Cathy Russell is appointed to become director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel

Who is Cathy Russell - Director of the White House Office: Biography, Career, Profile and Personal Life

President-elect Joe Biden is beefing up his White House staff with experienced officials, naming four senior members who are veterans of either the Obama administration or the former president’s campaign, cites

Ambassador Cathy Russell serves on the Advisory Board of the Biden-Harris Transition Team and served as Vice Chair of the Biden-Harris Campaign. Before that, Ambassador Russell was a resident fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

During the Obama-Biden administration, Ambassador Russell served for all eight years at the White House and the U.S. Department of State, including as Deputy Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden and the U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, where she led efforts to integrate women’s issues into US foreign policy.

Previously, she served as the senior advisor on international women’s issues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as Associate Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, as the Staff Director of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Senior Counsel to Senator Patrick J. Leahy.

Ambassador Russell serves on multiple boards and advisory committees, including board co-chair of the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, a board member of Women for Women International, as well as a member of the Sesame Street Global Advisory Group, the Leadership Council for Women in National Security Steering Committee, the National Security Action Advisory Council, the Thomson Reuters Trust Women Foundation, and the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council.

A native of Pennsylvania, Ambassador Russell graduated from Boston College and the George Washington University Law School, according to

Obama Administration

Office of the Vice President

Who is Cathy Russell - Director of the White House Office: Biography, Career, Profile and Personal Life

Russell is a longtime adviser to both Vice President Biden and his wife Dr. Jill Biden. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Russell was tapped to serve as chief of staff to then-second lady-elect Jill Biden—a position she held from 2009 to 2013.

In that role, Russell managed the second lady's staff and worked on her initiatives to increase access to community college education and to support military families, through the Joining Forces program. Russell also oversaw a process to develop the government's first global gender-based violence strategy.

Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues

President Obama created the position in 2009, and made it a permanent ambassador-level position in 2013.

Senator Patrick Leahy, for whom Russell had worked as a staffer, spoke at her confirmation hearing and recalled her “brilliant mind” and “uncanny ability…to take the most complex issues, get them down to where even a Senator like myself and others could understand it.”

Russell was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on August 1, 2013. Vice President Biden swore her into office on January 17, 2014.

In her nomination hearing, Russell said that, if confirmed, she would focus her work on six areas: first, ensuring that the State Department adopted gender issues into “all aspects of diplomacy”; second, promoting women's economic participation; third, implementing the National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security; fourth, combatting gender-based violence; fifth, expanding political participation; and sixth, investing in women and girls’ health and education.

As part of that effort, Russell designed the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Girls, released in March 2014. It enlisted the State Department, USAID, Peace Corps, and Millennium Challenge Corporation to pursue the same goal: “to ensure adolescent girls are educated, healthy, socially and economically empowered, and free from violence and discrimination.” This marked the first time a country had produced an adolescent girls’ strategy. Under Russell's leadership, the Office of Global Women's Issues worked with Secretary Kerry to secure $7 million for adolescent girls’ empowerment programming in Afghanistan in March 2016. Her office also worked with USAID and UNICEF to produce a three-year, $5 million program to reduce gender-based violence in schools.

One of Russell's priorities was ending child marriage globally, which she outlined to the Senate in a 2016 testimony.

As Ambassador, Russell traveled to dozens of countries during her time as Ambassador, including Afghanistan in November 13 and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014. Russell's first trip was to Bali for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

Biden administration

On September 5, 2020, Russell was announced to be a member of the advisory council of the Biden-Harris Transition Team, which is planning the presidential transition of Joe Biden. On November 20, 2020, it was announced that Russell would serve as the director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office when Biden assumed office.

Early life of Russell

Russell was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Paul Russell and Ann (née McCaffery) Russell. She grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania, with four siblings. Russell graduated from Boston College, magna cum laude, with a degree in philosophy, and received her Juris Doctor from George Washington University.

Since 1991, Russell has been married to Thomas E. Donilon, who is the former National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama. They have two children, Sarah (born 1996) and Teddy (born 1999). Her brother-in-law is Mike Donilon, a lawyer and political consultant who served as Counselor to Vice President Joe Biden, as cites Wikipedia.

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