Denis McDonough

Executive Fellow, Global Policy Initiative

1010 Jenkins Nanovic Halls
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, IN 46556


Denis McDonough

Denis McDonough is an executive fellow of the Keough School’s Global Policy Initiative. He serves as an instructor for the Global Policy Seminar, a course that brings policymakers and leaders to the Keough School to engage students in topics and geographies essential to the world of global policy.

From February 2013 until January 20, 2017,  McDonough served as White House Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama. In that role, McDonough managed the 4,000-member White House staff, as well as Cabinet Secretaries and agency leaders. He provided strategic advice to the President on the most significant domestic policy, national security, and management issues facing the federal government and enforced plans and accountability for performance and goals, maintaining the Obama Administration’s reputation for effective, ethical operation.

McDonough also planned and coordinated efforts to recruit and retain key talent—including an unprecedented expansion of technology experts, engineers, and content generators within the White House and across the federal government.

Prior to his role as chief of staff, from September 2010 until February 2013, McDonough served as assistant to the president and principal deputy national security advisor. He chaired the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee, leading a multiagency team to address complex national security challenges, including crisis management as well as policy decisions related to the Iran nuclear negotiations, strategic arms reductions talks with Russia, the United States re-balance to Asia, the Afghanistan surge, and the Iraq drawdown. Throughout the 2008 Presidential campaign, McDonough served as senior foreign policy advisor for Obama for America.

Prior to his eight-year tenure in the White House, McDonough served in senior leadership and policy-making positions in the U.S. House of Representatives, as professional staff member on the International Relations Committee, and in the U.S. Senate, for the Senate Majority Leader and for Senator Ken Salazar (Colorado).

McDonough was appointed senior principal at the Markle Foundation in February 2017. In this role, he is working to address the skills gap, particularly in light of the looming artificial intelligence revolution. As part of this work, McDonough chairs the Rework America Task Force, which consists of a panel of influential American who will advance work on enabling all Americans to develop the skills they need to grow their careers and find a new place in the new economy. Through the Task Force, McDonough will work to shape and lead a larger, longer term national conversation about how the technological revolution can serve all stakeholders in the new economy.

McDonough graduated summa cum laude from St. John’s University (Minn.) with B.A. degrees in history and Spanish. He also holds an M.S. from Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Recent Work

News: Former White House chief of staff teaches master of global affairs students

News: Denis McDonough, former White House chief of staff, joins Keough School of Global Affairs