Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.
Guest blog post by Geovette Washington, Deputy General Counsel
Serving as Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Commerce has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences in my career. The people with whom I have worked over the last three years are outstanding. The issues I have dealt with are interesting, challenging, and critical to the Department’s work. Most important, being Deputy General Counsel has presented a wonderful opportunity to fulfill my lifelong commitment to service.
As Deputy General Counsel, my job is to provide legal advice to the various parts of this Department. However, my role, and the role of all of the attorneys within the Office of the General Counsel, goes well beyond simply providing legal advice to our clients. We work to make sure that the people of the Department do not simply get a review of the legal sufficiency of their work, but also a partner in their mission. That partnership between OGC and the rest of the Department has been a point of emphasis for me during my time at Commerce and is vital to the execution of the President’s vision for creating an America Build to Last. The creativity and dynamic engagement of OGC attorneys helps Commerce agencies execute their plans to build a 21st century America that has the tools, infrastructure, and expertise to thrive.
Encouraging partnership between OGC and its clients is critical to fostering a ethos of service within OGC, and service–particularly of public service–is something I value highly and was a central tenant of my upbringing.
Both of my parents believed in public service and lived that through their lives. They were educators in the public schools in the rural county in Georgia where I grew up. After retirement, my father became a county commissioner and was eventually the Chairman. Throughout his career, he emphasized the importance of public service as a cornerstone of citizenship. He taught me the importance of service to one’s community and the duty and responsibility service requires. He made the needs of the citizens of our county first and foremost in his efforts as both an educator and a community leader. He was never too busy to hear a constituent’s problem or go check out the impact a washed out road would have on a family’s ability to get their kids to school the next day–often with me tagging along. The memory of my father’s emphasis on service has been instrumental to my career and continues to guide my path today.
I brought this ideal of service as a part of citizenship to college and later to law school. I realized at a young age that I wanted to be a lawyer and that I would use those skills to serve others. After law school I got my first opportunity to truly give back in a meaningful way. At the end of my judicial clerkship in 1993, one of my former law professors was moving to the Justice Department and asked me to join him. It was there, in the Office of Legal Counsel, that the importance of service as a part of my duty as an attorney was underscored. I saw how being a lawyer in the government means more than simply relating the law to a client; it means being a part of a broader mission. It showed me that being a lawyer in the government means being a problem-solver and not only providing legal analysis, but being an adviser, confidante, and partner in reaching successful results for my client and ultimately the American people. It is this sense of service and broad involvement in the work of my clients that I took with me to private practice and ultimately to the Department of Commerce.
Beyond my professional career, I continue to serve in other facets of my life. Today, I serve on the Board of Trustees for my undergraduate alma mater, Wesleyan College–a women’s college in Macon, Georgia. Serving on the Board not only allows me to contribute to the growth of this institution that means a great deal to me, but also to be a role model to the students, especially those of color. As a minority and a woman, I understand how important it is for young women to be able to interact with women who have successfully navigated the career paths they aspire to. My service on the Wesleyan Board of Trustees provides me with such an opportunity.
I am truly grateful for the opportunity to serve the American people, the president, and the Department of Commerce. I always tell women aspiring to careers at Commerce or in the law to strive for diverse educational opportunities, but to never forget that service is a responsibility of citizenship that does not require a degree, but only the will to engage.