In a move that had been expected by Native affairs insiders for some time, Charles Galbraith has announced to tribal leaders that he is leaving the Obama administration.
Galbraith, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, joined the White House Office of Public Engagement as a Deputy Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs in February 2011. He previously served as a Deputy Associate Counsel for Presidential Personnel in the White House. Before working for the administration, he was an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Arizona and a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. He also worked for President Barack Obama during his first campaign for president, serving as an organizer of the Native American Domestic Policy Committee, which was a nationwide group of tribal leaders and activists.
It has been a tough three years on the job, with tribal leaders pressing and holding Galbraith accountable on many issues during his time at the White House, especially on the administration’s lack of protection for tribal budgets from sequestration, its failure to reimburse tribal contract support costs, concerns involving the operation of the new White House Council on Native American Affairs, and perennial issues involving the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.
As part of his position, Galbraith had been forced to publicly defend the administration’s decision not to insist on protection for tribal budgets under the Budget Control Act, which had consequential impacts for tribal citizens, and many tribal leaders were disappointed that the administration did not fulfill its trust and treaty responsibilities on this matter. According to others who have found themselves in similar positions in the past, it is usually quite difficult for Native citizens to defend federal policies that they know are not in the best interests of their people.
“Thank you for making my tenure at the White House a collaborative and productive period for Indian country,” Galbraith wrote in an e-mail to tribal leaders sent December 16, which he said was his last day on the job.
Administration officials said they were appreciative of Galbraith’s work. “We deeply appreciate his service and wish him well in his next steps,” said Shin Inouye, a spokesman for the White House.
Inouye would not say what Galbraith plans on doing next, but several lawyers and lobbyists in D.C. who are close to him say he has been courted by the Kilpatrick Stockton law firm, which was a major player in the $3.4 billion Cobell Indian trust settlement with the Obama administration. Others with knowledge of his desires say after eight total years working in the federal government, he is eager to spend more time with family.
As for who will replace Galbraith, the White House confirmed that Raina Thiele will take over his job beginning in January.
“Raina Thiele has most recently served as a program examiner at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) helping to build the president's energy and international budgets," according to background information released by the White House. “She previously worked as a legislative analyst at OMB focusing on issues related to the Department of the Interior. Raina received her undergraduate degree from Yale College and her Master in Public Policy degree from Harvard University.”
Thiele was born and raised in Alaska and is Dena'ina Athabascan and Yup'ik and an enrolled citizen of Pedro Bay Native Village.
In his goodbye note to tribal leaders, Galbraith said they should expect to hear from Thiele early in the New Year.
“In the interim please feel free to contact Gabe Amowith any issues needing immediate attention,” Galbraith wrote. “Thank you again for your support and willingness to engage with the Administration. I look forward to when our paths will cross again in the future.”