The Wagon Master
Allyson Bell gets things done in Washington
by Kayla Smith (’07)
Allyson Bell (’83) never has an average workday. As the chief of staff for Utah Senator Mike Lee, Allyson is literally one in one hundred, and after 34 years in politics, she knows her way around Washington, DC.
Allyson built her career on a foundation of practical skills she gained through her degree in applied politics from Westminster. The applied politics program was created in partnership with the American Institute of Applied Politics, a consultant group. “They taught us how to read polls, write strategy, do fundraising, and manage campaigns. When I graduated, I had the skills people wanted to hire,” says Allyson.
Allyson immediately went to Washington, DC, and put those skills to work on political campaigns. She eventually returned to Utah and began working with Governor Mike Leavitt, shifting her career trajectory away from campaigns and toward management, and serving as campaign manager for his last run for governor. Allyson returned to DC with Leavitt when he became Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator under President George W. Bush and again when he was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). “It was during my time at HHS that I really got to know Washington,” Allyson says.
As HHS Secretary, Leavitt oversaw a quarter of the federal budget and 90,000 employees. It was Allyson’s responsibility to help him manage these resources and achieve his priorities through his schedule. “All elected officials come in with a list of things they want to do,” Allyson says. “It is my job to keep things moving forward and overcome obstacles.”
Allyson earned the nickname “The Wagon Master” from Leavitt while at HHS because of her keen ability to strategically orchestrate many moving pieces to come together and achieve their agenda. Over a four-year time span, she masterfully managed Leavitt’s schedule: he visited all 50 states an average of three times, as well as nearly 40 countries, discussing weighty topics such as pandemic preparedness and natural disasters.
As Allyson’s career progressed, each role was an opportunity to learn and do more. When Mike Lee was elected senator, Allyson came on board to help set up his office. Several years and a re-election later, Allyson was the obvious choice to step in as Lee’s chief of staff. “My goal was never to become chief of staff, but to use my skills to help the people I work with move policy that will help shape the country. That is what I think public service is.”
When asked what she enjoys most about her job, besides influencing public policy, Allyson says it is working with the younger staff members. “They come to me because of the things I’ve seen and done. I like helping them with the next steps of their careers.”
In today’s current political climate, it is easy to assume that it would be frustrating for someone whose job is to make sure things get done in Washington, but Allyson is not discouraged. “No matter what profession you’re in, it is the relationships you build,” Allyson says, referring to bipartisanship happening around issues not getting as much attention from the mainstream media. “It’s always a fun day in Washington.”
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.