BRIAN LAMB: Brian Kamoie, Senior Director for Preparedness Policy on the White House National Security Staff, what’s the best thing that happened to you in your life to prepare you for government service?
BRIAN KAMOIE: A number of things. I had some really influential teachers who instilled a value of public service in me. I had wonderful opportunities to come to Washington to learn a little bit about how our government works, including the U.S. Senate Youth Program. And I think through education, travel and experience, learning to work in teams of people to solve complicated problems where you really learn it takes teamwork to do the job. Those are the kinds of experiences that prepared me best for public service.
LAMB: Because you’ve had experience in the last two administrations, if somebody were to come to you and say advise me on going into the Bush Administration and then advise me on going into the Obama Administration, would there be a difference?
KAMOIE: In the area I work in in national security, in particular the Homeland Security Emergency Preparedness, not a great difference. Everybody’s trying to do the right thing to protect the American people and so while there may be subtle differences in how to go about it, what you have to remember in any administration is the American people first, the mission first and figure out how to get the job done.
LAMB: Do you see politics did you see politics in either administration?
KAMOIE: Not when it comes time to prepare for or respond to an emergency. I mean it really is about doing the best job we can do for the American people. Surely we work in a political environment, we work in a political town but there are very few people arguing that we should be less prepared. There are very few people when disaster happens want to take the time to play politics with that. So we’re fortunate in that regard.
LAMB: Several weeks ago, we did a program with the United States Senate Youth Program; 104 seniors had come to town under the Hearst Foundation support and they find themselves immersed in town. They see the President of the United States, the Chief Justice, members of Congress, their Senators and in that debriefing that we did on this program; we found your name popping up time and time again quoting you from that week.
When you spoke to them, I’m going to run some of these in a moment.
When you spoke to those young folks, why did you say what you said to them? What was your what was your your base?
KAMOIE: Sure. Well, my base first and foremost was that I sat at those tables in 1989. I was fortunate enough to be selected to be a delegate to the U.S. Senate Youth Program from Pennsylvania and so I remember that feeling, Brian. I remember it vividly, what it’s like to sit there and come from afar and have access to the leaders of the United States government, which, frankly, is awe inspiring.
And so I encouraged them in public service, which is really what the program is about and thought back to what I remembered from the program. And what the program’s trying to do is encourage very bright young students to pursue paths of public service.
And so I started with a mindset of what is it like to be them and now that I’m in this role, what could I share with them that either I wish I had known along the way or that they will remember when they leave Washington week, which as you’ve mentioned is a very intense rapid-fire experience. So if you leave a few key encouraging messages at a time when you know where it’s very easy to be cynical about politics. It’s a good thing to encourage young people to pursue public service.
LAMB: Let’s go through some of the things quickly in your own life.
You grew up where?
KAMOIE: Altoona, Pennsylvania.
LAMB: How long were you there?
KAMOIE: Until I left for Dickenson College, so I lived in the same house my entire childhood.
LAMB: And while you’re in Altoona, how many government type things were you involved with in high school?
KAMOIE: I was president of the student council of Altoona Area High School, had several offices before that; participated in kind of the mock government programs run by local elected officials, got to know those folks; and really started to see the opportunity that public life affords you to make a difference in the lives of others.
LAMB: How often have you run into people that come to this town and get in government that have done the same kind of thing?
KAMOIE: More often than I expected and it’s good to see that over time, the yield on these kinds of programs and people, you know, truly sticking with. At some point, not everybody comes in spends their entire career in public service but people remember those key messages and remember the opportunities. So more often than I expected.
LAMB: Why were you interested in high school and being involved? Do you remember who got you there or did you just do it yourself?
KAMOIE: A series of teachers, my student council advisor, David Abood was very active in the community and for him, learning civics was a passion and was about service to others. And so local elected officials who worked in the Pennsylvania State Senate, where I worked for then Senator Robert Jubelirer. He was president pro tem. He represented Altoona, Pennsylvania. I went to school with his son.
And so these were figures that I saw and got to know and truly, they were trying to do the the right thing for the community.
LAMB: Why Dickenson College and where is it?
Brain Kamoie: Dickenson College is in Carlyle, Pennsylvania and Dickenson had been know for a school that prepared people with a very thorough liberal arts education, which is still does for a wide variety of careers. It was one of the first schools that sent me any literature. No one in my family had gone to college and so when I got this beautiful brochure and this catalogue I read every word of it. Little did I know, more of that would follow. And I visited the campus and just fell in love with it. And so it was the right choice for me, without question.
LAMB: What did you do there in the way of extracurricular activities that might have something to do with government?
KAMOIE: I participated in the student Senate. I ran a co-ran a public affairs symposium that took and issue of importance to society, my year it was violence, so the title of the program was ”Violent Society Under Siege” and we brought speakers together to talk about how we address violence in our society.
And I’ll never forget we had Jack Palance, the the late Jack Palance actor, he came and talked about violence in the movies.
And so bringing smart people together to talk about how you solve challenging problems leads naturally into public positions.
LAMB: Well someone who saw a lot of violence and made money off it in the movies, what’d he tell you about it?
KAMOIE: It was very interesting. He actually advocated for a return to some censorship of that violence because he felt it had gotten out of hand and so he gave a very interesting lecture about his decades in the movies. He actually was from Hazelton, Pennsylvania, so he was a Pennsylvanian as well.
LAMB: Didn’t you meet your wife at Dickenson?
KAMOIE: I did, Laura, the the former Laura Krogen now Laura Krogen Kamoie. She was actually president of the student Senate when she was at Dickenson, so she was engaged as well.
LAMB: So one thing after another, after Dickenson, you go where?
KAMOIE: After Dickenson, I come to Washington to George Washington University where I studied law and got a law degree and public health I got a Masters degree in public health.
LAMB: What got you interest in public health?
KAMOIE: My mother spent 27 years working as a nurse’s aid at the Altoona Hospital and so I grew up around the healthcare system and had an interest in health policy from a very early age.
My father’s a disabled Veteran, lives in a Veteran’s administration facility, our Department of Veteran’s Affairs facility in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania and so I’ve interacted with the healthcare system all my life.
LAMB: What war was he in or what service?
KAMOIE: He’d served in the Army toward the the end of the ’60s so it was the Vietnam era although he didn’t serve in Vietnam.
LAMB: Any thing at law school or in public health school that was about government service?
KAMOIE: Interacting with, you know, people in town who are working on The Hill or working in advocacy organizations. Some of my professors who testified on The Hill or argued cases before the Supreme Court, I mean the opportunity to translate the academic into real world policy application is really why a lot of people come to Washington and it’s why a lot of people stay here.
LAMB: How were you hired in the Bush Administration and then how were you rehired you got even closer to the president in the Obama Administration.
KAMOIE: So, I was teaching health law and policy classes at George Washington University School of Public Health. I was on the faculty and after 9/11 there became a lot of questions about government authorities to protect the public’s health versus your civil rights and civil liberties. I started writing about these issues. Prior to joining the faculty at GWU, I practiced law and I represented hospitals in New York City that had a lot of questions after the 2001 anthrax attacks.
And so if you fast forward the tape, I’m teaching about these issues, I’m writing about these issues and the Department of Health and Human Services asked for some assistance in developing policy in this regard and my department chair at the time, Sarah Rosenbaum went to a department chair’s meeting where this was announced, they need people who focus on policy in this area, can we help them. She stopped by my office and said you’re going to HHS for a year. It wasn’t an invitation, it was a direction. They need your help and they don’t even know it yet.
And so I went into government on an arrangement that allows subject matter expert professors and others to help the government. That was in 2004. My first day at HHS was February 1, 2004, the day of the ricin the discovery of ricin on Capital Hill and so I knew this was going to be quite a wild ride, if you will.
So it was intended that I stay there a year but the challenges just kept coming, the problems got even more complicated and ultimately I decide decided to join federal service. And so I joked with the student delegates that, you know, the first moral of the story is I went on loan to the government for a year. It’s been eight, so I wasn’t very good at following instructions.
LAMB: Did it matter what political party you were in?
KAMOIE: No. What I was asked to come assist is the development of policy on a subject matter area I had expertise in.
LAMB: Okay, let’s let’s look at a couple of these clips.
LAMB: Again, for those watching or listening in, this was a couple of actually months ago by now, and these are young kids selected how in their states?
KAMOIE: They go through various interview and essay processes where they demonstrate their interest in and knowledge of public affairs and it’s really a scholarship program because the program awards them a $5,000 college scholarship and as you might imagine, you know, there are many students who are interested in these programs and they narrow it down to two per state. So it’s really throughout the country and the the students who participate from Department of Defense schools, it’s really quite a selection process.
LAMB: And it’s underwritten, of course, by the Hearst Foundation ...
LAMB: ... and it’s called the United States Senate Youth Program?
LAMB: 104 of them, two from each state, a woman and a man from each state, I believe.
KAMOIE: There’s no gender restriction.
LAMB: There’s no gender restriction?
Okay, let’s here’s one, this is student Jenny Gall is her name and I want went around asking all of them who they most remember during the week and they heard from the Chief Justice, as I said, the president and lots of others, let’s listen.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP
Jenny Gao: Hi, I’m Jenny Gao and I’m from Des Moines, Washington, close to Seattle.
And so I think it was best put this week when Brian Kamoie, someone from the White House came and said, he said a quote and he said those who think that they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones that actually do.
And so while everyone here has radically different or radically similar views and they’ve been able to talk with everyone about their different perspectives, one thing that we all have in common is ambition and passion and so I think that’s where it really lies in changing the world and making it so that we can all come together and actually compromise and make progress.
END VIDEO CLIP
LAMB: Ambition and passion.
KAMOIE: Yes sir.
LAMB: Isn’t ambition kind of looked down upon by some people?
KAMOIE: I think what the way she put it, passion to do the right thing, I don’t think that should be looked down on at all. I think that ought to be encouraged and the quote she’s talking about, I mean I tend not to read things to students when I’m speaking with them. But there I actually read the text of an Apple Corporation ad, the ”think different” ad that’s available online.
But essentially, it’s about thinking outside the status quo, thinking differently that when that company and, obviously, the former Steve Jobs looked at people, the round pegs in the square holes, they saw genius. They saw people who weren’t satisfied with the status quo. And of course, we wouldn’t have the advances in technology we have, if we didn’t have people who are willing to push the boundaries if you will.
And so if you you play that ad through, it shows very prominent figures, Einstein and others and, you know, where some might thing those initial ideas that prominent scientists have are crazy, they saw genius and and, you know, the end of it is, those who think they’re crazy enough to change the world are the ones who do.
And so I was encouraging them to think big in what they do.
LAMB: What what’s number one on your list of things you’d like to change in the world?
KAMOIE: That’s a long list. I think we can become ever more prepared for disasters and emergencies. That’s really the focus of what I do on the national security staff. It’s about promoting the resilience of people in our society and worldwide, to avoid, you know, destruction and death and injury where ever possible.
The last year has been a record one for disasters and they’re getting larger and they’re getting more expensive.
And so one of the things I want to change is to continue to improve how we prepare our society for these kinds of events.
LAMB: Record in what way?
KAMOIE: There are record numbers in terms of their cost, the number of billion dollar disasters last year was at an all time high. We had a record number of presidentially declared disasters and emergencies last year, there were 99 of them. And so they’re getting more frequent and they’re getting larger in terms of their scale and impact.
LAMB: If you had to list also the people that you know that have done the very best job of turning around a disaster in this country, is there one you can name?
KAMOIE: Individuals or ...
LAMB: Either either individuals ...
KAMOIE: ... disasters?
LAMB: ... or areas, you know, where they’ve just really got a hold of their problem?
KAMOIE: Well, look, it takes a large team to do all of this work and so I’d be reluctant to point out any individual. But the preparations that now go on in the Southeast for hurricanes, they have learned from experience and I will point out Craig Fugate who was is now the Administrator of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Craig ran the Emergency Management Agency in Florida for a number of years, had a lot of experience in hurricanes.
We’ve come a far way in terms of our preparedness for infectious disease, influenza pandemics. We went through the pandemic in 2009 and so what I think we’ve learned collectively in doing this work is that we do best when we involve everyone and leverage the resources that are already in communities.
So get people and nonprofit organizations in the private sector in these communities more involved in the planning but also more involved in response to emergencies.
And so we learned something from everyone and of course over the last three years, we’ve had the flu pandemic, the oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear emergency, so we’ve learned something from each one of these.
LAMB: Here is Chris Shepard from the student group.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP
Chris Shepard: I’m Chris Shepard and I’m from West Virginia.
We heard form Brian Kamoie, who’s on the president’s National Security team and he told us, I think he got a question about, you know, when it was, when he’d give up his, you know, commitment to public service and he said the day I walked through the White House gates and I’m not in awe is the day that I should leave because public service is a privilege and every day should be treated that way. And I think that far too often we have public servants who take, you know, their their their devotion to public service for granted and that’s a shame.
END VIDEO CLIP
LAMB: What do you mean by not in awe?
KAMOIE: It is an awe inspiring place to know the decisions that are made there, the opportunity it is to work there on challenging issues that truly matter to the life of the nation. I’m with some incredibly smart people who are committed to public service.
And so I am in awe when I walk through those gates and that feeling, ideally, never goes away. It hasn’t gone away for me in three years.
LAMB: As you know, there are people that feel that that’s part of our problem here that people walk around in awe of people that have been elected and don’t tell them what they should tell them. What would you say to them?
KAMOIE: I I think I’m in awe of the opportunity. That’s very different than being enamored by myself or others and what I mean by that is if you keep the focus on who the focus should be about which is the American people and doing what is right by the American people, I don’t think it’s a problem to be in awe of the opportunity that presents in public life to make a difference.
I think actually what it really speaks to is the privilege and that you should wisely when you’re in these roles to do what you can with the time you have to make the the most difference that you can.
In fact, I don’t know if you have the clip, but one of the things I said to the students is something we say a lot which is, choose carefully and execute relentlessly which is, we have an unlimited number of issues we might work on. You’ve got to pick very carefully what you focus your time on and then work the problem till it’s resolved.
LAMB: What you said to these kids that you’re saying it from experience or from something you learned in a book?
KAMOIE: Primarily from experience I mean, we’ve been through a lot of disasters and emergencies that have taught us a lot. Of course, I’ve had, you know, some very good formal education, but I’ve really learned from my colleagues and learned from people in the middle of very bad, you know, situations and one of the things I’ve also learned is, you know, a lot of times you go think adversity builds character, you come to learn that adversity also reveals character. And so you understand the choices people will make when confronted with a lot of stress and pressure. That teaches you a lot about yourself and about, you know, what you need to do to get the job done.
LAMB: Eight years in government; over that eight year period, when do you remember having the biggest apprehension about what was going on in a disaster?
KAMOIE: If you think of any of the brand name disasters we’ve had during those eight years, we’ve had I’ve had apprehension during all of them.
LAMB: But when when is it you look you looked and you know, this is really not good.
KAMOIE: The pandemic in 2009 could have taken a turn for the worst. Luckily the virus wasn’t as lethal as it might have been. Had it been more so, that could have caused a really challenging situation for not only our nation but for the planet.
Fukushima, the experience there with the reactor and leak of radiation. Radiation understandably scares people. You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. And people know if exposed to too much radiation, bad outcomes follow. And so that was a very uncertain time that caused a lot of apprehension.
The Deep Water Horizon oil spill truly what to do to stop the flow of oil.
All of these in their own way have presented really challenging complex problems that took a lot of people to solve but at any time could have taken a turn for the worst that fortunately they did not.
LAMB: Did I hear you say there are 104 nuclear reactors in a speech you gave in the country?
KAMOIE: I I believe I I did cite a number, I think it is 104. I can double check that.
LAMB: The actual number doesn’t mean as much as what did you think when the Japanese decided to shut down all their nuclear reactors?
KAMOIE: Well, I mean that’s a decision for the Japanese government and the Japanese people about how you balance the risks and the benefits.
I, you know, thought the approaches they are taking to the situation they confronted, it is certainly within the range of reasonable approaches. We may make different decisions, but I’m, you know, I’m not here to talk about the energy policy.
LAMB: Well, let me ask it differently, did somebody come in in the middle of these discussions after Fukushima and say in this town we ought to move to shut down all the nuclear reactors in the United States?
KAMOIE: I’m sure there were discussions of that, but again, we focused on responding to the disaster and on the National Security staff, we don’t really focus on the energy policy moving forward. The president has other very qualified advisors who focus on that.
LAMB: How do you separate this in the government that has so many people in it?
KAMOIE: You bring them together. I mean I don’t think you truly ever want to separate things so much that our discussions and deliberations aren’t informed by the experience we’ve had. But what’s also key in that is you bring the right people with the right expertise and so while we may assist in the response to the actual disaster, kind of the moving forward, we rely on the experts at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and otherwise in our government to advise what the potential paths forward are.
LAMB: You look back, what are you, 42, 43?
KAMOIE: I’m 40.
LAMB: Forty? Okay. You look back on your life, can you think of someone that has really spoken well on their feet that impressed you? It doesn’t have to be a politician by any means, just somebody that you remember and why did they impress you?
KAMOIE: I think there are a lot of people over time I’ve remembered who impressed me. It’s not just because I work for him, but this president impresses me when he speaks. I want to be inspired when I hear a speech. You’ve been in this town for decades and you’ve heard a lot of speeches. So what I most want when I hear someone talk is I want to be inspired. I I want to leave that event seeing things a little differently. I want to leave that event thinking a little differently about the problem at hand, so the president, of course, inspires me.
I’ve had high school and college teachers, though, who have inspired me as well at Dickenson, many people, professors ...
LAMB: Name name some of them.
KAMOIE: Professor James Heffler who taught me public policy and political science always had a way of grounding the academic and the practical and thinking about what are the consequences of the policies that, you know, that you are pursuing. What happens to the person once that law is written, once it starts to get implemented? What happens down range?
The current president of Dickenson College, Bill Derdin, is an inspiring figure. He has really advanced the college and its approach to liberal arts by really reaching back to the founder of Dickenson, Benjamin Rush and all of the principles at that school’s very founding of a useful education to engage the world.
I mean these are all things, Brian, that you know, that encourage you to take all of the academic learning that you’ve had and apply it for the public good and I really I really can’t think of a better job than that.
LAMB: Here’s another student from the United States Senate Youth Program.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP
Ofelia Pina: Mr. Brian, the same that Christopher was talking about said, choose carefully and execute relentlessly and that meant a lot to me because too many times we find ourselves taking too many things on and not really focusing on that one thing that should be your top priority and that not only happens in our personal lives but with work, with people that work in our government today.
LAMB: What did you do to get picked for this program?
Pina: I filled out an application. I submitted an essay. I took a test. And I interviewed.
END VIDEO CLIP
LAMB: Choose carefully and I can’t remember the last of it.
KAMOIE: Execute relentlessly.
LAMB: Relentlessly. Is that where’d that come from? Where does saying come from? Is that yours?
KAMOIE: Yeah, you know, I’m not going to claim credit for it but it it’s just something that struck me and many of my colleagues as we look at the whole range of opportunities. I mean when you talk about disasters and emergencies, you and I could sit here in a fairly short amount of time, Brian, and think of all the terrible things that could, you know, befall us. Right? And think about all the things that we need to do to prepare for those.
And so we need to think very carefully about the issues we take on and, you know, once we’ve decided this is a set of issues we want to take on, we need to, you know, be constant and relentless in making sure we solve the problems to make ourselves better prepared.
I want to go back to your last question for just a second because, you know, people who inspired me along the way, I also can’t say enough about Dave Abood, my high school student council advisor and my civics teacher. One and it’s not necessarily anything he said on any given day, but the involvement that he had in my life and the encouragement he gave me that regardless of how modest your circumstances are when you start out, and don’t get me wrong, while we didn’t have much, we had enough and I had a great education.
But these people who are in positions of authority or have the opportunity to open new areas of knowledge to you, but at the end of the day, what most students want is somebody to say, you are, you know, good enough, you are a smart person and if you apply yourself there are opportunities ahead of you and just taking the time to care. Frankly, that’s more inspiring than just about anything, any speech that any one of the speakers I I named gave in particular.
Back to choosing carefully and executing relentlessly, you know, one of the other things I I told those students was not to they were going to have a lot of opportunities in their life to choose what they work on. And what I encouraged them was not to play small ball. I mean to take on important issues and not shy away from engaging in the important debates to solve really complicated problems.
So, yes, among all the things we might choose to work on, choose carefully and then work it until the problem is solved.
LAMB: As you know, government is not exactly winning high praise in the country. Politicians are not winning high praise in the country, they’re about as low as they’ve ever been. You’re an insider; why is the case? What do you what do you tell your own colleagues about the published reaction to what goes on in Washington?
KAMOIE: I think public expectations are naturally very high. I mean it is a big government. People expect that the government will produce results for them that they can see, that they can touch, that are tangible. Part of it is sharing the the successes that have occurred because there are many. But, you know there is a natural distress to going all back, you know, to our Founding Fathers of government and that that’s a healthy thing in a democracy.
And so the burden on the government to show the value it adds is always there. It doesn’t bother me that, you know, opinion polls might be low, it’s actually to me an encouragement that we do even better.
LAMB: Let’s go to another clip. This is Jacob Levin or Levin, I’m not sure, we’ll listen.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP
Jacob Levin: One of the quotes from Brian Kamoie, a White House staffer, that I thought was really exceptionally inspiring was once you realize the magnitude of difference you can make in public life, everything else will pale in comparison.
And I kind of think this entire week is about public service and everyone we’ve talked to, all the speakers and all of our military mentors, our public servants and there’s no doubt in my mind that everyone in this room will make an exceptional public servant one day.
LAMB: You know, it’s interesting, Brian Kamoie ought to feel pretty good about this whole thing. I mean he’s getting quoted more than anybody.
END VIDEO CLIP
LAMB: What was your reaction when you found out that I mean these young folks heard from the Chief Justice, they heard from the president, they heard from Senators and Cabinet officers and Leon Panetta and every you know, I think we had five or six quotes out of probably a dozen came from you.
KAMOIE: I was extremely touched. I was surprised and certainly humbled knowing the roster of individuals that these students heard from, so I’m thrilled to know if they walked away with a few things that I encouraged them in, if those things stick with them, sometimes that’s really all that you need.
And in that particular case, Jacob, I think you mentioned his name was, that’s actually a quote from a colleague from a colleague of mine, Jack Lew, who’s now the Chief of Staff, talked about the various sectors and the various career positions he had held in government, in the private sector, in academia and one of the things he encouraged the young staff at the White House was once you realize the difference that can be made in public life, the outcomes you achieve in some other professions pale by comparison.
LAMB: Why though?
KAMOIE: In terms of the magnitude of the effect or the opportunity to to do good. You know, that’s not to say there aren’t contributions to be made in all those different disciplines, but for him and for me and I trust that for some for some of these students, ultimately they will see that the opportunities they have in public life will, for them, pale to the other opportunities that may present themselves.
LAMB: As you sit, at age 40, and now where’s your office physically?
KAMOIE: In the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
LAMB: So it’s part of the old executive office right next to the White House.
LAMB: And you’ve been in government for eight years. Where, you know, a long way to go here. What do you want to do in public service?
KAMOIE: I want to keep working on complicated problems with people who want to solve them. So, you know, as to what I do tomorrow is I’m going to take on the same sets of challenging issues that we’re working on today. I don’t have any particular positions in mind. The opportunity to do this work on meaningful issues with people that are smart and dedicated is what matters to me.
LAMB: How often do you think about going back to Pennsylvania and running for office?
KAMOIE: Not very often. I’m completely occupied by the job that I have now and we live in Annapolis, Maryland. Laura is a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, so she too, provides a service to the public. She’s a romance novelist on the side. We have two young daughters, we’ve made a nice home for ourselves in Annapolis.
LAMB: I actually went on your wife’s website for the romance novels.
LAMB: Hearts in Darkness, Her Brother’s Best Friend, Service to the King, Seduced by the Vampire King her name’s Laura Kaye when she writes.
KAMOIE: She writes under a pseudonym because she’s an academic. She also has academic writings as well and so they’re obviously very different constituencies and readers for those lines of work, so she writes under a pseudonym and Kamoie is not the easiest name to pronounce or spell so she thought it might be a little easier in that regard as well.
LAMB: All right. This is a broad question. What impact does it have on your family, your life, on you that she’s a romance novelist?
KAMOIE: She’s pursuing something she’s passionate about. I think that’s a wonderful lesson for our two daughters. It’s a wonderful reminder to me that you’re really only limited by your imagination. So it’s had a great effect.
LAMB: How long has she been interested in this?
KAMOIE: She’s been writing for about four years now. I mean she’s been an academic for much longer than that but she’s been writing novels for four years.
LAMB: Let’s go back to the students. I think this is our final student, Mariette Aborn, I believe. We’ll find out ...
LAMB: ... exactly how to pronounce it.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP
Mariette Aborn: I’m Mariette Aborn and I’m from Manchester, Vermont and I have yet another quote from Mr. Kamoie and the quote was, you’ll never quite get everything done, accept it, it’s liberating. And I thought that was just kind of cool because everyone this week was saying, oh public service, it’s great, it’s great. And all of us are passionate about public service but we can’t get everything done so we have to pick a few things that we really are passionate about, not everything. We don’t have to change the world, just a little bit of it.
LAMB: Did he have this written down or did he just talk off his cuff?
Mariette Aborn: I think he just talked off his cuff. Yeah, it was really impressive.
END VIDEO CLIP
LAMB: Did did you have your speech written down?
KAMOIE: No. I had a few quotes and I actually read the the Apple quote about, you know, changing the world from my iPhone. I did that a bit for dramatic effect to remind these students that we have these devices because somebody thought differently.
But no, the director of the program, Rayne Gilford had called, I knew the the students were in town that week. I always know it’s Washington Week. There are alumni events associated with that but I believe that was a Wednesday afternoon. But the students were scheduled to meet with the president. His schedule changed, she called and asked if I could come and visit with them and I certainly would, you know, schedule permitting, would never turn down an opportunity to visit with this group of students because of what the program meant to me in my life. And so, yeah, I jogged over to the Mayflower Hotel and talked with them.
The quote she’s talking about, you know, realizing you’re never going to get everything done and by that, on any given day, there’s a long list of tasks, you know, you might focus on. But truly, it goes back to how you choose, how you approach those.
If you look at the list of things to do, one way to approach that is just here’s a long list and I’m going to go sequentially. Another way to approach that is what’s really urgent? What has to be done, you know, in the next five minutes, ten minutes or, you know, hour.
But I was really encouraging to think about the importance of what they do. And really to focus at the list of potential things and choose the most important. So it’s kind of a lesson in not letting the urgent crowd out the important. What is the most important thing on that list that you could get done today? Maybe you ought to start there.
LAMB: An awful lot of what goes on in this town is in the form of speeches, I mean that’s one of the reasons we asked you to come and talk about this. What are your what’s your philosophy of speaking? How often do you speak and how long do you speak? And what works, what doesn’t work?
KAMOIE: Well, in this particular case, I think what works is truly a message from my personal experience, really from the heart. Those were not prepared remarks, they were not formal scripted remarks. They are a series of, as you know, you’ve been in town long enough to know there are times where you are delivering a major policy address that is very heavily scripted to get out, you know, some key messages that are important.
Other times it’s more casual where you want to impart some things that you’ve learned. So I I think my philosophy of speaking is to make it more a conversation than a lecture to the extent that it’s possible to engage the audience but to always think about, you know, they’re in those chairs, I’m up here at a podium, what matters to them in terms of what are they seeking to learn or understand. You know is this the first in 20 speeches they’re going to hear today? No one’s ever going to fault you for finishing a speech five minutes early.
So I’ve I’ve learned some things over time in talking with students and with audiences and that’s that’s my philosophy to talk with people, not at them.
LAMB: Go back to your own experience in the United States Senate Youth Program, what did you get out of that?
KAMOIE: So we had some very prominent speakers then as ...
LAMB: Do you remember them?
KAMOIE: I do. Chief Justice Rehnquist spoke to us. Then Senator Al Gore spoke to us. They didn’t speak but I met my Senators from Pennsylvania then John Heinz and Arlen Specter; the Secretary of Commerce at the time Robert Mosbacher spoke to the group.
LAMB: And you were 17?
KAMOIE: 1989, I was, yep, 17 or 18, yeah.
KAMOIE: Do do you remember your reaction to it and did you was there ever a time during the week where you said, yeah I’m going to do that some day?
KAMOIE: I I don’t know that I ever said I’m going to do that someday, but I do still remember the sense of magnitude of what these people did every day in their day jobs. I had learned about government, took advanced placement classes in government in high school and to truly look up from the page when you’re in high school, you know, you could read about the Supreme Court, and then here’s the Chief Justice explaining to you how they go about making decisions. So it it truly was a profoundly positive experience for me.
And so while I never thought I’m going to be one of those speakers some day, I certainly thought these people are working on things that matter and that, to me, was inspiring then as it is now.
LAMB: You said earlier that you were the first person in your family to go to college?
LAMB: What did your parents say to you about college when you were growing up?
KAMOIE: When my when I was growing up, my parents taught me some really key lessons, one of them was always do your best, that is something I repeat to our daughters, never give up, that’s something I share with them as well, the value of persistence and they presented to me as a choice that if that is what I chose to do, they would try and assist all that they could even though we didn’t have a great deal of financial resources and luckily Dickenson was very generous in that regard.
I I do remember getting the acceptance letter and then the financial aid package but that book I had mentioned to you, my mother saw in that book that my freshman year at Dickenson would cost $18,600 and even in 1989, that was more than our family made in a year. So I found her quite upset and then I showed her how Dickenson was going to make that possible.
LAMB: Why did Dickenson make it easy for you financially and and did you have to pay it back or was it a ...
KAMOIE: I took out a very small amount of student loans at the time. I think I left Dickenson owing $12,000 in student loans.
I think Dickenson had a commitment then as it does now to, you know, accessibility to higher education. It was a place that encouraged even the current president, Bill Dirden, I believe he’s first generation college student. It’s a college that tried to promote education and so that doing what they could do to reduce the barriers to education and even then cost was certainly a barrier for me.
LAMB: Were you a good student all through school?
KAMOIE: I think you’d have to look at my transcripts but I think I did. I I did reasonable well.
LAMB: But there’s a reason I ask that is if if somebody isn’t, I mean you you were a good student which lead to scholarships and all that kind of thing. What would you say to somebody that’s watching that they just can’t get it together and and and, you know, and get the A’s that you might have gotten. How do they get ahead? I mean all these slogans, does that work for them?
KAMOIE: I I don’t think you need to be a straight A student to succeed in college and in fact, you know, there are many examples of, you know, prominent entrepreneurs who decided college was not for them or while in college, you know, after a few years, they had had enough.
So I don’t want to suggest that there’s only one path to success however, you know, the individual defines it. There’s a academic success but one of the things that I think in enjoyed most about the entire experience of both high school and college were programs like the Senate Youth Program. It was the experiences outside of the classroom. Those taught me a lot as well.
I did a lot of theatre in high school and college. I did do the student government. But they are the places you learn how to work with people to get things done. And one of the things I told these student is you have to, when you go through these programs and you come to Washington and you come in to senior government level positions, you walk into the room and pretty much everybody will have been the student council president or have gotten A’s at a top flight school. None of that really matters any more. What matters is your ability to work together to solve problems.
And so you can learn that in a lot of ways that don’t involve, you know, getting straight A’s on term papers and exams.
LAMB: Here is you giving a speech at George Washington University where you taught back in early 2011.
BEGIN VIDEO CLIP
KAMOIE: ... those principles included withstanding, you have to be able to withstand an incident. Adapting adapt to change because incidents bring us different circumstances and then rapidly recover.
And so those three principles, withstand, adapt, rapidly recover became the organizing principles around out resilience activities.
END VIDEO CLIP
LAMB: Lots of words there including resilience.
LAMB: Is that in your title?
KAMOIE: It’s not in my title, it’s in the title of the office in which I work and so the president, soon after taking office, did an internal study of how his staff that advised him on national security and homeland security was organized. He decided to merge the two staffs of what had been the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council out of a recognition that there were few issues that were truly only in the foreign affairs space or truly only domestic. The 2009 pandemic is a perfect example, once that virus became known, pretty soon it was worldwide.
And so the president joined the staff together and in doing so created a few new divisions of the combined national security staff and one of them is the Resilience Directorate. And so pretty early on, people said well what does that mean? What is that group of people within the National Security staff trying to accomplish?
And so we took a look at the term and its use in a lot of different disciplines. We are certainly not the first people to coin the term, engineers use the term, structural resilience about bridges and buildings. Ecologists use the term for ecosystems after large storms, et cetera. And yes, there is an element of resilience in emergency management in security.
And so we had a few options, we could go through a fairly standard bureaucratic process to come up with a precise definition that is the exact 38 words that the United States means by resilience.
We decided to take a different approach and ask what are the principles that we’re trying to achieve here so that the full range of activities can be reflected in that. And so when we talk about resilience of people or of our government or of the private sector, what are we really talking about?
We’re talking about on a bad day, can we withstand what happens? Right? Can we, if you’re a boxer, can you take the punch? If a hurricane comes down on us, can we withstand that incident?
Once the immediate incident’s over, the circumstances around us have changed in many cases, dramatically. So can we adapt to that change? Our key, you know, approach needs to be one that is flexible and adaptable to what we’re confronting now.
Then the last thing is, we want to recover. We want the people to come back. We want the economy to come back from a disaster. We want to recover and rebuild and move on.
Brian Lamb: Was the word resilience your invention?
KAMOIE: No. No. Many people had written about the term resilience and it’s application to emergency management and homeland security before I arrived.
LAMB: Does it ever get to be difficult where you’re sitting around and you think, can we just get through this bureaucratic talk and get to the point?
KAMOIE: Oh, we we’ve driven there pretty quickly and that’s what we tried to do in not creating and and the don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of requests for, well what is the precise definition and again, you’ll see it reflected in the president’s national security strategy and otherwise. But we wanted to say, you know, what are the guiding principles about this concept, not a rigid, you know, definition that would be for all time and for all people. I think that’s, you know, there’d be a lot of, you know, hubris involved in that.
So we do try and cut through the bureaucratic language and get to the outcomes.
LAMB: I know in just researching your background and all for this discussion, I watched a speech that you had given as it’s on YouTube before a trade group and you were citing all kinds of things including something called ready.gov?
LAMB: And the reason I bring this up is I found myself drowning in all the information and all the different websites and I got on them and looked at them and so, you know, who how effective are these things?
KAMOIE: Well, I I think you point out something very valuable and that is you have to reach people where they are and so some people may not be, you know, interested in having reams of data presented to them or big thick books about, you know, how to prepare. Some people would prefer to talk about it. Other people would like to watch a short instructional video. Other people, it’s as simple as, you know, updating a social medial site for here are the things you should do to get ready.
So the messaging does need to be as simple as we can make it but as informative as we can make it. And so we try and encourage people to make emergency plans, but we do so in a way that we ask them, okay, if you were stuck in Washington on a bad day, have you made a plan with your family about where you’d meet them? Do you know how to reach each other if, you know, cell phones aren’t working due to great demand?
And so you I think you reach people when you talk to them about their lives and their families more so than wagging your finger and saying you should do all of these things. I think you meet them where they are and ask them about how they would confront certain situations and then offer them some resources.
LAMB: How old are your daughters?
KAMOIE: My daughters my oldest daughter will turn eight on May 11, so just a few days and my youngest daughter, her name is Kara, my youngest daughter, Julia turns six on August 17.
LAMB: So based on your experience compared to the experience you had in your own home, what are you telling these young girls and what do you want them to do in preparation for the kind of life you’re leading?
KAMOIE: Sure. Well again, some of the lessons I learned as a child and that my own parents gave me and that Laura’s parents gave her, were very important, the value of persistence, the value of doing your best at all times, of not giving up when things get frustrating or challenging.
Those are the kinds of values we impart. The importance of working with their friends and, you know, the Golden Rule, I think every parent offers to their child is before you do something, think about whether or not you’d want that particular thing or those words said to you.
I I don’t know that we’re preparing them, certainly at this age for any particular career path. I I do know that they, just by the environment we’re in, what we talk about; we talk about books, we talk about public events. The girls have been t the White House. They understand generally at an eight and six-year-old level what goes on there. They’re big fans of the First Dog, Bo. So anytime I show them pictures of the dog or if they’re there and they see the dog, they’re thrilled with that.
So I think we, you know, try to impart the lessons that all parents try to impart.
LAMB: I can’t resist, how how much do they know about the romance novels?
KAMOIE: They know that their mother writes books and they think it’s in their parlance, they think it’s pretty cool.
LAMB: You when you were introduced to this, one speech that I watched, you mentioned that that that the following three words, had been mentioned twice before you got up on the stage and I wanted you to define it.
Immense cascading catastrophe.
KAMOIE: Those words had been mentioned ...
LAMB: You just I you just alluded to them when you stood up there but I just want to know what that means. What is an immense cascading catastrophe?
LAMB: And I do you I assume you discuss that in your work.
KAMOIE: Of course. So, you know, immense obviously conveys a sense of magnitude that it is larger than any individual organization, perhaps nay individual unit of government, a county, a city or a state, larger instantly than anyone unit of government can address on its own.
So we need to change our frame, bring resources from elsewhere and think about the sizes of what we’re confronted with.
LAMB: Have you had one of those?
KAMOIE: Well you can, you know, the pandemic was nationwide immediately. It’s not as though one team of people could deal with that alone so the pandemic was immense in its scope.
The oil spill was certainly an immense challenge in that there was not going to be one team of people to deal with that either.
And certainly the situation in Japan with earthquakes or an earthquake, several tsunamis and a nuclear emergency that followed. That too was, you know, immense in terms of its scope.
Cascading so when you have these events that affect, you know, the, you know, if you, in the pandemic for example, you now have demand on vaccine that is higher than it’s been in a long time. That has cascading effects on industry and how quickly they can produce vaccine, what they can do with the other lines of business they have.
But a disaster never really a hurricane just doesn’t affect structures, right? It can affect the electrical grid and if power is down, that has cascading effects. We rely on electricity to run hospitals. We rely on electricity to run the financial system and so the down range effects as we call the, from these kinds of incidents truly do present a cascade of issues that need to be resolved. So it’s not just the immediate aftermath of a hurricane.
And then I think the last one was catastrophic. You know, a catastrophe again, goes to scope of magnitude and the potential loss of life and property that an incident could could cause.
LAMB: Your title is Senior Director for Preparedness Policy on the White House National Security staff. Who’s your boss?
KAMOIE: I report to a special assistant to the president named Chuck Denell who reports through a Deputy Assistant to the president, Idee Avery to John Brennan who is the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.
LAMB: Do you feel like you’re close or far away from the president of the United States?
KAMOIE: We have a pretty flat organization where there is, you know, value placed on taking initiative and identifying issues and resolving them. So I don’t feel like there is a bureaucracy that inhibits or constrains our thinking or our action whatsoever.
I mean obviously we keep everyone informed but what matters most is taking initiative and solving problems.
LAMB: You said, and it’s the speech that I watched that the United States is better prepared than ever before. Can you give us reasons why?
KAMOIE: Sure. So I think the speech you watched was when I talked about Presidential Policy Directive Eight on National Preparedness.
LAMB: PPD8 or ...
KAMOIE: PPD8, Presidential Policy Directive, again, that’s you know, you know, the mechanism by which the president provides guidance to executive departments and agencies.
Let me tell you about the three principles in that policy which actually does answer your question in part.
The first thing that the president gave us guidance on in that directive was to take an all of nation approach to how we solve these problems. And by that, he meant involve the private sector, involve individuals and communities that preparedness and resilience are not just government matters. Everybody really has a role to play and we do best when we involve those different perspectives.
And when we involve the skills that those people have, for example, our private sector is very good at logistics and delivering things, right? And so after a major incident where we need commodities to move into places, we should tap the expertise of the people who move things into the communities everyday and talk with them about how we can get that done.
But again, we should also talk to individuals and families about the types of information they either need to get better prepared or as you pointed out, Brian, what they don’t need. What they don’t need is an avalanche of information that is not immediately actionable to them.
An example on that is the pandemic in 2009 where people said okay, well what can I do? Some key messages about what you can do to protect yourself and your family, right? Cough into your sleeve rather than into your hands, which promotes spreading germs. Right? Cough into your sleeve, if you’re sick, stay home. If your kids are sick, keep them out of school. That’s pretty straight forward information that people can take action on to protect themselves.
And so that’s the the principle, take an all of nation approach, involve everybody because they have they have resources and skills they can offer.
The second principle was rather than focus on every doomsday scenario and writing five and six hundred page plans to deal with every single contingency, focus on the key capabilities or what we call the key things that we need to get done during and incident. And then be flexible and adaptable as to how you put those things together.
We had, fortunately, done pandemic influenza planning for years. Earlier we were worried about the H5N1 Avian influenza; 2009 we got a different virus but that virus didn’t pay attention to the plans we had written before or all the assumptions about the plans we had written before such as the Avian influenza would start in Southeast Asia, we’d have a lot of time to deal with boarder issues. Low and behold the 2009 pandemic is in North America immediately so we had to stay flexible.
And then the last piece was measure our progress. How do you measure preparedness and how do we have good measurements so that we show the American people what we are achieving with the investments that we are making and that we can track our progress over time.
And so those are some of the principles about how we do preparedness policy, how we do resilience policy.
LAMB: Brian Kamoie, originally from Altoona, Pennsylvania and Dickenson College, George Washington University Law School, Masters in public health ...
LAMB: ... and currently on the staff of the National Security Council Security staff at the White House.
We thank you very much for talking to us about your approach to speaking.
KAMOIE: Thank you and it was an honor to be here.
Note: Views expressed are Mr. Brian Kamoie’s and not those of the U.S. Government or the current administration.