Erika Lizabeth Moritsugu, 44
Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Intergovernmental Relations, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Hometown: Honolulu, Hawai'i
How did you get here?
Through good fortune to find this opportunity and the support of a lot of mentors and colleagues and friends who helped make it happen. When White House officials suggested that I could serve in this role, it was an “aha” moment for me when I realized that I could work to support a mission that perfectly melded my professional work in economic policy and my volunteer work in civil rights and community empowerment.
After college and during law school, I worked for two amazing women from the Carter Administration, Gail Harrison and Anne Wexler, helping with coalition building in support of federal economic development initiatives. After law school, I was able to apply some of those economic policy and business relations skills to the international trade and government affairs practice at a major DC law firm. I also spent a significant amount of volunteer time building or running political and community engagement organizations – expanding voting rights, empowering voters in communities of color, supporting Asian American politicians at the behest and guidance of the inspirational and inspiring Bel Leong Hong, and aiding AAPI mentoring and veterans organizations under the leadership of Terry Shima and Tony Taguba. Then I was given the chance to return to government service to work for the extraordinary Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as the economic policy advisor for the Democratic Policy Committee during the housing crisis and Great Recession. This led to a post with my home state Senator, the great Danny Akaka, who was a senior Banking Committee member, which led to the opportunity to work on Senate affairs for the visionary Rich Cordray during the early days of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was founded, in part, to protect consumers from suffering through another housing crisis that reverberates throughout the economy and communities.
In short, when you look at the discrete experiences and opportunities I have had, you could say that the path I have been on has logically led me to HUD and the chance to serve the Administration in this capacity.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
I hope this doesn’t sound corny or stereotypical, but it starts and ends at home. My mom and dad – two very different personalities − both remind me by their example to strive to be useful and helpful, work hard, and trust in the chances that come your way to make a difference. They have both been dedicated public servants in their principal careers, and now, even though they have left government, devote substantial volunteer time to the community and causes that they have always supported. And none of the risks and shifts and strivings that I have taken professionally or personally could have been possible without the support and patience of a strong partner like my husband Brian Kernek, or the inspiration and reminder that my children provide me to keep being useful and helpful.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
The simple and rare chance to build a team to promote the best mission in government with Members of Congress, governors, mayors, and local officials – lifting up the work that thousands of dedicated HUD officials and showcasing the leadership of Secretary Castro and Deputy Secretary Coloretti to end homelessness, level the playing field, and strengthen communities.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
I only need one. “Awe.”
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
…am playing with my kids (6 and 7), helping and witnessing them discover and learn. I still get to read, cook, travel with my husband and friends, and enjoy art and history museums – those are remnants of pre-mom Erika priorities -- but it is the balance and internal recharging time with my little family that I cherish to put everything in perspective – to make sure that I am balancing work with enough fun, emotional fulfillment, and purpose.