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Five Questions with Brian McCormack

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Learn more about Kevin Sullivan.
Kevin Sullivan
Senior Advisor
George W. Bush Presidential Center

In this month’s Five Questions with Brian McCormack takes us backstage at President Bush’s surprise trip to Iraq in 2003, tells a story about fly-fishing with Vice President Cheney that is both harrowing and humorous, and reminds us BCAers of the importance of staying connected.

Q:  How did you and fellow BCAer Mike Duffey (HHS, Campaign, DoD) decide to launch Equinox Global Solutions and what are your goals?

Mike and I built a friendship that dates back to our work together on the 2005 Presidential Inaugural Committee. We worked together throughout 2005 and 2006 as fellow appointees in the Pentagon under Secretary Rumsfeld’s leadership, where we discovered a common work ethic and commitment to a more efficient and responsive government. We stayed in touch through the intervening years as I worked in the energy sector and Mike in national security and defense until we reconnected professionally in 2019 as Program Associated Directors (PADs) in the White House Office of Management and Budget. As we tackled complex issues and wrestled with tough decisions managing the National Security and Natural Resources, Energy and Science portfolios at OMB, it became clear we could apply our collective experience in a partnership to assist industry with navigation of the federal funding and contracting processes and inform clients about OMB’s role to improve a company’s federal engagement strategy and maximize their competitiveness in the federal marketplace. 

We are off to a strong start and aim to continue growing our practice through partnerships with businesses that provide technologies and services that improve government, with a special interest in working with non-traditional, start-up, and cutting-edge companies aiming to bring their products and services to the federal government customer. 

Q: What does effective coalition building look like in today’s political and COVID-19 influenced environment, and how has your approach changed since your days at the White House?

At the White House Office of Public Liaison, I was very focused on external coalitions, but in later jobs I found myself focused on internal coalitions and how they related to the interagency process. Each White House has formal and informal processes, but also centers of gravity with people or offices that punch above their weight and can have an outsize influence on shaping a policy. Understanding these can help you be successful inside an administration and when trying to accomplish things from the outside. During the early days of COVID-19, Washington was turned upside down because so many government offices were closed, and in-person meetings put on hold. I think the most successful coalitions and associations during those early days were ones that had already built long-held relationships because people really only felt comfortable working with others they knew well.

Q:  For many years you played a key role in helping BCAers in Washington, D.C. stay connected. Why does a strong alumni network matter to you?

I think back to my various experiences from the 2000 campaign onward and the remarkable people that helped shape those memories. We lived through some incredibly challenging times – from 9/11 to the financial crisis – and seeing much of it up close gave me a great deal of respect for those I worked for and alongside. Those experiences drove my interest in keeping fellow alumni connected and helping them be successful in post-Administration life. 

The recent passing of Secretaries Rumsfeld and Powell just reminds me how many talented and dedicated professionals we worked with and got to observe in action. In the years since and for decades to come, we’ll see Bush-Cheney alumni filling important roles in leading our country and we can be proud to have shared a common experience.  

Q:  What leadership lessons from your time in the Administration continue to serve you well in your work today?

Andy Card’s speech to new White House employees should be somewhere on our alumni site as an example of selfless service. I thought the discipline of the White House operation was important and something I’ve tried to apply in other work settings. A respect for others, even when their position is different than your own, will serve you well in the long run. 

Q:  Can you leave us with a favorite story or moment from your time in the Administration and as Vice President Cheney’s former personal aide, what do you wish more people understood about him?

It was Thanksgiving 2003, the day President Bush was coming to Baghdad for dinner with the troops. I had been in Iraq working for Ambassador Paul Bremer, had been read-in by Joe Hagin, and worked with Greg Jenkins and team for a few weeks to coordinate the ground activities in advance. Briefing President Bush backstage and then pulling back the curtain for him to make his surprise entrance into the dining facility to such an overwhelming thunderous response was an amazing experience. The troops’ thunderous greeting of their Commander in Chief is a roar that I will never forget. The raw emotion in that room was a sign of the pure respect they had for him and vice versa. 

As Vice President Cheney’s aide at the beginning of the Administration there are so many experiences and memories. Election night, Inauguration Day, 9/11. The list goes on. I’ve never seen a more dedicated individual who just puts himself to work using all aspects of his intellect, political acumen, experiences, relationships, etc. As business-like as he is, he also has a great sense of humor and, thankfully for me, is a very forgiving individual. He was kind enough to introduce me to fly fishing.  I thought I was doing well at it until one day on a river in Idaho an errant back cast resulted in my fly hitting the VP on the back of his neck. Thankfully it didn’t set, but it had to be painful. VP Cheney grabbed the back of his neck and let loose a verbal response that resulted in a significant amount of Secret Service activity until they realized the “threat” actually came from within the boat. The non-verbal communications I got from the Secret Service are still etched in my mind, but the VP told me it happens and not to worry about it and he went right back to casting and catching fish. That was a long day!