Melody Barnes

Assistant to the President and Director, the White House Domestic Policy Council (2009-2012)

Melody Barnes served as assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC) from January 2009 until January 2012. In that capacity, she provided strategic advice to President Obama and worked closely with members of the Cabinet coordinating the domestic policy agenda across the administration.

Under Barnes’ leadership, innovative new policies, practices and partnerships were initiated to address significant national challenges. Barnes was instrumental in crafting the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, including the ground breaking education reform initiative, Race to the Top. She worked closely with Education Secretary Arne Duncan to create new partnerships with the private sector that deploy math and science resources and expertise to school districts around the country. Barnes also helped secure the most significant reform of higher education in forty years while serving as one of President Obama’s chief negotiators of the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act.

During Barnes’ tenure, the DPC began working with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Treasury to implement the health care reform legislation, coordinated government-wide implementation of critical new food safety executive actions and crafted and began implementing the first comprehensive national strategy to address the domestic HIV/AIDS epidemic. Barnes worked closely with First Lady Michelle Obama and the Let’s Move! campaign, chairing the President’s cross-government working group tasked with developing policies to eliminate childhood obesity in a generation.

Barnes coordinated key Administration initiatives to reform the federal government’s relationship with local governments and communities. In partnership with the private and non-profit sectors, the country’s first Social Innovation Fund currently supports the work of community-based organizations prepared to scale solutions to health care, economic and youth development challenges. Similarly, the Strong Cities, Strong Communities program deploys the human capital and resources of over a dozen federal agencies and the philanthropic sector to implement locally-conceived economic development plans in chronically ailing cities around the country.

Prior to her work in the White House, Barnes served on the leadership team for the Obama-Biden Transition Project where she co-directed the Agency Review Working Group. In addition, Barnes served as senior domestic policy advisor to the Obama for America campaign. During the campaign, she helped coordinate policy development and served as a surrogate across the country, as well as on television and radio. Barnes’ media appearances include The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Charlie Rose, Morning Joe, Andrea Mitchell Reports, The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, CNN Newsroom, TODAY, Good Morning AmericaNewsHour with Jim LehrerFox NewsThe Diane Rehm Show, All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michele Martin.

Until July 2008, Barnes was the executive vice president for Policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive research institute and think tank. From December 1995 until March 2003, Barnes worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee; she served as his chief counsel from 1998 until she left the Committee in 2003. Barnes’ experience also includes an appointment as director of Legislative Affairs for the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Barnes began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City.

Today, Barnes is co-founder of MBSquared Solutions LLC, a domestic strategy firm and vice provost for Global Student Leadership Initiatives and Senior Fellow at the Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service at New York University. Barnes also serves as chair of the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and on the Board of Directors of the $85 million national workforce development non-profit, Year Up; The Marguerite Casey Foundation; Ventas Inc., an S&P 500 company and leading healthcare real estate investment trust, and Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation. 

With her husband, Barnes is co-founder of ForeverView Farms, a Central Virginia agricultural business that produces high-quality, free-range livestock using regenerative practices that improve the ecosystem and will create economic opportunity in the region and beyond.

Born and reared in Richmond, Virginia, Barnes received her law degree from the University of Michigan and her Bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she graduated with honors in history. Barnes recently returned to her hometown to deepen her work on the local level and currently resides in Richmond, VA with her husband, Marland Buckner.