Q & A: Joe Grogan ’00 on effecting change, curbing regulation and what being a citizen lawyer means

Joe GroganJoe Grogan ’00 is Assistant to the President and Director of the Domestic Policy Council. He previously served in the Office of Management and Budget as Associate Director, Health Programs. On January 29, the White House announced his appointment to President Trump's Coronavirus Task Force.

What is a typical day at work like for you, or is there a typical day?

The only thing that is typical is that the days are long. I am at the office between 7-7:30 most days, and here 12 hours, sometimes 13 or 14. Beyond that, nothing is typical. Some days there is a ton of media engagement. Some days I travel with the President. We handle all different policy areas, there are always surprises, and my schedule is constantly changing throughout the week and sometimes by the minute. Every day I work with the President, senior and junior White House staff, cabinet secretaries, Congress, and industry to solve complex problems.

Are there moments during your work day when you are reminded that it is a rare opportunity to serve in the White House?

Any day you walk into the Oval Office or you drive onto the White House complex, you are aware of the unique and special opportunity you have. You are also reminded that once it is over, it is over. You don't get these opportunities again. I tell the 24-year-olds around here: I hate to tell you this, but this is the coolest job you will ever have. You will make more money doing other stuff, but there is no greater privilege. I think when people forget that, or they don’t think it is special, or they get worn down, it is time for them to leave.

Of the initiatives that you are working on currently, which ones do you think will have the most impact on Americans?

We spend time on a ton of issues across the spectrum from healthcare to ocean policy, sportsmen issues and environmental policy, labor policy, economic growth, and contentious social issues, etc. The biggest practical change that I have seen in my time in Washington is this Administration’s emphasis upon deregulation. No administration has come in and cut regulations the way we have. The President signed an executive order to take out two regulations for every new onewe are currently taking about seven and a half for every one. That not only represents quantifiable economic savings to average Americans and businesses, but it is also a completely different way of viewing regulatory policy. It is harder to rip out old regs or make significant changes than it is to issue new ones for the same reason it’s easier to build a new house in an open field than it is to rebuild an old house. Other administrations spoke about it, but President Trump demanded we get it done. A lot of states are now following us in this deregulatory effort. We have started having calls with governors and state legislators from all over the country to talk about the occupational licensing reform that the President called for, so that there are not barriers for people who already are licensed from moving from one state to another to get a new job. For example, military spouses have been a big emphasis. The spouse of a military person moves to another base in a different state and they have to go through all sorts of new licensing requirements. That isn’t fair; it limits people’s ability to work, typically women, strains marriages and may cut military careers short. So let’s fix it. There are other examples of the President taking on otherwise ignored issues: paid parental leave for federal workers, a commitment to workforce training and development, moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, and an approach to trade relations that is totally different from what we have had in decades.

You made the decision to leave the private sector and join this administration in 2017. Why?

It kind of fell into placealmost by accident. I was recommending people for the position that I ultimately got in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). I interviewed with Mick Mulvaney, who was the OMB director, and the deputy director, and the chief of staff. They liked me and offered me the job. These opportunities come across once, and if you pass them up, they don't come around again. I had a great run at Gilead Sciences. While I was there we had the three biggest drug launches in history and it was incredibly exciting. When I looked at the opportunity to go into the very beginning of an administration at OMB and manage healthcare spending for the entire federal government1.4 trillion dollars in spending that I had to sign off onit just seemed like a tremendous challenge and a historic opportunity I could not really pass up.

What personal philosophy has helped you be successful?

One, work hard. Two, admit when you don’t know what you are talking about or you don't know the answer. Three, ask a lot of questions. A lot of people are afraid to admit that they don't know what they're talking about, or they make up answers, or they are not willing to ask. You have to get over that. You have to ask a lot of questions and really drill down on stuff. There also is no substitute for working hard.

Why did you decide to get a law degree versus another graduate degree?

I thought it was the most versatile degree you could possibly get. It has certainly proven that way for me. It opens up more doors than any other degree and gives you a level of flexibility in your career.

Why did you choose William & Mary for law school?

I moved to the Washington, D.C., area and became a Virginia resident because I knew I wanted to go to some type of graduate school and I knew Virginia had great schools. I applied to law schools all over the country, but I was lucky enough to get into William & Mary. It was such a better value than any of the other schools I was considering at the time, and I was drawn to the history of William & Mary.

Do you have a favorite memory, class or professor from your time as a law student?

There were a lot of great professors, and I have a lot of fond memories. One of the things I miss is going over the criminal news of the day with Professor Marcus. He would walk through criminal cases that were ongoing and the legal issues involved as part of his criminal law class. When I read the news sometimes I wish I was in Marcus’s class and could understand what is happening with this motion or what is going on behind the scenes. Alan Meese also was a great professor. Being part of the undergraduate university was fun too. My third year there was a symposium on the Vietnam War, and it had all these scholars, journalists and former military commanders collected on campus for three days. My uncle was attending as an observer. He had done two tours in Vietnam with Special Forces, and it gave me an opportunity to understand him and the war in a way I hadn’t before. I am a little bit of a history buff. I blew off my classes and went to the whole thing. It was an unbelievable learning opportunity and an amazing event. Moot Court also was a lot of fun. I was on the team that won the bankruptcy moot court championship at St. John's University. I probably wasn't a very good law student until third year. It really had not clicked for me. Moot Court was probably the big reason it finally did.

Any advice for current law students?

One piece of advice: make sure to do whatever you can to have as little debt as possible when you graduate so that you have as much career flexibility as possible. You need to maximize responsibility and experience over money when you’re young if at all possible. You can do all sorts of interesting stuff that is rewarding and fulfilling outside of law firms if that is what you want, but too many people get shackled with golden handcuffs to jobs that they won’t enjoy over the long term.

What do you do outside of work?

I am married and have four young kids. Whenever I’m out of the office, I’m trying to spend time with my family, whether it is hiking, taking them to sports, doing stuff with them.

Educating citizen lawyers is central to William & Mary Law School’s mission. What does that concept mean to you?

I took a class on citizen lawyers with Taylor Reveley, who was dean while I was there. I think it was Dean Reveley’s first class on the subject when he started to really elevate the concept of citizen lawyers. I am glad it stuck at William & Mary because it stuck with me. It was a great class, and he was a great professor, not just a great head of the law school and later the university. To me it means putting your law degree in the context of your citizenship: trying to make your country a better place, respecting your fellow citizens, having respect for the rule of law, being conscious of the fact that with citizenship comes responsibilities. There is more to a law degree than just making money. You have a moral obligation attendant to that degree, and it’s bigger than winning in a court room. 

About William & Mary Law School

Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America’s oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.