Kiran Ahuja, 44
Chief of Staff, U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Hometown: Savannah, Georgia
How did you get here?
I wanted to embark on a career that focused on serving others, especially those in underprivileged communities. My first foray into government after law school was with the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. There, I worked on long-standing desegregation cases that required me to travel back to the South where I grew up. I was able to see the positive impact the Federal government can have on people’s lives. More than six years ago, I was offered the opportunity to join the Obama Administration and lead the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. One of our tasks was to connect communities to Federal government services and resources. Through these experiences, I have experienced firsthand how government can improve people’s lives. I plan to continue my career in the Federal government by encouraging more people to join, sharing how rewarding the experience can be, while promoting the value of public service.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
Growing up, my mother was the role model I most admired. She was a very giving and concerned individual, and she took a particular interest in those who were less fortunate. She, along with my father, ran a medical clinic in Savannah, Georgia. She served as the office manager, while my father practiced both psychiatry and internal medicine. In addition to providing medical services, she went above and beyond by helping patients who were having problems with finding affordable housing, navigating the criminal justice system, and/or filing disability claims. When talking about my future, she emphasized the importance of contributing to a cause greater than me. She didn’t want me to choose a career based on money, but rather, commit myself to a career that would benefit and better the lives of others.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
While serving as the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the office made a big push to promote data disaggregation and collection. As this country becomes more diverse, we encouraged agencies to collect more granular data on race and ethnicity. Whether a community is African-American, Hispanic, or Asian, it faces both different and unique challenges. Better data collection can help the Federal government tailor its resources and services to these and other communities. In addition, addressing workplace hazards facing nail salon workers, predominately Asian, or ensuring Filipino WWII veterans received compensation for their military service, were other efforts I was proud of. Finally, our engagement with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders was very rewarding and historic. In particular, we supported our federal colleagues in an ongoing effort to establish a formal relationship between indigenous Native Hawaiians and the Federal government.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama Administration in 10 words?
Demanding, extremely rewarding, (sometimes frustrating) experience I wouldn’t trade.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
Like to read a good book, or the "New Yorker," practice yoga and meditation, get out of the city/country and travel, hang out with family and friends, and experiment with new Indian recipes (need more work in this area).