Meghan Dubyak ’04 can always tell when her boss has arrived. All she needs to do is glance over her right shoulder—and count the black SUVs outside the West Wing of the White House.
Since December, the former urban and regional studies major has been the press secretary to Vice President Joe Biden. She works out of the VP’s staff offices in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the palatial, Second Empire edifice—complete with stately columns, broad staircases, and marquetry-floored hallways—that’s part of the vast White House office complex. “I don’t think a single day goes by that I don’t walk in the complex and feel grateful and honored to serve,” she says. “It’s an incredibly humbling and inspiring place to work, to be surrounded by smart people who are also dedicated public servants.”
The White House is just outside Dubyak’s window; one afternoon last spring, fresh from a daylong stint on jury duty, she points out where Biden generally works, in a small West Wing space across the way. “Those windows at the end are where the VP’s office is,” she says, “so all day, we literally shuttle back and forth between these two spots.”
A veteran Capitol Hill staffer, Dubyak came to the Obama Administration after several years as press secretary and communications director to Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from her native Ohio; before that, she worked for New York Congressman Steve Israel, who hired her out of undergrad. She started out doing such straightforward tasks as scheduling, giving tours, and filling requests for ceremonial flags; before long, she was a legislative aide advising Israel on health and education issues, and later became his communications director. “The joke on the Hill, particularly on the House side, is that you start in a job that you’re totally overqualified for,” she says with a laugh, “and within a year, you’re in a job that you’re totally underqualified for.”
When the opportunity to work for the vice president presented itself, Dubyak jumped at it—even though she’d be joining the administration in its final year and would inevitably be looking for another job before long. Part of the attraction, she says, was working with Biden on the “cancer moon shot” he’s spearheading—an effort that’s particularly close to his heart in the wake of his older son’s death from a brain tumor. Dubyak has been accompanying Biden on visits to research centers nationwide (and occasionally tweeting about it, under the handle @Dubyak44). While she doesn’t generally go on his overseas trips—she spoke to CAM during a relative lull when the VP was in the Middle East—she travels with him on Air Force Two during North American jaunts; in one three-day span, she was in Mexico City, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. “No two days are the same,” she says of her job. “It’s a lot of responding to the news, shaping stories that we know are coming about, responding to reporter inquiries. I consider myself an advocate for reporters, making sure they have the information they need.”
White House staff jobs are notoriously all-consuming. And while Dubyak notes that Biden advocates work-family balance—“Every time one of his grandchildren calls, it doesn’t matter who he’s in the room with; he will always pick up”—she admits that the 24/7 news cycle means that she’s constantly tethered to her phone and e-mail, fielding media requests and monitoring the headlines. Just in the twenty or so minutes she’s been chatting with CAM, she says, she has received some forty e-mailed clips from the White House’s news aggregators. “If I don’t get back to a journalist, that can affect when he or she files their story,” she notes. “The demands of the job require you to be responsive—particularly when you’re working on other people’s deadlines.”