague says. “They demonstrate
a dedication to the nation and their work that is too often
under-recognized and underappreciated.”
— MICHAEL AGRESTA
Michael Agresta has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The Wall
Street Journal and Texas Monthly.
POLITICS, FROM THE OUTSIDE IN
Katie Malague ’94 has looked at government from both sides now and celebrates
dedicated civil servants.