Meet Valerie Baldwin, our new Senior VP of Government Affairs
Leidos recently appointed Valerie L. Baldwin as the company’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs (GA). Based in Washington, D.C., Baldwin will direct a GA staff of seven and serve as the lead advocate for Leidos on Capitol Hill. Her distinguished career includes stints with Lockheed Martin, three different House of Representatives’ Appropriations Subcommittees, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Baldwin is a former federal trial attorney, a current member of the Bar of the District of Columbia, and also previously served as the Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Army, a presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed role.
She received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Kansas School of Law and holds a Master of Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Baldwin earned a Bachelor of Arts from Wichita State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude.
What are you most excited about in your new role here at Leidos?
I'm very excited to learn more about all the programs and where the company is headed, and how government affairs fits into all of that. For me, one of the most important and exciting parts of any new job is actually getting to know everyone, so I'm also looking forward to learning more about the people with whom I am going to work with, both directly and indirectly.
I love government affairs and I'm excited to see where we stand and if there's any room for change in the future. I'm looking forward to thinking through those things. I haven’t led a government affairs operation before, so for me, it's a huge honor and I’m excited about the challenge.
What part of government affairs work do you enjoy the most and why?
The area that I probably know the best and that I'm the most comfortable with, is Congressional relations. I spent 24 years in federal service, 19 of which was spent on Capitol Hill. I love policy and policymaking. I like taking an issue, learning where the lawmaker wants to take the policy, and then figuring out a way to get there while building consensus along the way. For me, policymaking is a big puzzle and I love putting the pieces together. So Congressional relations is what I really love, it's where I grew up, and it's a major part of the fabric that makes me who I am.
What was your impression of Leidos before joining? What kind of reputation do you think the company has on Capitol Hill?
When I worked on the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, Leidos was one of the companies that came to see us regularly because of their border security work. The company always made a terrific impression. Leidos is credible, it is reputable and I could depend on them to tell me the good, the bad and the ugly and I always appreciated that. From a Capitol Hill perspective, having lobbyists and company officials educate you is important, but so is transparency because it builds credibility.
What are some of the topics within government affairs that you think you will be prioritizing in your role?
We have some very important programs. The Department of Defense’s MHS Genesis, which is the electronic health record program for the Military Health System, and what we're doing in border security with non-intrusive inspection systems at ports of entry, are both really important programs. But I really want to learn more about every part of the business and then figure out where my team and I need to focus our efforts. For the next couple months, I plan to receive far more than transmit, because that’s how I discover issues and learn how to prioritize them. I feel strongly, however, that the government affairs team needs to be aligned with the company’s pursuits to support its efforts to win more business.
I've had a lot of people talk to me about how the government affairs team here packs a big punch for such a small footprint. I'm very impressed with the team and think Leidos and the GA team has a lot to be proud of. The question in my mind is, as the company grows, how should government affairs morph and grow with it? Right now we're focused primarily on the Congressional side of things, but do we need to open the aperture a little bit and become a true government affairs operation?
What are some of the biggest challenges currently or coming up that the government contracting industry is going to face in the political arena?
The challenges in Congressional affairs change every year, but the one constant is how much spending the federal government is willing to undertake and when will they make decisions about that spending. And that's on both the defense and non-defense sides of the budget.
Defense contractors are constantly navigating the failure to get a budget done on time or get appropriations bills done on time, so they end up operating in the rather nebulous world of continuing resolutions, which is always a challenge for any contractor – and it's a challenge for the government as well. Contractors are stymied from making decisions that are forward-looking because they’re still working within the confines of last year's budget. And last year's budget was probably built a couple of years ago so conditions have certainly changed. In this situation, contractors lose the dependability of a consistent budget stream, and that impacts contract fulfillment. CRs create a very complex world for federal contractors. It’s an unfortunate challenge I suspect will continue.
Among some of your past roles, you were the Army’s Chief Financial Officer and also a federal trial attorney. When and why did you make the switch into government affairs?
I actually started on Capitol Hill. I interned on the Hill in college and I absolutely loved it, I guess you could say I got a case of “Potomac fever.” The reason I ended up going to law school is because, while drafting some pretty simple legislation, I worked with a congressional organization in the Senate called Legislative Counsel. They’re all attorneys and specialize in drafting legislation. I realized I was completely dependent on these people to represent the senator's policy. They were also dependent on me to articulate what we were looking for, but that was the moment that drove me to law school.
I ended up loving the law. I worked as a legal aid attorney and loved the work, but somehow I just kept getting jobs in the government. I then became a trial attorney for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). I did not choose that, they chose me, and it was a job, so I took it. Most of my lawsuits were in low-income housing areas, and then, out of the blue, I got a phone call from the Banking Committee in the House of Representatives asking if I’d consider applying to be Counsel for low-income housing programs, and I got the job.
Interestingly enough, that job led to a job on the Appropriations Committee doing the HUD account on the old VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Subcommittee. After that, I was planning to leave Capitol Hill and my boss came to me and said, "The Department of Defense is instituting a new privatized housing program for service members and we think you might be the right person to provide oversight." So that's how I made the jump into the defense world.
You're on the Board of Directors for Homes for Our Troops. Can you tell us about that organization and their mission? Are there any other organizations or initiatives that you’re involved with?
Homes for Our Troops is a nonprofit organization that builds homes that are specially adapted for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disabled Veterans. It's an organization I’m really passionate about. We build the home and then we give the deed to the service member so that they don't have a mortgage payment. The reason I'm passionate about it is not just that we've given them a home, but we give them a foundation for everything else. The home provides a solid base for them to continue to get better and to have a place for their family. Family stability is absolutely critical to the well-being of not just the service member but his or her family. And in many cases, our veterans are able to focus on getting their careers on track and on rebuilding their lives. Not having to worry about a mortgage payment has let them focus on themselves, on their recovery, and on their families.
Another organization I've been involved with and have a great deal of passion for is something called the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC), a nonprofit organization out of Killeen, Texas. They work with schools to find ways to make sure that military connected kids get the attention they need when they are in mostly public schools.
Military kids move around quite a bit and changing schools is one of the most challenging things a child will ever face. But military kids tackle that problem every two to three years. MCEC trains school systems, teachers, and administrators on how to identify and respond to the complex needs of military and veteran-connected kids. They pursue policies and initiatives to ensure the educational needs of these children are recognized at all levels.
Which one of your professional accomplishments are you most proud of?
I’m lucky to have worked for super people and leaders who supported and encouraged me to try many things. They accepted me where I was, yet pushed me as well. In addition, I've worked with amazing people. As a consequence, there are many projects I’ve been associated with that I’m proud of. If I had to choose one, it would be a 2006 initiative the Army undertook to overcome a major budget shortfall in its topline and in the war-time budget. While I led the team, it was definitely an enormous group effort where we worked to overcome the shortfall. The Army Budget Office put together an estimate of what it really cost to run the Army. The methodology they developed really could not be questioned. We ended up getting an $18 billion increase in supplemental funds for the war, and a significant top line budget increase.
What’s one hobby you have that might surprise people?
I love to cook and try new recipes. Most of the time, I make very simple things. I spend a lot of time baking, which is somehow very cathartic. I even made Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's wedding cake when the recipe came out in the Washington Post.