Engagement in the work of the federal government lies at the heart of a White House Fellowship. Work assignments can offer unparalleled experience working with senior administration officials on ever changing issues and challenges. This work often requires long hours and, at times, unglamorous duties that require as much perseverance as ability on the Fellows’ part.
White House Fellows typically spend a year as full-time, paid assistants to senior White House Staff, the Vice President, Cabinet Secretaries and other top-ranking government officials. Their assignments demand a capacity for quick learning and a willingness to work hard, often on issues outside of their area of expertise. Responsibilities range from chairing interagency meetings and designing and implementing federal policies, to drafting speeches for cabinet secretaries to representing their agencies on Capitol Hill and in international treaty negotiations. Job assignments are made by the Director of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships in consultation with agency officials on the basis of interviews conducted during “Placement Week”.
Fellows receive a salary and benefits from the agency for which they work. White House Fellows cannot receive compensation from any other source during their year of government service.
In return for the privilege of participating in the Fellowship year, Fellows are expected to apply what they have learned by contributing to the nation as greater leaders in their respective communities, professions, and in public service. Fellows are expected to return to their former or new occupations more experienced in public policy decision-making and better prepared to contribute to national affairs, thereby fulfilling the mission of the program.
The Education Program augments and enhances the work placement experience. Fellows are expected to fully participate in the Education Program, which includes weekly speaker seminars, domestic policy trips, an international policy trip, and day trips to study various policy issues. The Education Program serves as an important aspect of the Fellowship experience, and increases the Fellows’ exposure to renowned leaders from the private and public sectors. Each class meets with dozens of individuals including Supreme Court Justices, Cabinet Secretaries, senior White House officials, Members of Congress, military leaders, journalists, historians, business executives, leaders from non-government organizations, and foreign heads of state. These sessions generally take place during the week, and are off-the-record, lively and frank.
Another component of the Education Program involves the study of U.S. policy in action across the country and abroad, during several policy study trips throughout the year. White House Fellows have traveled throughout the United States, most recently to New York City, Seattle, Chicago and Detroit to study a range of issues such as education, homeland security and transportation, energy, economic development, local governance, and health care.
Fellows have also had the opportunity to travel internationally. Fellows have traveled to Turkey, Poland, and Russia to study emerging democracies and international security. Fellows have also traveled to South Africa and Botswana to learn about the African Growth and Opportunity Act and HIV/AIDS issues. And Fellows have studied human rights issues in China and Vietnam, and have traveled to India and Pakistan to study nuclear policies and the issues surrounding the disputed Kashmir territory.
Throughout the year, Fellows have several opportunities to engage with the U.S. military to broaden their understanding of military service. Fellows have visited the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, where they traveled by helicopter and by Assault Amphibian Vehicles to view a Platoon live fire exercise of Cobra SIMCAS followed by a lunch of Meals-Ready-to-Eat. Fellows have also landed on aircraft carriers at sea and have flown on a KC-135 while observing an aerial refueling of an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Community service is a key component of the White House Fellows program. Fellows have a strong legacy of service to their communities and participate in community service projects throughout their year in Washington, D.C. Fellows have helped build homes with Habitat for Humanity, mentored high school students, assisted WWII veterans at local events, participated in the clean-up of local schools, and tutored young students before school.
Perhaps the most enriching component of the program is class fellowship, which often results in enduring friendships. Alumni convene at yearly meetings in Washington, D.C., and eagerly welcome new Fellows into one of the most prestigious networks of professionals and leaders in the nation.
In return for the Fellowship year, President Johnson expected the Fellows to “repay that privilege” when they left by “continuing to work as private citizens on their public agendas.” He hoped that the Fellows would contribute to the Nation as future leaders. This vision holds true today. White House Fellows have a responsibility to give back to the Nation in the same way, in return for the training and experiences provided during their Fellowship year.
The White House Fellows Foundation & Association, established in 1969, serves as an alumni group for all former White House Fellows. The Foundation & Association encourages and facilitates alumni contribution to public service and furthers the mission of the Fellowship program. Following the Fellowship year, participation in the Association is an ongoing commitment of the more than 700 alumni. Please visit their website for more information.