Mrs. Kay Coles James has an extensive background in crafting public policy and leading in nearly every sector of America’s economy. She has worked at the local, state, and federal levels of government under the administrations of former U.S. President George H. W. Bush (1989–1993); former Virginia Governor George Allen (1994–1996); and former U.S. President George W. Bush (2001–2005) and has also served dozens of organizations in the corporate and nonprofit arenas. James has a passion for serving the youth of America and substantial experience in the field of education.
James served as Dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, from 1996 to 1999. Regent University is a Christian liberal arts school with a combined online and in-person enrollment of approximately 8,900 students. During her time as Dean, she led the SACS accreditation initiative for the school of government. James also served on the Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors from 2010 to 2014. During her time on the board, she chaired the Academic and Health Affairs Committee, which provided oversight and made recommendations to the full board on all policies and plans regarding strategic enrollment management, academic quality, student issues, faculty issues, athletics, and research consistent with the stated goals and objectives of the university. Additionally, the committee provided oversight to the VCU Academic Health Center including its affiliation with the VCU Health System Authority. She and her fellow board members led the effort to fulfill the University President’s goal of making VCU a leading research institution in Virginia. James’s commitment to providing quality education goes beyond just institutions of higher education; she crafted education policy during her time on the Virginia State Board of Education and the Fairfax County School Board. She also served as Director of Community Education and Development for Housing Opportunities Made Equal in Richmond, Virginia.
James served as the president of The Heritage Foundation, America’s premier conservative think tank, from 2018-2021. The Heritage Foundation is dedicated to formulating and promoting conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. She has also served as a trustee of the board since 2005.
James is also the founder of The Gloucester Institute, an organization that trains and nurtures college-age leaders in the African American community. The Gloucester Institute is committed to providing an intellectually safe environment where ideas can be discussed and transformed into practical solutions that produce results. James has also served as Senior Fellow and Director of the Citizenship Project at The Heritage Foundation, Senior Vice President of the Family Research Council, and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for One to One Partnership.
Kay James is a former board member of PNC Financial Services Group, the National Board of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, the Magellan Health Services Board, and Amerigroup Corporation. She is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors and has done continuing board education at the Harvard School of Business.
James has far-reaching experience and respect in the public sector. Under President George H. W. Bush, she served as Associate Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and as Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Following her time in the Bush administration, she was appointed as Secretary of Health and Human Resources under former Virginia Governor George Allen. In this role she designed and implemented Virginia’s landmark welfare reform initiative, affecting 14 state agencies and over 19,000 employees. As Secretary, she also influenced housing policies regarding young, elderly, and low-income Virginians.
In 2001, James was appointed as Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) by President George W. Bush and led a department of 3,600 employees. As Director, she served as the President’s principal advisor in matters of personnel administration for the 1.8 million members of the federal civil service and was responsible for the stewardship of over $650 billion in federal employee assets. In this position, James designed the process and system through which nearly 170,000 employees from 22 different agencies merged into the new Department of Homeland Security. During this time, she also chaired the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council, was a member of the President’s Management Council, and was appointed by President Bush to serve on the White House Fellows Commission.
During her nearly 30-year career, Kay James has served on numerous boards and commissions including the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, Virginia Empowerment Commission, National Commission on Children, Medicaid Commission, Carter–Baker Commission on Election Reform, NASA Advisory Council, Fairfax County School Board, Virginia State Board of Education, Focus on the Family Board of Directors, Young Life Board of Directors, National Advisory Board of the Salvation Army, and Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors.
A graduate of Hampton University, James is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees including a Doctor of Laws from Pepperdine University, the University of Virginia’s Publius Award for Public Service, and the Spirit of Democracy Award for Public Policy Leadership from the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. As a commentator and lecturer, she has appeared on network morning shows and several national news and talk programs. She is the author of three books: her award-winning autobiography Never Forget (1993); Transforming America from the Inside Out (1995); and What I Wish I’d Known Before I Got Married (2001).
Most important, Kay James is the wife of Charles James, Sr., and the proud mother of three grown children and five grandchildren.