BACKGROUND CHECK: Interior Secretary Sally Jewell


Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria on Oct. 29, 2013. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post)

Sally Jewell has been in her Cabinet position for more than a year, but how much do we really know about her? We know she was the chief executive of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) before becoming interior secretary, and before that worked as an oil engineer for Mobil.

But what about the big stuff? Her hopes and dreams (other than climate change legislation), and, the really important questions, like her favorite foods? We learned, among other things, that the lover of the outdoors is not a huge TV watcher (not a huge surprise, there) – if she’s stuck inside she’d much rather be cutting up jigsaw puzzles.

Which Cabinet secretary would you most like to (or do you) hang out with, and what would you do?

Sylvia Burwell. Besides being multifaceted (really…Office of Management and Budget and now Health and Human Services), we share a common connection to Seattle, an appreciation for good, wild salmon and a commitment to connecting children to nature and the great outdoors.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/blog/app/magazine?

National Geographic. Nat Geo takes me on an adventure every time I read it.

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I _________.

Cut jigsaw puzzles as a hobby. Picking up the skill from my father, learned from his aunt who made a living during the depression cutting diabolically difficult puzzles, it has been a fun family tradition. My son has now learned the skill, proposing to his new wife through a jigsaw puzzle – it took her three days to find the “marry me” message.

What’s your dream job (other than your current gig)?

While this is a great job, and leading REI was hard to beat, being a back-country park ranger working with children would be great. My favorite office is the one with no walls.

What motivated you to go into public service?

The opportunity to make a difference and a strong belief in the power of the people. As a business person for over 35 years and an avid community volunteer, I came to appreciate that public investments, carried out by public servants at every level of government, are vital to our economy, our quality of life and our future on this planet we share.

Favorite TV show? Which character from that show do you most identify with?

Besides catching the nightly news while washing dishes, I don’t really watch TV. That makes me a lousy partner for Trivial Pursuit, unless the category is science and nature.

Favorite foods? (Either cuisine or specific dishes)

My mother grew up in India, which has given me a lifelong appreciation for Indian food and curries. When I’m not dining at the “Bison Bistro” at Interior, I enjoy exploring the D.C. food truck scene at lunch, which has some pretty reliable and tasty Indian choices.

What subject, other than your work, do you know most about? (Obviously other than how to run a huge business.)

How to show people a really great time exploring nature and the outdoors. There is nothing like taking someone on their first climb, or hike, or sail, or paddle and witnessing both a sense of accomplishment and wonder in what our natural world has to offer.

Fill in the blank: I’m scared of _________________.

Growing cynicism and a retreat of the American people from investing in government at all levels. … We are now at a time when we can’t do more with less – we are compelled to do less with less, yet people still expect the same level of service. As a business person, I know that won’t work and that if we are to remain competitive in the world, thoughtful public investment will be critical.

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?

Authentic.

You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

Warren Buffett. He takes a long-term view and understands that having a private and public sector in balance benefits our economy and our future. I would have him work as a senior adviser to the president.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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