From protecting consumers to fighting the war on terrorism, these UGA alumni hold critical positions in the federal government
Consumer watch dog
Alumnus Inez Tenenbaum’s job is to protect consumers, particularly children, from dangerous products
Inez Tenenbaum keeps a lot of pictures in her Bethesda, Md., office. Computer printouts of her staffers’ children are taped to the walls, and photographs peer out from under the glass on her conference table.
One photo is particularly special, and Tenenbaum (BSEd ’72, MEd ’74) keeps it close to remind her of why her job is so important. The snapshot of Danny Keysar was taken when he was a toddler, not long before the top rail of the defective portable crib at his childcare facility collapsed, trapping and strangling him. At 16 months old, Danny was dead.
As a result of his death, Danny’s parents, Boaz Keysar and Linda Ginzel (University of Chicago professors), began a nonprofit organization called Kids in Danger, and began lobbying for stricter regulations on products designed for children. In 2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which bans lead and other dangerous materials from products made for children, toughens testing requirements for manufacturers and importers, and requires mandatory federal standards for toys and durable nursery equipment.
“As of this year, we have the strongest crib standard in the world,” says Tenenbaum, since 2009 the chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. “That’s what makes this work so rewarding.”
Tenenbaum was nominated to the post by President Barack Obama, who she met in 2004 when he was a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, and she was a candidate for the U.S. Senate from South Carolina. Obama campaigned in South Carolina for Tenenbaum, who lost to Jim DeMint. She later was the first statewide elected official to endorse Obama’s presidential candidacy in South Carolina and worked on his behalf in South Carolina and in other states.
Though she grew up in tiny Pineview, Ga., near Hawkinsville, and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from UGA, Tenenbaum has spent most of her adult life in the Palmetto State. After working for a short time as a public school teacher in Georgia, she moved to South Carolina to work for the Department of Social Services licensing federally funded Head Start programs. While there she helped push through a state child care licensing law. She later worked as the director of research for a standing committee in the South Carolina House of Representatives before deciding to go to law school at age 32.
After graduating from the University of South Carolina law school, she worked in a private practice law firm for five years in the areas of health, environmental and public interest law. In one of her last cases, she was appointed the guardian of 600 incarcerated youth involved in a federal juvenile justice class action lawsuit.
Based on that experience, in 1992 she began a nonprofit organization, the South Carolina Center for Family Policy, to help reform the state’s juvenile justice system.
In 1994, she ran for lieutenant governor, but lost the Democratic primary. Four years later she ran for state superintendent of schools and won. During her two terms in that position, she oversaw a public school system in which student achievement improved at the fastest rate in the nation, based on state, national and international test scores.
Also during her tenure, the South Carolina legislature passed the Education and Economic Development Act, creating programs to better prepare students for postsecondary education and the workforce, and passed a $1 billion state school bond for school facilities.
Her current job at the CPSC “really opened my vistas,” she says, taking her around the world to promote new safety standards and regulations for exports to the U.S.
Tenenbaum and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the CPSC’s National Product Testing and Evaluation Center in Rockville, Md.
Rules effective January 2012 include requiring companies to have independent third party testing done on toys exported to the U.S.
Having taken the reins of the CPSC during a time when there were significant recalls of products made in China, Tenenbaum has had to be vigilant to restore consumers’ trust. In addition to the new regulations governing lead levels and safety testing, the agency also has worked with U.S. customs officials to identify products coming in to the country that have not met stringent standards.
“It has really been a wonderful opportunity to see how the global market works,” she says.
With a home and husband in Columbia, S.C., Tenenbaum commutes, flying home most Fridays and back to Bethesda, where she has an apartment just blocks from her office, on Mondays. Her appointment ends in 2013, but it could be extended into 2014, or she could be reappointed to another seven-year term.
“It’s not clear to me where I’ll be next,” she says. “I think about it, but I’m always amazed at how the doors have opened. Opportunities present themselves in the least expected ways.”
by Kelly Simmons
Investor watch dog
One of thousands of child immigrants to the U.S., alumnus Luis Aguilar now holds a prominent post in federal government
The year was 1960 and 6-year-old Luis Aguilar’s parents were hearing the rumors in their native Cuba: Fidel Castro planned to have all of the Cuban children sent to camps. Over the next two years, parents would send 14,000 children to Miami to escape the educational indoctrination they feared.
“Operation Pedro Pan” (Spanish for Peter Pan) was the largest exodus ever of children from a country in the Western Hemisphere.
Aguilar and his brother, like many kids, went to live with relatives and friends until their parents were able to join them several years later. Others were taken in by Catholic churches and the community of Cubans in Florida City, just south of Miami, which provided lodging, food, clothes and support for the immigrant children.
Four decades have passed since Aguilar made that trip, but it remains one of the reasons he cites for his work in public service today.
“I arrived in this country with three pairs of underwear and a couple of changes of clothes,” says Aguilar (JD ’79), now a commissioner with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “I had a debt to pay back to this country.”
In December, Aguilar was sworn in to his first full term as an SEC commissioner, a seat he has held since 2008 when he was appointed by President George W. Bush to fill the remaining years of a vacancy. He was reappointed by President Barack Obama to the position that he will hold at least until June 2015.
The post has allowed him to use the skills he built as a lawyer with the SEC, his first job out of law school, and later in corporate and securities law with several prominent Atlanta firms. He also saw it as a way to give back in his career as a public servant in addition to the work he had been doing as a volunteer with organizations in Atlanta.
“It had a strong appeal to me emotionally,” he says.
He had no idea how tumultuous the next few years would be. In September 2008, just six weeks after he was sworn in, the nation saw a volatility in the financial markets the likes of which had not been seen since the Great Depression, he says. The prominent securities firm Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, while Merrill Lynch, another major player in the financial industry, agreed to be sold to Bank of America as a way to stem its downward financial spiral.
“Then Madoff shows up in December,” he says, referring to Bernie Madoff, the New York financier who cheated investors out of $50 million through an elaborate Ponzi scheme.
It was clear then, Aguilar says, that the status quo had to change. For the past three years, he has helped craft legislation to prevent future financial crises of that magnitude.
“It’s important that we do it right,” he says. “My job here is to protect the investors.”
His life now is a far cry from his childhood, which included moving around with his family as his father, a physician, found jobs with state and federal hospitals, first in Ravenna, Ohio, later in cities like Little Rock, Ark., and Rome, Ga.
In Little Rock, Aguilar and his family felt the tension between white and black Americans, and the discrimination against Latinos.
“We, at the time, couldn’t speak the language,” he says. “At the time we were not embraced by either of the communities.”
However, just a year later in Rome, he found a more welcoming community. “I was actually fitting in,” he says.
When his parents moved again Aguilar was a rising high school junior and didn’t want to leave Rome. He was invited to stay and live with a friend’s family.
“They treated me just like their son,” he recalls.
A chance conversation when he stopped for gas in Statesboro led him to Georgia Southern University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science. It was then on to UGA for law school, where he became interested in corporate law, taxes and securities.
In December, Luis Aguilar, his wife Denise by his side, is sworn in to his first full term as an SEC commissioner.
When he graduated, he went to work for the SEC regional office in Atlanta. After three years there, where he gained tremendous experience in a lot of different areas, he went into private practice, and in the 1990s became involved with a number of nonprofit organizations in Georgia including the Latin American Association, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the Girl Scouts Council of Northwest Georgia, among others. He also served a term as a member of the UGA Alumni Association board.
Because of his background, Aguilar has often spoken out about the need for more diversity in the SEC and on Wall Street.
“The U.S. was made stronger by diversity, by immigrants that have come to our shores,” he says. “I’m really the product of the generosity of the American people.”
by Kelly Simmons
Military watch dog
Grady alumnus Bryan Salas oversees U.S. Marines’ efforts to tell stories about the military to American civilians
Heads turn as Col. Bryan Salas (ABJ ’87) walks into an Athens coffee shop. His decorated uniform, cropped hair and straight posture command a sense of respect. But as the director of public affairs for the U.S. Marine Corps slides into a booth, his smile is at ease.
Salas pulls out a folder of pictures and begins to talk about earthquake relief in the Philippines and the time he spent in Iraq. He pauses on a black-and-white photo of rugby players.
“This was at UGA,” he says. “I joined the Marines right out of high school, but I got to come here while I trained.”
He was part of the Platoon Leaders Class, a program that offers college students summer training and a commission after graduation. He came in not knowing what to study but soon found a major.
U.S. Marine Col. Bryan Salas measures the heat of summer in the shade outside his office at Camp Fallujah, Iraq.
“When I took intro to journalism I was floored by the opportunities to have adventures and write about them,” says Salas, who studied public relations at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
He accepted his commission as a second lieutenant on graduation day, and 12 months later he was stationed in Japan as a young combat engineer.
“A lot of people don’t realize that about 70 percent of Marines are younger than 25,” he says. “I was surrounded by guys just like me.”
Salas and his fellow Marines spent time in Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. They traveled through villages, training with the local military, offering humanitarian aid and spending time with locals.
When he returned to the U.S. he employed his public relations skills and spent time recruiting for the Marines at high schools in the Midwest.
“After coming back from Japan, I learned that these small-town high schoolers had the same dreams as kids from Korean farming families and Iraqi insurgent families I visited later in my career,” Salas says. Like families from America, they all wanted their children to be safe and prosperous.
After a few years, Salas decided to move to the Marine Corps public affairs division from his position in engineering.
Salas speaks last fall to students in a public relations class at the Grady College about the importance of public affairs work concerning national security issues.
“Public affairs is different from PR, because you’re not trying to influence people,” he says. “Your moral and legal [obligation] is to provide facts so people can make well-educated decisions.”
Salas honed his reporting skills at the Defense Information School, the journalism-training field for military public affairs officers.
“We learned everything from photography to broadcasting, but the most important thing was writing—writing and storytelling,” he says. “Through storytelling you reveal the human condition [of our military] to Americans.”
As a public affairs officer, Salas covered various regions including Eastern Europe and South Africa. While serving in Asia, he was part of the public affairs advisory team to William Cohen, President Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense.
“I advised on what the press was interested in so that he would know what to focus on at press conferences,” he says. “I would say, ‘They’re going to ask you about this or they’re critical of this policy.’”
During the Bush administration he protected U.S. interests in Haiti as a United Nations representative. From 2006 to 2007 he went to Iraq, where he served as the Multi-National Force West spokesman.
“I went to Iraq right before the surge,” he says. “My job as a storyteller was to share the courage of young Marines with the American people.”
Salas accompanies troops in an armored vehicle close to the Syrian border in order to share stories about the courage of Marines in Iraq.
In 2009 Salas was promoted to director of Marine Corps public affairs. Working out of the Pentagon, Salas supervises a five-section, 62-person headquarters and more than 50 field offices with 1,000 personnel, including permanent field offices in the Far East and Europe.
“I look at the big picture and express the commander’s intent,” he says. “Right now under tough economic times our main intent is to demonstrate the value of the Marine Corps to the nation.”
Salas passes this intent on to public affairs officers throughout the world. He plans to retire this year, but until then he’s committed to the mission of military public affairs.
“It’s like maintaining a vehicle,” he says. “Constant maintenance is less expensive than repairing a part. We’re constantly engaging and informing Americans and people in the countries where we’re stationed.”
by Grace Morris
Advertising watch dog
Alumnus Mamie Kresses feeds her inner scientist while protecting consumers from deceptive practices
The Internet is a safer place for children, thanks in part to Mamie Kresses.
An attorney with the Federal Trade Commission, Kresses (BA ’79, JD ’82) heads the effort to prevent businesses and organizations from collecting personal information about children, like their full names, addresses, email addresses and social security numbers, without their parents’ permission.
“Parents should know these things are going on and have a right to say no,” Kresses says.
It is Kresses’ second run with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, which was enacted in 1998. Now she is overseeing efforts to update the law to keep up with technology.
The Atlanta native has been with the FTC since 1988, after four years of working with her father in Atlanta as an associate at Birnbrey, Kresses & Benda. Though she had anticipated practicing environmental law, a move to Washington, D.C., with her husband opened the door to the FTC.
Her first assignment with the commission was with the Division of Marketing Practices. In that role she brought cases against telemarketers and businesses that were soliciting models and representing themselves falsely to consumers. She discovered many of the cases were in the Sun Belt states.
“It’s just as easy to rob people in a nice climate as it is in a poor climate,” she says, remembering one guy who was running a scheme from New Jersey. “He didn’t know he could sit on a beach and rip people off.”
The prevalence of the Internet changed the focus of her caseload. As an attorney for the Division of Advertising Practices she handled cases involving online privacy and data security. One area of focus was commercially sold spyware that could capture a consumer’s personal information from his computer without his knowledge. It was a very simple scheme, she says, in which one person would send another person an email with an attachment, indicating a photo or memo. When the recipient opened the attachment the spyware would silently download on his or her computer.
“The recipient had no way of knowing,” she says. Though the company’s defense was that the product was intended for parents and employers to check up on their children and employees, the FTC argued that it was being used in an unfair or deceptive way. Prior to trial, the spyware company agreed to an order requiring them to alert recipients and get permission before downloading spyware on their computers.
Kresses also has cases involving mainstream advertising, where the product is legitimate but does not do what its ads promise.
One case, against Schering Plough, challenged the company’s claim that its sunscreen product “Coppertone Kids” provided all-day sun protection for active children with just one application.
The science did not back the claim, Kresses says.
In a case she is particularly proud of, Kresses worked with U.S. cigar manufacturers to establish a warning label on cigar advertisements, much like that on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
“There was a perception that cigars are a safer alternative,” Kresses says. “They come with cancer risks just like any other tobacco product.”
The project was a great example of industry, the state attorneys general offices and the FTC working together, amicably, to address an issue, she says.
Part of the thrill of her work, says Kresses, who admits she is a want-to-be scientist, is getting to look at the data behind a product to determine whether it supports the manufacturer’s claims.
“I’ve been able to get a glimpse into these other worlds I wouldn’t know much about,” she says. “It’s allowed me to be a lawyer but get my feet wet in the sciences.”
by Kelly Simmons
Homeland security watch dog
Law alumnus Valerie Caproni has a diverse background, prosecuting mafia criminals, redeveloping a vital area of Manhattan and helping restore confidence in the FBI after the 9/11 attacks
Valerie Caproni moved back to New York from Los Angeles to begin a new job in a private law firm in August 2001, just a few weeks before the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Two years later, she was general counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, one of the main organizations investigating the terrorist attack and how to prevent another attack.
“When I first got there it was in such disarray,” Caproni (JD ’79) says. “The bureau had historically managed by saying ‘do this,’ but no one was really making sure [the message was conveyed and understood] down through the ranks.”
Over the next few years it would be part of Caproni’s job to help set policies and procedures for the agency so that it accomplished what it intended and was consistent with the Constitution and U.S. law.
“It was fascinating,” she says. “It was a really interesting job. I was very connected to the mission of the FBI.”
Growing up in Columbus, Ga., Caproni always wanted to be a lawyer, she says. After earning her undergraduate degree from Tulane University, she came back to Georgia to law school.
“I loved to argue,” Caproni says. “I was on the debate team in high school.”
Her first job out of Georgia Law was clerking for the Hon. Phyllis Kravitch, the first woman appointed to what would become the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. It was a great job, she says, and allowed her to return to New Orleans every few weeks for court.
After the clerkship she joined a corporate law firm in New York and at first was a little intimidated.
“I very quickly learned I’d gotten a splendid legal education at Georgia,” she says. “I felt confident I could go toe-to-toe with anyone.”
Even so, she knew she wanted to be back in the public sector.
She moved to Brooklyn for a job in the U.S. attorney’s office there. Her caseload was diverse, ranging from small postal cases and narcotics to white-collar and organized crime.
It was a job she calls an extraordinary experience. But then came another offer, a far cry from the mafia drug-dealing cases she had been prosecuting. She became general counsel for the N.Y. State Urban Development Corporation (UDC), which was begun in 1968 to address the shortage of low-income housing in New York. One of the projects during her time there was the redevelopment of 42nd Street, which was at the time a blighted, crime-ridden area in the center of Manhattan.
“I thought, ‘what the heck, it would be fun,’” she says. “It was fascinating. I learned things that otherwise I never would have known about city planning.”
The lure of criminal law was too much and soon she was back in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, this time rising to the level of chief of the criminal division. She oversaw about 100 prosecutors but always kept at least one case for herself.
Her next move seems as much a detour as her job with the UDC. In 1998 Caproni moved to Los Angeles to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission. While the work was interesting, the lure of New York was too strong so three years later she moved back to New York and back into private practice, where she was just before 9/11. After a couple of years of white-collar crime work, she got the call from the FBI.
After eight years with the bureau, Caproni recently returned to private practice, this time as the deputy general counsel of Northrop Grumman Corporation in Falls Church, Va. Northrop Grumman designs and manufactures military aircraft, defense electronics and precision weapons, among other things. Customers include government agencies, such as the U.S. Air Force.
“I’m learning a whole new industry, a whole new area of the law,” she says. “It’s fascinating.”
by Kelly Simmons