Inside the Biden Administration: GW Alumni in Security and Defense

Alumni are working to keep the nation safe and to hold its safety apparatus accountable.

September 2, 2021

President and Vice President on White House portico

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris now head the federal apparatus that includes many GW alumni. (White House/Lawrence Jackson)

Inside the Administration is a series featuring GW alumni serving across the federal government in President Joe Biden’s administration.

For some George Washington University alumni, a bird’s-eye view of national security isn’t high enough. Andrea Yaffe, M.A. ’06, is director for space strategy and plans in the Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (OUSDP), where she works to develop the DOD’s space policies and strategies in an increasingly complex and contested extraterrestrial milieu.

She’s one of many GW alumni who took the security expertise they honed at GW to federal service careers and now serving under President Joe Biden’s administration.

Ms. Yaffe and her team have to synthesize complicated scientific and diplomatic issues, assess and counter space-based threats from hostile nations, shape major defense policies and work with lawmakers and experts across the spectrum of national security. But she said some of her most useful takeaways from the Elliott School of International Affairs, where she received a master’s degree in security policy studies, were very down-to-earth.

“My time at the Elliott School was crucial to cementing my foundation as a national security professional,” she said. “One of the reasons that I chose the Elliott School was the offering of skills courses such as policy writing, where I had to figure out how to distill really complicated issues into no more than two pages.”

Those skills will serve the next generation of security professionals equally well, she said.  “When I have interviewed potential intern candidates I have said that there are three skills I look for—the ability to write succinctly, brief issues effectively and distill and understand a lot of disparate information. GW prepared me well to deliver on each front.”

As a double GW alumna, Carla Thomas, B.S. ’09, M.B.A. ’15, took classes in multiple fields—from transformational leadership to customer relationship management. She brings those skills to a national stage as director of the Public Complaint and Feedback Program for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the office through which members of the public can provide feedback and make complaints involving DHS employees or programs, alleged violations of civil rights and other issues.

It’s an avenue of accountability for a complicated and wide-ranging security apparatus, and Ms. Thomas credits her time at GW for the confidence with which she leads the initiative.

“For me it is all about the mission and the people and communities I serve,” Ms. Thomas said. “Working with external stakeholders is an opportunity to solve some of DHS’s greatest challenges and is very personally rewarding.”

Other GW alumni working in security and defense under Mr. Biden include:

Department of Defense

  • Lisa Arfaa, M.A. ’97, senior adviser to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Susanna V. Blume, J.D. ’10, director, Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), Office of the Secretary of Defense
  • Aida Teresa Borras, B.A. ’94, commanding general, U.S. Army
  • Samuel J. Brannen, M.A. ’04, deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans and posture, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy
  • Gil Cisneros, B.A. ’94, undersecretary of defense
  • Carlos Del Toro, M.A. ’96, secretary of the Navy
  • Milancy Harris, M.A. ’04, CERT ’04, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism
  • Ashley Manning, M.A. ’06, principal director for plans and posture, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy
  • Cynthia Mendoza, CERT ’08, M.S. ’10, Ph.D. ’17, deputy chief information officer for special access program information technology
  • Halimah Najieb-Locke, J.D. ’15, special assistant to the deputy secretary of defense
  • Raymond D. O’Toole Jr., D.Eng. ’20, director of operational test and evaluation, Office of the Secretary of Defense
  • Eric Ridge, M.A. ’12, deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development
  • John P. Roth, M.S. ’77, assistant secretary of the Air Force for financial management and comptroller
  • Alex David Sanchez, M.P.S. ’11, Air Force chief of staff
  • Christopher J. Sweeney, M.I.P.P. ’07, deputy director for strategy, plans, posture and capability, U.S. European Command
  • Rhys M. Williams, M.A. ’92, acting director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Department of Homeland Security

  • George Bamford, M.B.A. ’01, information and communication technology supply chain risk analysis program manager, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
  • Michael Feldman, B.A. ’14, director of public affairs, CISA
  • Harlan C. Geer, M.A. ’05, deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs
  • Michael Kaiser, M.A. ’10, division director, policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office
  • Angela Maria Kelley, J.D. ’88, senior counselor on immigration
  • Chyna Melton, M.P.S. ’21, special adviser, CISA
  • Jeffrey Readinger, M.A. ’97, director, Office of Legislative Affairs