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Purple in the White House

Keeping pace with the president keeps Barrett Benge Karr ’94 running.

Purple in the White House

Keeping pace with the president keeps Barrett Benge Karr ’94 running.

No two days are alike for Barrett Benge Karr ’94. “One day you’re on Air Force One with the President on the way to Florida to talk about Social Security, and the next day you’re at a press conference in the Rose Garden,” said Karr, who took on the role of Special Assistant to the President for legislative affairs in February 2005. Yes, the President

This spring President Bush nominated Roger Shane Karr ’92, husband to Barrett Benge Karr, to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation in Governmental Affairs. Karr previously served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the Department of Transportation. Prior to this, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Governmental Affairs. He also served as Manager for Regulatory Affairs for the American Association of Airport Executives. Earlier in his career, Karr served as legislative assistant for American Airlines. He received his master’s degree from Temple University. He went on to earn a law degree from Georgetown University.

During her first month on the job, Karr flew on Air Force One twice. She also got to sit in on a meeting with 15 members of Congress where President George W. Bush was selling his vision for Social Security.

“History is being made and you’re right there,” she said. “It’s a very exciting place to be.”

In her new White House post, Karr is assigned specific members of Congress to stay in close touch with, as well as certain issues — health care, education, labor and appropriations — to follow for the President. “I report back on what Congress is doing,” Karr explained, “And where the President has certain priorities within legislation, I communicate those priorities to the members of Congress.”

But the job is not for the meek. It involves working directly with Congress members — and their various personalities — and the hours are long since you don’t go home until the job is done. She doesn’t take much time off, but neither does her boss.

“Anytime you work for someone who is so passionate about his goal, that passion rubs off on everyone else and everyone wants to work as hard as he’s working,” Karr said.
According to Karr, President Bush is everything she hoped and expected to find in her president — strong, decisive and genuine.

“He spends lots of time studying policy,” she said. “He likes to joke with the staff, but he takes the job very seriously. He puts the time in that it needs and leads with the leadership we expect of him.”

When Karr came to TCU she fell in love with international relations. After interning with then U.S. Rep. Pete Geren, D-Texas, she knew she’d found her passion.

“I was fascinated by Capitol Hill. And when I got back home, I was dying to get back to D.C. and work in political science,” she recalled. “I didn’t realize before I went how dynamic Capitol Hill would be. There’s just an amazing amount of energy.”

After graduating in May 1994, she returned to Washington and used her TCU connections to score interviews as she tried to find her path in the vibrant city. She landed a job as a staff assistant in Congressman Geren’s front office in 1995 .

When he retired, Barrett was a legislative assistant. When Kay Granger took over Geren’s in 1997, Karr stayed on. By 2001 she had risen to chief of staff, overseeing 16 staff members in Fort Worth and D.C., as well as keeping the office running smoothly.

“This meant I handled all personnel matters as well as being a final consultant on legislative matters, speech matters, scheduling, etc. This was a particularly fun job since I’m from Fort Worth and got to get home very frequently,” Karr said.

Karr relished her time working with — and learning from — Granger, who she perceives as “one of the great leaders in Fort Worth history.” She found out about the White House opening from a friend, who was leaving the job to take care of her new baby.

“It’s pretty hard to leave working for your own rep and your own district,” Karr said. “But when the opportunity came up to work for a president I believe in, I couldn’t pass up that opportunity.”

When she left, Granger sent her off with glowing accolades.

“Barrett uses her knowledge and ability to work with people to get the job done each and every time,” Granger said. “She is well suited for her new post at the White House because she knows the people at the Capitol, she has an excellent understanding of the legislative process and she is willing to work hard.”

But there is more to Karr than political prowess. In addition to her enviable pace on the political fast track, she also has the strength and stamina to make fast tracks in a marathon, triathlon and other grueling competitions.

Karr competed in The Cowtown marathon in 2004, coming in well under her goal of four hours.

“Last year was a good fitness year for me because I also swam the Chesapeake Bay, which is a 4.5-mile swim,” she said. “The swim was one of the things that I’m happy to check off the list, but I’m not sure I would do it again.”

Karr tries to compete in at least one triathlon a year, which for 2005 was the July Xterra Sport — a 500m swim, 16k mountain bike ride and 5k trail run in Richmond, Va.

“It is a short race as it can be difficult to manage long work hours and extensive physical training, she said. “Working at the White House can be a marathon of its own. I’ve always said I wanted to do an Ironman Triathlon. And I’ll do it someday — after I’ve left the White House.

“For now, serving the President is all the adrenaline I need.”