Katie Malague ’94 has looked at government from both sides now and celebrates dedicated civil servants.
By Michael Agresta
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 has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The Wall Street Journal and Texas Monthly.