Always ready to serve
Since graduating from MSU Denver, the career of Hugo Teufel III has been in overdrive. His latest stop? Serving on the presidential transition team.
How did you feel when you received the call from then President-elect Donald Trump’s team?
I was excited. I actually started working on the transition team in July or August 2016, and was happy to do so. Having worked at the Department of Homeland Security for five years, from 2004 to 2009, I knew I would be able to help the incoming administration if Trump turned out to be the winner. I really was honored to be asked, and I felt lucky.
Your former colleague, Paul Rosenzweig, told the Politico news website you’d make “a great addition to the team.” What were your main contributions?
It’s difficult to talk about the actual transition work we did, beyond a general description. But in terms of my career experience, I arrived at the Department of Homeland Security in January 2004 – and the department had only started in March 2003, so I was there almost from the beginning. [Under President George W. Bush, Teufel served as the first associate general counsel for general law and later as the second chief privacy officer in the Department of Homeland Security.] My work in those jobs was cross-cutting at the department, which gave me a broader perspective on the 200,000-plus-person agency than most would have. My hope and belief is that my experience was useful to the transition team.
What are the main challenges facing the new administration, specifically related to your area of expertise?
I think, generally speaking, there are a lot of actions taken by the previous administration that the new administration wants to correct. After eight years, the previous government made a huge number policy changes – both in foreign and domestic matters – and it’s going to be hard to get all those moving again in a different direction. In terms of privacy, it’s still too early to see which way President Trump will take things, but it’s certainly a very important issue for this country, especially regarding commerce between the United States and the European Union.
Given cybersecurity is such a hot topic, is your work more essential now than ever?
I’m not sure it is more essential than ever, when you consider that we’ve had a cyber-based economy for nearly 25 years now. Cybersecurity has always been important; we as a society just haven’t appreciated its importance until now. The difference now is that we increasingly rely on the internet not just to conduct business, but for the machines we use – cars, appliances and electrical goods. All are interconnected and accessible by the internet. The implications of that are huge.
What are your hopes for the Trump presidency?
I think the general principles that the new president has laid out are good ones: get the budget in order, rebuild the military, and implement changes in foreign and domestic policy. Trump strikes me very much as a change agent. He’s not afraid to take a new and different approach to things.
In what way did your time at MSU Denver help shape the person you’ve become?
Being at MSU Denver gave me the freedom and the time to think about what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. I had a stop-and-start college education and worked jobs throughout. Because I did that and took the courses I was interested in, I got a better sense of where I ultimately wanted my career to go. Certainly, my time at MSU Denver pointed me in the direction of public service, which is what I’ve done ever since.
My German class lecturer, Gudrun Clay, was very influential. Because of her, I minored in German, and I also participated in a summer-semester-abroad program in Germany (through Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.). Drs. Byrns and Stone, my economics professors, were also important influences. Their guidance and instruction, along with my experiences abroad, changed the direction of my studies and gave me a great motivation to finally get my diploma, so I could go out there and start working. And that’s what happened. Straight after graduating, I moved to D.C. and began working for the government. But the point is: I don’t think I would ever have thought of doing all these things if MSU Denver hadn’t given me space and opened my eyes to the wider world.
Any advice you’d give to today’s students hoping to make their way in the world and have a successful career?
Stick to the fundamentals. Work hard. Study. Travel. Do your best, always. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and understand that you will fail frequently. Don’t give up. Ever. You’ll be all right.