White House outreach office shifts focus

Taking the job as head of the White House's Office of Public Liaison has been like "drinking water from a fire hydrant" but has been a rewarding position, Lezlee Westine said Dec. 20 in an interview reflecting on her first year at the White House.

Westine was one of President Bush's earliest hires and has been in charge of building an office that is the chief outreach organization to the public. She has had to build relationships with everyone from Hollywood producers to ethnic music groups.

"The job became even more rewarding after [the] Sept. 11 [terrorist attacks] because I feel like I am really contributing something," Westine said.

Among those contributions is hiring staffers who are reaching out to the Muslim and Arab communities in the United States, as well as building an interagency working group to draw attention to women's issues. The working group recently brought to the White House a group of Afghan women to meet with first lady Laura Bush on women's rights issues in that country.

Westine said one of her proudest moments in 2001 was organizing a meeting between Bush and the high-tech community last March in the East Room of the White House, and one of her worst moments was making the mistake of buying a house in Virginia "that was an hour-and-a-half away" from the White House. Westine since has sold that house and bought one that is closer.

Looking forward to 2002, Westine said now that her office is organized, she is hoping to spend more time on high-tech issues. "Now that we've staffed up, there's no question I'll have more time for technology," she said.