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Where can I find more information on Jessica's career?
Op-ed by Retired US Navy Captain David Cutter
Jessica’s Detailed Bio
At age 23, USAID hired Jessica to serve as the Information Officer in the Iraq office. She drafted a daily memo to the President with updates on Iraq reconstruction and a weekly memo to the Secretary of State. She drafted the Secretary of State’s congressional testimony on Iraq, which was also then edited and approved by others. In 2005, her counterpart in Iraq was injured and Jessica was asked to go to Iraq. It was supposed to be a two-month tour but ended up being a year and a half. Jessica supported Iraq’s election and had the opportunity to stand as an election monitor during the constitutional referendum. Given the concern over aid dollars, Jessica was sent around Iraq documenting the impact of US assistance dollars on Iraqis. She spent a total of three weeks traveling the country in convoys meeting with Iraqis and writing reports about the impact aid dollars had on real lives. She met people in communities including Kirkuk, Sulaymaniyah, and Erbil, and she went to Halabja and saw the devastation of a community gassed by Saddam Hussein. The successful stories were compiled into a series of “success stories” that were shared with members of Congress and sent out as press releases. The programs that didn’t work were shared with USAID’s inspector general team to ensure we were capturing lessons learned and not wasting AID dollars.
After six months as the information officer, Jessica was asked to coordinate a civil service training program for Iraq’s government. This was essentially the “de-Baathification clean-up” effort - Iraq had no professional civil service at the time to staff their government. The Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office at the State Department, the Defense Department and other US and international organizations had projects and people dedicated to specific Iraqi agencies or entities, but there was not a consistent or professional effort to build a civil service. Jessica went to each of the offices and organizations that had efforts in this area to better understand what they already had in place and what was missing. To coordinate the myriad efforts, Jessica worked with Iraq’s Minister of Planning and established working group on civil service reform (called National Capacity Development) and established Iraq’s minister and the USAID Mission Director as co-chairs of the working group. Making the program Iraqi-led brought all of the other international and regional organizations to the table and began a truly coordinated and strategic effort. Jessica led most of the working group meetings and maintained the relationships with many of the agencies. Once the program vision was established, Jessica helped to find a professional contractor to build the training centers and programs. Once the program was up and running, Jessica returned to the US.
Given Jessica’s unique experience in Iraq and firsthand knowledge of many of the aid programs on the ground in Iraq, Jessica had a rare insight and experience in 2007 with a deep understanding of Iraq’s foreign aid program. Although Jessica was only 25, her experience on the ground was hard to replicate and Jessica was asked to manage the foreign aid budget for Iraq at the State Department.
The Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance (F) was responsible for the budget of both USAID and State Department - all foreign aid. The office was headed by the Deputy Secretary of State who was the Director of Foreign Assistance and the Administrator of USAID. This was a unique moment of foreign assistance reform and this structure does not exist today.
The bureau was divided into regional teams and Jessica served on the Near East team and her responsibility was the $25 Billion Iraq reconstruction budget (FY 2002-FY 2009). As the Iraq Country Coordinator for the director of foreign assistance, Jessica developed the future fiscal year budgets for Iraq, re-directed resources from past fiscal years, de-conflicted overlapping programs or redundancies among US agencies and bureaus, and defended the budget to congressional and senate appropriations staff.
Her portfolio included multiple foreign assistance accounts including the $18 billion Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. She helped develop a strategy that shifted Iraq’s aid away from large infrastructure programs and into a tiered economic growth initiative that focused on job creation - a critical tool for solidifying the brief moment of security gained in the surge.
From the State Department, Jessica was selected by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School where she was awarded a full scholarship to receive her Masters in Public Affairs. She focused on national security and nuclear-non-proliferation. During the summer, she was the intern for the Congressional Commission for Wartime Contracting, where she took her Iraq lessons learned and helped turn them into reports and hearings for the Commission. Jessica was then hired by the Commission for the following year while she was at graduate school to write reports and develop hearings.
Jessica’s graduate school thesis focused on the US-India Nuclear Deal and she traveled to India to conduct interviews and do primary source research.
Jessica was honored to be selected by the Presidential Management Fellowship program, which is a prestigious program designed to develop and fast-track young leaders in government.
Jessica was hired by the admiral of US Pacific Command to serve on the US India Strategic Focus Group and later the Commander’s Action Group. These offices both fall under the J-00 designation, meaning the Commander's personal office. Jessica was tasked with answering the question of how we should we keep trying with India and found an innovative solution using renewable energy and biofuels as a carrot to get India to sit down with US defense officials and partner with the US. It took Jessica six months of working with the Embassy, the Pentagon and different offices within PACOM, but she built consensus around the solution and drafted the strategy. She was awarded the Joint Civilian Service award for her efforts, which is a medal given to civilians by the military.
Jessica then returned to USAID where she joined USAID’s office of Budget and Resource Management where her portfolio included the global Feed the Future Initiative and the Middle East Programs.
In response to the recent Medium post:
The recent blog posted on Medium presents multiple falsehoods as “fact” in an attempt to discredit Jessica’s career of service. For example, the $25 billion Iraq foreign aid budget (FY 2002-FY 2009) included multiple accounts across multiple bureaus and agencies including the $18 billion Iraq Relief and Reconstruction fund. The charge that Jessica, working for the Director of Foreign Assistance, couldn’t have been responsible for this budget when Ambassador Saloom managed the Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office is like saying a School District’s budget office couldn’t manage an elementary school’s budget because the school principal manages it. The federal budget goes through multiple layers of government, and multiple people work on it. Jessica worked for the State Department’s budget office, and the portfolio which she managed was the Iraq reconstruction budget.
We all know the importance of trusting only credible sources. We have included testimonials from some of Jessica’s former colleagues who were present for Jessica’s career and can validate her work:
Dirk Djikerman, former Chief Operating Officer, Office of the Director of US Foreign Assistance
“Jessica helped me at the Department of State, as the Iraq Country Coordinator. Here she successfully guided $25 billion in Federal funds through Congressional appropriations and oversight committees, and coordinated with the many different U.S. Government departments and agencies engaged in Iraq’s reconstruction and recovery. I last benefited from her expertise when she advised me on managing USAID’s multi-billion dollar budget for the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Drawing from her international experience and knowledge on navigating Washington, she advanced two high-stakes U.S. National Security priorities.”
Captain (Ret.) Dave Cutter, US Navy
“From 2011 to 2012, Jessica and I were colleagues at the US Pacific Command in Honolulu, Hawaii. At the time, I was the Director of the Commander's Action Group, commonly referred to as the CAG. We were a small team of trusted advisors and strategists to the four-star military commander whose strategic focus was concentrated on enhancing the US pol-mil relationship with three major stakeholders in the region; our existing allies and partners, China and India. Jessica’s area of expertise on the team was our relationship with India. As we developed the pol-mil element of the Obama administration’s Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy, her drive to pursue a bio-fuel initiative was an innovative path to enhance the United States’ rapidly growing relationship with a major strategic player in the region.”
Gautam Rana, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy Slovenia
“I was the Deputy Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi when we were lucky enough to get Jessica for six months as a Presidential Management Fellow. The most important event for the Embassy was our yearly Strategic Dialogue with the Indian Government. Jessica played a critical role in ensuring the 2012 Strategic Dialogue was successful, including helping to draft key papers and providing important logistical support. Jessica was a terrific colleague and her efforts helped ensure the continued development of the U.S.-India bilateral relationship.”
What does Jessica mean when she says she’s a national security strategist?
Jessica worked for a decade in all three pillars of US national security strategy - defense, development, and diplomacy. At age 23, she worked as a civilian in Iraq with USAID. Her job was to help rebuild and restaff Iraq’s gutted government. In Iraq, Jessica learned a deep empathy for others. Jessica saw people who had suffered - from refugees to soldiers - and lived the real-world consequences of US foreign policy. After a year and a half in Iraq, Jessica returned to the US and joined the State Department as their Iraq Country Coordinator, managing the Iraq reconstruction budget. Jessica worked directly with the appropriations committee staff to negotiate the budget and move Iraq aid efforts away from big infrastructures programs toward job creation and economic development. Jessica later earned her masters in public affairs from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, where she focused on national security and nuclear non-proliferation. She served as an advisor to the four-star admiral at US Pacific Command, working on the US-India defense relationship. Later, she rejoined USAID, managing a $2 billion dollar budget that included USAID’s global food programs and Middle East aid programs. The designation National Security Strategist refers to Jessica's cumulative career in all three pillars of US national security strategy, not necessarily a specific job title. For example, a writer may use the title Journalist to reflect their overall career work, as opposed to listing multiple job titles and publications they've worked for. Read what Jessica’s former boss says about her here.
What did Jessica do in Iraq, and how did she get there?
In college, Jessica gained international aid experience with internships in Nepal and Ethiopia. Upon graduating, she was immediately hired by the US Agency for International Development. She started as an Information Officer in DC, where she wrote weekly memos on Iraq reconstruction for Condoleezza Rice and President George Bush. Six months later, her counterpart in Iraq was injured, and she stepped up to serve. In her first six months in Iraq, she served as an election monitor in Iraq’s election, traveled the country and documented the impact aid dollars were having on Iraqis, and wrote a series of success stories on how US aid dollars were saving lives and protecting civilians.
After being on the ground for six months, USAID asked Jessica to coordinate a program designed to re-staff Iraq’s government after the de-Baathification policy gutted Iraq’s government. Jessica set up a partnership with Iraq’s Minister of Planning and USAID that led to a decade-long coordinated program that was later purchased by the Iraqi government.
Did Jessica take time off from working?
Jessica left USAID in May of 2015, after her mom passed away, to pursue their shared dream of researching and writing a book on her suffragette great-great grandmother. She spent a year traveling to find her ancestor’s letters, photos, and records in archives across the country. She even kept a blog for her friends and family about the experience. In the summer of 2016, Jessica recognized the stakes of the impending election and put her passion project on hold to join the Presidential campaign as a field organizer. It was after the 2016 campaign that Jessica began exploring a run for Congress in her beloved Sierra.
Where does Jessica live?
Jessica lives in Pollock Pines. She is five generations from the foothills where she and her family still own and manage 200 hundred acres of forest land near Auburn. She grew up in Carmichael, CA, not far from the American River. A graduate of Mira Loma High School, Jessica completed the International Baccalaureate program. She organized community service events through her youth group, was president of the Key Club (Kiwanis), was the regional champion in Moot Court, and played on the tennis, cross-country, soccer and basketball teams.
An avid outdoors woman, Jessica spent many family vacations hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and skiing throughout the Sierra. Every summer, her family spent a week camping in Yosemite Valley. Jessica was shaped by this community and understands and loves it in ways that New York Native and Southern California representative, Tom McClintock never will.
How old is Jessica?
Jessica is 36 years old – she is the oldest of the three Democratic challengers in CA-4 and five years older than Joe Biden when he became Senator. Jessica is part of a new generation of leadership that’s interested in solving problems for our community and country, not playing political games.
Did Jessica support the war in Iraq?
No. But when the house is on fire, you don’t ask who started it, you grab a hose. Seeing the consequence of the Iraq war on civilians, Jessica answered the call to service and, at the height of the war, went to work as a civilian to help get our troops home.
Does Jessica subscribe to libertarian economic theory?
No. (She once referenced classical economic theorists on her personal blog, in what she aimed to be a joking nod to her undergraduate professor). You can view her policy positions here. As an undergraduate student, Jessica studied classical economics. As a graduate student at Princeton she studied liberal economic theory. Having read and studied the full spectrum of economic thought, Jessica is able to speak to a wide array of thinkers. But Jessica is a doer, not a theorist. While Jessica enjoys academic thought exercises, she always approaches every problem with the question of “How will this impact the community and country?” Keeping her policy ideas grounded in real-life outcomes allows her to maintain a practical and sustainable approach to problems.
Does Jessica have a history with the Republican Party?
Like many people in the 4th District, Jessica grew up in a Republican family. She started voting independently in 2004 and later formally registered as a Democrat. Jessica has devoted her life to finding lasting solutions to the world’s toughest problems. She is unequivocal on Democratic issues, but her upbringing in a Republican family helps her to speak to all residents of the 4th District, regardless of party affiliation. Jessica is committed to dissolving partisan barriers and encouraging everyone to see themselves as members of a community working together to solve shared challenges. What her neighbors want, at the end of the day, is good water management, relief from deadly fires, high quality public education, action on climate change, and access to affordable healthcare.