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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Out of Her Comfort Zone

NIDCR Branch Chief Shares View from the White House

Rutberg headshot

NIDCR's Diana Rutberg spent a year in a White House leadership program.

Diana “Dede” Rutberg will never look at iron and steel—or the White House—the same way again after graduating from the White House Leadership Development Program. The whirlwind, year-long experience transformed her from chief of the Grants Management Branch at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to one of a dozen or so temporary staff charged with implementing the recently launched “Made in America” office. 

The office was designed to strengthen American manufacturing, create jobs and boost the economy. It requires all government-funded projects to use materials manufactured in the U.S. whenever possible. Rutberg needed to coordinate across numerous agencies to write policies that accomplish the program’s goals while balancing the concerns of individual agencies. 

The highly competitive leadership program required seven rounds of interviews. Rutberg is only the second NIH’er to participate in the eight-year-old program. 

Large group of people in White House room with ornate decorations on walls

President Joe Biden (standing, c) with leadership program participants

“I’d been at NIH for 20-plus years, always in grants management,” said Rutberg, explaining why she considered applying for the program, “and it felt like it was the time to do something drastically out of my comfort zone.”

She spent the first three or four months just getting acquainted with a body of information that was foreign to her. 

“I was learning about iron and steel and construction materials,” she said. “I had to digest all the information about Made in America and digest it quickly and accurately. I was drinking from a fire hose.”

What did she learn about how the government functions?

“I really got a bird’s eye view as well as an on-the-ground view of how the federal agencies work,” she concluded. “It can be hard to develop broad policies because all of these agencies have their own purposes and goals, but it was really interesting to see how streamlined things could be if there was a specific mission and goal. It was refreshing to see [so many different agencies] come together and be collegial and share best practices.”

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