RealJobs: Bernadette Meehan

As the Special Assistant to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, I have a daily routine and set responsibilities, but my priorities and work flow change multiple times a day depending on what is going on in the world.

The Secretary’s Staff – “S Staff”, as we are know in the Department (“S” is the single letter used internally to refer to the Secretary), is a great team of people made up of Foreign Service Officers, Civil Service Officers, and political appointees.  The Secretary has two Special Assistants (the “S Specials”), and we function as one person to ensure there is no gap in providing the Secretary with all of the information she needs, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  My colleague Nima and I rotate early and late shifts every other day.  Early shift is typically 6:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., and late shift is 10:30 a.m. until we have finished for the day – anywhere from 10:00 p.m. on an early night to 1:00 a.m. on a busy night.  You get used to the schedule after a while, though I am not sure my body will ever get used to those nights when I get home at 1:30 a.m. and turn back around to go to work at 5:30 a.m. the next day!  We then remain on call throughout the night in case of emergency.  We alternate weekends on duty, and whoever is “on”, works a full day on Sunday, and as needed on Saturday.  I’ve had quiet Saturdays, and Saturdays where I’ve spent all day in the office.  It just depends on what’s happening in the world at any given time.

Our primary responsibility is to prepare the Secretary’s daily briefing book.  The book contains all of the briefing materials the Secretary needs for her meetings each day.  On Wednesday of this week, the Secretary is meeting with Senators Burr, Graham, Isakson, and Johanns; with Burmese Civil Society Leaders; with interagency colleagues at the White House; with Haitian Prime Minister Garry Conille; and with President Obama.  She is also officiating at the swearing-in ceremony for a new Assistant Secretary of State.  Phew!  The Secretary is indefatigable, and it takes a lot of energy to keep up with her schedule.  Nima and I spent today preparing all her of papers for her meetings tomorrow.

We also ensured that the Secretary had everything she needed for today’s meetings with the Indian Foreign Secretary and Israeli Foreign Minister.  Remarks and briefing papers are revised as needed based on the latest information coming from multiple sources, including our embassies around the world.  We also work closely with the White House and our interagency colleagues to ensure our policy is aligned.

In between preparing her papers for today and tomorrow, we worked continually throughout the day on a wide range of action memos, information memos, and cables that the Secretary received from bureaus throughout the Department and embassies and consulates around the world.  The stream of information is constant, and part of our job is to determine what the Secretary needs to see and when.

We also ensure that information flows in the other direction.  Some days I’ll accompany the Secretary to a meeting with a visiting Foreign Minister or Head of State.  Following these meetings, I provide readouts to the relevant stakeholders in the Department and the interagency, so they know what issues were discussed and can work on any resulting tasks.

The pace is frenetic, though we manage to have a lot of fun.  We always make time for birthdays and celebrations, and have several talented bakers that keep us supplied with sugar to help us all through our long days!

Secretary Clinton’s daily public schedule is posted on the Department of State’s web site.

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