Explaining the Policy
Past the metal detectors and security guards, Sean McCormack '86's office was surprisingly quiet—a marked contrast to the flurry of reporters' questions he faces as spokesman for the U.S. Department of State.
The position, assistant secretary of state for public affairs, "speaks to my practical side,— said McCormack, dressed in a black suit with an American flag pin on his collar. "You have a policy—how do you explain it to people?—
Sean McCormack ‰86
Photo by Fred Field
McCormack is used to being in the public spotlight; he spent the last four years as spokesman for the National Security Council. His recent transition to the State Department is parallel to that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a personal and professional friend of McCormack's who previously served as national security advisor to President George W. Bush.
"All the different things that happened in those four years—9/11 to Afghanistan to Iraq—it was a fast time to be there,— McCormack said of his tenure at the NSC. "It was very intense. There were a lot of pressures.—
An economics major at Colby, McCormack earned his master's degree in international relations at the University of Maryland and entered the Foreign Service, serving first in Turkey, later in Algeria. He then worked at the State Department until 2001, when he became spokesman at the NSC.
"It wasn't really a natural pathway for someone from Scarborough, Maine,— said McCormack, who lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Martha, and their 1-year-old daughter, Grace.
McCormack's interest in government and international relations began at Colby and when he spent his junior year studying in London. It wasn't a tough decision to go into public service, he said, viewing the career as his opportunity to give back to society.
"The issues that I was interested in were issues that really were centered on government service—foreign policy and national security,— he said. "You can do some of that in the private sector, but for the most part, [the opportunity] was in the government.—
The success of the government is related in part to how its leaders communicate, McCormack said in May at the confirmation hearing for his State Department position. "Public affairs affects the success of America's foreign policy. Done right, we can help advance our policy objectives as defined by the President.—
Part of McCormack's role in helping to achieve the administration's policy goals is related to his access to the top policy makers.In 2003, for example, he had a seat in Marine One, the president's helicopter. As he took off from the White House lawn, McCormack found himself looking at the Washington Monument at eye level.
But what he finds most fulfilling about his work isn't riding with the President in Marine One but rather his role in helping the president to implement the administration's agenda. "You have to believe in what it is that you're doing,— he said. "It would be impossible to do the job if you didn't.