Counselor Justin Antonipillai
Today is my last day serving in this Administration, and in leading the Economic and Statistics Administration.
This has been a great job. It has been a privilege to lead a government Bureau that includes dedicated statisticians, economists, policy advisors, software developers and data scientists. Our operational and management team is deeply dedicated to the mission of producing data and statistics to drive policy makers, innovators, non-profits, charities, and people around the country.
In these last three years, as I have worked on policy, operations, and many other things here at the Department of Commerce as Acting General Counsel, Acting Chief of Staff, Deputy General Counsel, and now as Counsellor to the Secretary with the Delegated Duties of Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. And, more than once during these three years, the name Samuel Pepys has popped into my head.
Pepys was a civil servant who served in a number of public positions and governmental roles in 1600s England. He likely would have been lost to history had he not kept a detailed and nuanced account of what he saw and did for about 10 years. His diaries, more than a million words, and never intended to be seen, provide a stunningly frank and detailed eyewitness look at historical events, such as the London plague of 1664 and Great Fire of 1666, as well as the inner workings of government and society.
"Committee meetings, office life and relations with colleagues are laid out in all their bristling competitiveness, jealousies, fears, pomposities, backbiting and disappointments," a Guardian book reviewer noted. Example: During the second Anglo-Dutch War, when word came that Dutch warships were sailing toward England, Pepys — then secretary of the Royal Navy Board — recalled a meeting where King Charles and the Duke of York laughed when advised to keep their fortifications secret. "Let us be safe, and let them talk, for there is nothing that will trouble them more, nor will prevent their coming here, than to hear that we are fortifying ourselves," Pepys recalled them declaring. (To no avail; the Raid on the Medway was among the worst defeats for the British Navy in history.)
Samuel Pepys was not, historians note, the perfect model of civil service (he had a few, shall we say, infamous habits). But because the Commerce Department has been at the center of a number of important policy issues since I joined the Administration in 2013 with Secretary Pritzker — like privacy, signals intelligence reform after the Snowden disclosures, tax and fiscal policy, encryption, data, and even oil and sanctions policy — I have felt like a Pepys-like observer on a number of fronts.
And, as a result, I have had the great honor to see sometimes directly and largely indirectly1 how lucky we have been to serve under this President and this Secretary of Commerce.
- We have been lucky to have a President and a Secretary who tell us regularly, openly, privately, and otherwise to "do the right thing for the long term." This directive has imbued our work, and liberates a broad and deep group of public servants to make decisions the right way and for the public good.
In my first meeting with our Secretary, I was told that if I had a problem, I should share the problem directly with her so that we all owned our problems together — "otherwise, you'll end up owning it on your own." I have heard the same from my colleagues who see the President regularly.
- We have been lucky to have a President and a Secretary who are disciplined, engaged, and willing to directly make the hard decisions on difficult issues. I cannot overstate how much time and grief it saves to hear from your Principal and get thoughtful, direct, and knowing guidance on how to proceed.
- And, we have been lucky to serve under such fundamentally good people. Watch the Year in Photos released by Pete Souza, as I have been looking at pictures from our time here under Secretary Pritzker.
This fundamental goodness has really mattered and has driven us to make sure we have justified the trust placed in us.
It has been a great honor to serve in these roles, and I look forward to finding ways to serve the public good outside the Government.
It is important to also recognize the broad group of people that have been so important to the work we do, and to thank them. This includes the teams in the Economic and Statistics Administration, Census Bureau, Bureau of Economic Analysis, Office of Chief Economist, Commerce Data Service, the Commerce Data Advisor Council, and everyone I worked with here in the Office of General Counsel, Office of the Secretary, and elsewhere in the Department of Commerce.
In the meantime, I know that in the years to come, I will feel lucky and proud to be able to say that I served in Obama Administration in the Department of Commerce under the leadership of Secretary Penny Pritzker — and incredibly fortunate to work with such remarkable people and colleagues like you.
Thank you to all of you, and best to you and yours.
And thanks again for reading.
PS — After Friday, my twitter account will be passed to my successor — Brad Burke — who will also pass it along to his successors.
Justin Antonipillai — Counselor to Secretary Penny Pritzker, with the Delegated Duties of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs
- 1 My observations of the President are largely indirect.