Category: Alumni, Faculty, Featured News, News

Title: President Biden Taps SFS Faculty and Alumni for Top Positions in New Administration

Author: Paul James
Date Published: February 10, 2021

Francisco Bencosme (SSP’16), Senior Advisor to the Acting Assistant Secretary of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau at the U.S. Department of State

Prior to his new position, alumnus Francisco Bencosme was a senior policy advisor at Open Society Foundations, where he focused on Asia and Latin America policy. From 2018 to 2020, he was the Asia Pacific advocacy manager at Amnesty International. Previously, Bencosme was a professional staff member at the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he assisted Democratic Senators on issues related to East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia and State Department and USAID oversight.

Maher Bitar (SFS’06, L’12), Senior Director for Intelligence Programs at the National Security Council

Alumnus Maher Bitar brings extensive government service to his new role, having previously served as director of Israeli and Palestinian affairs at the National Security Council and as deputy to former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power. He also completed a stint as a foreign affairs officer in the Office of the Special Envoy for Middle East Peace at the Department of State. More recently, Bitar was general counsel for House Intelligence Committee Democrats and advised Rep. Adam Schiff during the first impeachment proceedings against former President Trump.

Ambassador William Burns, Director of the CIA Nominee

Institute for the Study of Diplomacy (ISD) Advisory Board Member William Burns is re-entering government after a more than three decade-long career in the U.S. Foreign Service, where he became a career ambassador and rose to deputy secretary of state. As an ambassador, Burns served in Russia from 2005 to 2008 and  in Jordan from 1998 to 2001. Following his diplomatic career, Burns was named president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Alison Cassady (SFS’96), Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy at the Environmental Protection Agency

Alumna Alison Cassady brings a wealth of expertise on environmental policy to her new position at the EPA. Cassady previously served as  deputy staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and was a senior professional staff member on the Committee on Energy and Commerce. In addition to her government work, she was also managing director for energy and environment and director of domestic energy policy at the Center for American Progress.

Tarun Chhabra, Senior Director for Technology and National Security on the National Security Council

Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) Senior Fellow Tarun Chhabra brings extensive government and think tank experience to his new role. He most recently held a fellowship at the Brookings Institution, where he focused on China’s growing power. Previously, Chhabra served as  director for strategic planning and director for human rights and national security issues on the National Security Council staff. From 2013 to 2015, he was speechwriter for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Prior to that role, he worked on the staff of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.

Derek Chollet, State Department Counselor

Former Adjunct Professor Derek Chollet previously served as executive vice president for security and defense policy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Chollet held positions in the Clinton administration, including as chief speechwriter to the ambassador to the UN as well as principal deputy director of Hillary Clinton’s policy planning staff during her tenure as secretary of state. Between 2012 and 2015, during his time as U.S. assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, he advised Secretaries of Defense Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis (SFS’76), Acting Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations

Amb. Jeffrey DeLaurentis, ISD distinguished resident fellow in Latin American studies, had a long career in the U.S. Foreign Service before returning to SFS as an educator and mentor. He was the first chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. Other notable positions during his State Department career were as ambassador/alternate representative for special political affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and as deputy assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Juan Gonzalez (LAS’07), Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council

Alumnus and former Center for Latin American Studies Adjunct Professor Juan Gonzalez (LAS’07) has held numerous roles in the State Department, including as deputy assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, with responsibility for U.S. diplomatic engagement and policy implementation in Central America and the Caribbean. Gonzalez also held positions in the Obama White House, as National Security Council director for western hemisphere affairs from 2011 to 2013, and then as special advisor to former Vice President Biden until 2015.

Aditi Gorur (SSP’15), Policy Advisor at the US Mission to the UN

Alumna Aditi Gorur most recently was director of the Protecting Civilians in Conflict program at the Stimson Center, where she focused her research on preventing violence against civilians, particularly in peacekeeping operations. Gorur has experience at a number of globally-oriented organizations and has conducted research for the Asia Foundation, the Center for Liberty in the Middle East and the Indian Institute for Human Settlements.

Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins (L’94), Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Nominee

Adjunct Professor Amb. Bonnie Jenkins is the founder and executive director of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS), an organization that advances the leadership of women of color in international affairs. She has extensive experience in the State Department and previously served as coordinator for threat reduction programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation and helped to establish the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), a global effort to build capacities to prevent infectious disease.

Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Nominee

Colin Kahl is a former SFS associate professor who began teaching in the Security Studies Program in 2007. Most recently, he was co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. He was also a strategic consultant to the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. He previously served as deputy assistant to President Obama and national security advisor to Vice President Biden and as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East at the Pentagon. He has held academic positions at the University of Minnesota and Harvard University.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, USN, Retired, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, Pentagon Press Secretary

Former Master of Science in Foreign Service program adjunct lecturer John Kirby transitioned to a number of public affairs roles after a nearly three-decade long stint in the U.S. Navy. In the new administration, he is reprising his role as Pentagon Press Secretary under the Biden administration, having first held the position from 2013-2015. Kirby began his career in public affairs in the Navy and served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations and as the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information (CHINFO). After his military service, Kirby held positions at the State Department, including as spokesman for former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Jeremy Konyndyk (MSFS’03), Senior Advisor on COVID 19 for the US Agency on International Development

Jeremy Konyndyk (MSFS’03), adjunct instructor for the Global Human Development Program, is an expert in pandemic and outbreak response. Konyndyk was one of the first policy-makers to warn that the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan would continue to spread. He is a senior policy fellow at the Center for Global Development, where he focuses on humanitarian response, USAID policy reform and global outbreak preparedness. Previously he served as director of USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, where he led the U.S. government’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Denis McDonough (MSFS’96), Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Alumnus Denis McDonough (MSFS’96) previously served as the 26th White House chief of staff during President Barack Obama’s second term. After graduating from the MSFS program, McDonough worked in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate on the foreign affairs and foreign relations committees. He later joined President Obama’s team as senior foreign policy advisor and served as deputy national security advisor to the National Security Council. Prior to his current position, he served as a senior advisor at the Markle Foundation.

Ambassador Nancy McEldowney, National Security Advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris

ISD Non-Resident Fellow Amb. Nancy McEldowney previously served as director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service (MSFS) program from 2017-2020. Prior to coming to Georgetown, she was director of the Foreign Service Institute as well as interim president of the National Defense University. In addition to her educational leadership in the foreign service, McEldowney served in a number of overseas posts, including as ambassador to the Republic of Bulgaria and chargé d’affaires and deputy chief of mission in Turkey and Azerbaijan. She also worked under President Clinton as director of European affairs on the National Security Council staff.

Ambassador Richard Mills Jr. (SFS’81), Chargé d’Affaires of the US Mission to the UN

Alumnus Amb. Richard Mills Jr. (SFS’81) is a career senior foreign service officer who joined the Foreign Service in 1988, after a stint as an attorney in Washington D.C. Mills has held various senior roles within the State Department including chargé d’affaires, ad interim, of the U.S. Embassy to Canada; U.S. ambassador to Armenia; deputy chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires, ad interim, of the U.S. Embassy to Malta.

Ned Price (SFS’05), State Department Spokesperson

Adjunct Professor Ned Price (SFS’05) is the former director of policy and communications at National Security Action, an advocacy group focused on U.S. global leadership composed of former government officials, academics and progressive leaders. Price served as special assistant to the president and in numerous positions on the National Security Council staff during the Obama administration. After graduating from SFS in 2005, Price worked as a senior analyst and spokesperson for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Asel Roberts (SFS’98), Acting Chief of US Protocol at the US Department of State

Alumna Asel Roberts has a long track record of service in the Office of the Chief of Protocol, which is responsible for overseeing the details of diplomacy in preparing for visits by foreign leaders and the president’s travels, among other areas. After more than 15 years in the office, Roberts most recently held the position of senior advisor.

Varun Sivaram, Senior Advisor to Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry

Adjunct professor Varun Sivaram has extensive experience developing energy policy and conducting renewable energy research in the public and private sectors. A former McKinsey consultant, Sivaram served as the chief technology officer at Indian renewable energy company ReNew Power. He most recently held a senior fellowship at Columbia University’s SIPA Center for Global Energy Policy and was previously the director of the Program on Energy and Climate at the Council on Foreign Relations. In government service, he has advised former L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and New York governor Andrew Cuomo on energy policy.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nominee

Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, non-resident fellow at the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, is Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. A veteran of the State Department, she will bring a wealth of experience in diplomacy to her new role, having previously served as ambassador to Liberia; assistant secretary for the Bureau of African Affairs; deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration; director general of Foreign Service and as director of human resources in the agency. She has also served in postings to Switzerland, Pakistan, Kenya, The Gambia, Nigeria and Jamaica. She previously led the Africa Practice at Albright Stonebridge Group following her retirement from the Foreign Service in 2017. 

Paula Garcia Tufro (MSFS’06), Advisor in Washington for US Mission to the UN

Alumna Paula Garcia Tufro (MSFS’06) most recently worked as a project director at the United States Institute for Peace. In her career since graduating from the MSFS program, she has served as deputy director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center of the Atlantic Council and as director for development and democracy at the National Security Council, where she advised the Obama administration on global development policy and programs. She has also served in leadership roles at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the Department of Commerce.

Samantha Vinograd (SSP’07), Senior Counselor at the Department of Homeland Security

Alumna Samantha Vinograd takes up her new role after serving as a national security analyst for CNN. She was also a senior advisor at the Biden Institute and is the co-founder of Global Opportunity Advisors. Vinograd began her career as the deputy U.S. treasury attaché to Iraq under the George W. Bush administration and later served on President Obama’s National Security Council as director for Iraq, director for international economics and senior advisor to the national security advisor. She has held fellowships with the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Public Policy Institute, the Trilateral Commission and the Atlantic Council.

Dr. Lesley Warner (SSP’09), Advisor in Washington for the US Mission to the UN

Alumna Lesley Warner most recently worked as a professional staff member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where she served as the principal advisor on sub-Saharan Africa to the ranking member. Previously, she was a research fellow at the Center for Complex Operations at National Defense University and deployed to Combined Joint Task Force, Horn of African in Djibouti to support the  draft CJTF-HOA Campaign Plan and the Joint, Interagency, International, and Multinational (JIIM) engagement in the region. She has also applied her expertise in security and counterinsurgency operations to positions at CNA, the Africa Center for Strategic Studies and the RAND Corporation.

Ashley Williams (SFS’10), Deputy Director of Oval Office Operations at The White House

Alumna Ashley Williams (SFS’10) steps into her role at the White House as the first Black woman to hold the position. Previously, Williams served as trip director for the Biden-Harris transition team. Under the Obama administration, she was an assistant to then-Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden. She will bring additional government experience to this new appointment, having worked as an advisor and director of special projects for the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues at the State Department and as a law clerk at the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Uzra Zeya (SFS’89), Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Nominee

ISD Non-Resident Fellow Uzra Zeya joined the Foreign Service in 1990, shortly after  graduating from SFS. She went on to hold numerous leadership positions in a variety of diplomatic roles including various positions in the State Department and  as chargé d’affaires and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Paris between 2014 and 2017. She most recently served as CEO and President of the Alliance for Peacebuilding, a network of organizations dedicated to peaceful conflict resolution.