Pamela Cashwell has led the N.C. Department of Administration since April 2021 as a key member of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Cabinet. The agency describes its broad range of responsibilities as the “business manager” for state government and “a voice for underserved communities.”
A native of Fayetteville who holds undergraduate and law degrees from UNC Chapel Hill, Cashwell is the first American Indian woman to serve as a Cabinet secretary in state history.
What are some of the past jobs you’ve held outside of state government? I’ve had the privilege of working in both federal and state government. I served for nearly 10 years at the federal level working first with the Department of Agriculture, then White House Counsel’s Office and then several areas within the Department of Justice as a trial attorney. I also did a stint with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia. When I returned to North Carolina I worked for several years with the nonprofit N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law before joining state government, initially with the State Ethics Commission and then the Department of Public Safety.
What lessons from those roles have you applied to your current position? I started my federal service working in departmental administration at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It was my first exposure to many of the same administrative operations I currently oversee like procurement, property management and disadvantaged business utilization. We worked hard to reduce the amount of red tape for agencies and the public. Being in that constant mode of system review and process improvement has stayed with me.
As a trial lawyer, I learned a lot of investigative, analytical and negotiation skills. I think my team would say that I’m someone who likes to gather information, process it and then develop a plan. The negotiation skills help when trying to navigate the challenges to implementation and dealing with a broad array of stakeholders.
What's the most common misconception about your agency? Many people do not know what DOA does. We have 14 diverse divisions that cover a wide range of services that are essential for other state agencies, as well as our community colleges and public universities. Our work is critical to their successful daily operations — from construction and facility maintenance of state buildings, to providing and maintaining state vehicles, mail and parking services as well as policy and guidance on procuring goods and services. But we also have wide community outreach through our advocacy programs — such as providing support to human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual assault shelters, engaging youth through state youth councils and internship programs, assisting small, minority, women-owned and other historically underutilized businesses, and providing support and services to indigenous communities – and the list goes on.
Who do you most admire, and why? I admire my parents so much. My father is deceased but he was great man. He and my mother were both from poor farm families in Sampson and Cumberland counties. As American Indians growing up in the rural south, (both were born in the 1930s and were members of the Coharie and Lumbee tribes), they faced some real challenges — social and economic. Both attended East Carolina American Indian school in Sampson County because it was the only option for indigenous kids in that area. They worked extraordinarily hard to provide for our family. Both went on to start their own small businesses and my mom later worked for the state; actually for the N.C. Department of Administration. She traveled to rural communities around the state to establish a variety of programs and often took me with her. I definitely gained my passion for public service from mom. My dad was a strong Christian and a jack of all trades. He taught me to be self-sufficient, adventurous and to work hard, but to take time for rest and family. God and family were my father’s priorities.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about how to get things done in state government? I don’t know if this was advice or just what I have learned over the years. First, there are so many amazing state employees who work hard every day. Many have felt underappreciated and undervalued for years. They know the issues and challenges and how to improve operations. To make things happen, your team has to be engaged and have a “can do attitude.” I value our DOA employees greatly and try to ensure all of our employees know we are all on the same team, that I support them and will fight for what we need to do our jobs well. Second, relationships are critical. Whether trying to secure financial resources or just move a multi-agency project forward, having strong relationships with other leaders across all branches of government is very helpful. Knowing who to call is sometimes half the challenge.
Where do you most enjoy taking an out-of-town visitor in your hometown? Fayetteville has done a lot to revitalize the downtown area so I enjoy sharing the downtown with visitors. In fact, I had my wedding reception (many years ago) at the old historic post office, which has been the Arts Center for some time.. There is a very cool U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum. It is really first class, interesting for kids and adults alike, and I highly recommend it. There are also a number of really good restaurants and coffee shops right downtown. If it is baseball season, attending a Fayetteville Woodpeckers minor league baseball game is a “must-do” event. The new stadium is beautiful and who doesn’t like a great baseball game in a fun atmosphere?
What is your favorite hobby outside of work? I love gardening and just in general being outside, hiking, etc. N.C. has such amazing state parks. I love exploring and discovering areas of the state I haven’t seen before and getting exercise at the same time.