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SPA Alumna Shuwanza Goff Named White House Director of Legislative Affairs

Goff (MS, '08) a ‘trusted voice on both sides of the aisle,’ said President Biden.

In July, the White House announced the appointment of American University alumna Shuwanza Goff (SPA, `08) as President Biden’s new director of legislative affairs, making her the first Black woman to hold the position.

Goff, who earned her MS in Justice, Law and Society in 2008, has built an impressive career both on and off Capitol Hill. As deputy director of legislative affairs and House liaison under former director Louisa Terrell, Goff supported many of the administration’s legislative accomplishments, including COVID-19 relief, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. 

Goff is a “proven leader and trusted voice on both sides of the aisle,” said President Biden in the announcement. “Shuwanza’s close partnership with my decades-long friends in the House and Senate, and her expertise, instincts and deep respect for the United States Congress will continue to serve our Administration and the American people well.”

This respect for the gears of government kindled quite early. Goff, born in the Bronx, moved to Mechanicsville, Virginia at 11 and developed an early interest in politics.

“I remember my parents taking me and my sister with them on Election Day to vote,” she shared. “They would let us pull the voting machine lever to submit their votes.”

Her family discussed politics and history at the dinner table, nurturing Shuwanza with a strong sense of civic intelligence and advocacy.

“When David Dinkins lost to Rudy Giuliani in New York City's 1993 mayoral race, I wrote a letter to Dinkins expressing my frustration over the results,” said Goff. “From there, my interests in government and politics just grew. By the time I got to college [at the University of Tennessee], I knew I wanted to study political science and ultimately work in Washington, D.C.”

When the time came, Goff began researching graduate schools in the area, and one in particular stood out. 

“I... wasn’t quite sure how to ‘crack the code’ and land an actual job [on Capitol Hill],” she recounted. “American University was at the top of my list, for a number of reasons. I was looking for an experience where I could build upon my political science degree and be challenged and pushed academically, while drawing on all that D.C. had to offer for a political junkie like me!”

Her time at AU delivered, she reported, particularly the flexibility of coursework, the availability of evening and weekend classes, and the challenge and pedigree of world-class professors.

“The School of Public Affairs exposed me to leaders in the field, and pushed and challenged me analytically while providing a supportive environment,” she shared.

Her eyes never left Capitol Hill. As graduation neared, she applied for and received a position in the front office of then-House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer. While Goff assumed she would remain on the Hill for a few years and then move on, the experience had something more in store.

“I think that job (and Mr. Hoyer) taught me everything I needed to know––or at least gave me a really solid foundation,” Goff said. “I was forced to learn who all the members of Congress were, I had to really pay attention to the floor, and I got a front row seat to what governing during unified government looked like. There is where my interest and passion for the House Floor began.”
She cycled through several roles on Hoyer’s team. Then, in January 2019, Hoyer named Goff his Floor director. She was the first Black woman in history to hold the position.
“She’s just an easy person to work with and she’s smart as she can be,” Hoyer told the Associated Press in 2023. “She doesn’t show off smart, you know what I mean? She is smart, people know she’s smart, but she also has empathy and patience to listen to others’ point of view.”

Goff soon garnered bipartisan respect, communicating across party lines, negotiating for Democratic priorities, preparing the agenda and schedule for bills, and widely coordinating the functions among Congress, the Senate, and the White House. Late the next year, she was named deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and the liaison for House affairs. In that position, she played a critical role in the accomplishment of President Biden’s domestic agenda.
She stepped down in February 2023, to become a principal at Cornerstone Government Affairs, a consulting firm, but was thrilled to accept the Administration’s invitation to return to the White House this summer, as successor to Terrell.

“I realize I’m entering this role with no shortage of immediate challenges,” Goff said. “In the coming months, Congress will have to determine how to fund government, reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, and ensure passage of national defense authorization while juggling numerous confirmation battles in the Senate. Throughout these legislative hurdles, I will be tasked with ensuring the President’s agenda remains intact while managing relations on both sides of the aisle and Capitol.”

Goff stepped into this role of mediator in a time of unprecedented partisan division. However, her track record of fostering healthy relationships with both Democrats and Republicans bodes well for her chances of delivering these legislative goals. 

“I worked hard to build trust and communicate appropriately with both sides of the aisle,” Goff recalled of her previous tenure. “That was important with members of the Democratic caucus and important when I had to interact with staff and members of the Republican conference.”

In a particularly meaningful endorsement, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) went on record to enthusiastically support her appointment.

“Shuwanza is a friend and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle know that she is a policy professional with the experience and institutional knowledge of both the legislative and executive branch,” he told The Associated Press this summer. “The White House is lucky to have her back.”

When asked how she accomplished such a feat of unity, Goff described a pragmatic approach. 

“It was essential . . . to have honest and open dialogues,” she explained. “We weren’t always going to agree, but we needed to have the ability to communicate and discuss what was happening and try to work together in the places where we could agree. While the culture has changed some, I do think these things still matter. There is a lot of work that remains to be done this Congress, and it will require compromise and effort from both parties.” 

This zeal over the strategy, mechanics, and relationships of government continues to guide Goff’s career path.

“I would have never predicted serving in any of my roles, which, in some ways, has made this experience so meaningful for me,” she said. “It’s not entirely what I set out to do, but it’s really what I enjoy doing––the ability to be strategic and help get major pieces of legislation across the finish line, while knowing that it will all have positive impact on the American people, really excites me.” 

For students and alumni considering a career like her own, whether on the Hill or at the White House, Goff advises patience and dedication.

“Working in government can be a very slow process, and you may not always know how you’re going to achieve any given end result,” she said. “You tend to have a plan and a timeline, and any number of factors will deter that. But being patient, trusting the process, and continuing to be persistent have always worked to achieve the ultimate goal.”

When she isn’t working, Goff centers family, friends, and travel.

“I have a really large extended family, so a ton of cousins on both sides,” she shared. “My family really keeps me grounded and focused. I have an amazing friend group––many of whom are people that I worked with on Capitol Hill––and we travel every year together.”

Goff will welcome her first nephew this winter, just in time for the holidays. She looks forward to his first of several visits to the White House; meanwhile, she is focused on her new professional reality.

“I’m ready to embrace my new role as director of legislative affairs,” she repeated. “There is a lot of work ahead of us, and I’m incredibly grateful to be part of the team to help get some of it accomplished.”