Helen Kanovsky, General Counsel

The Obama administration is full of veterans from the Clinton years, but relatively few officials have experience stretching back to the previous Democratic president, Jimmy Carter. That's when Kanovsky, 62, got her start as the executive assistant to then-HUD Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris. Kanovsky says this experience just a few years after graduating from law school sparked a career interest in housing issues, "from the social justice aspect in what we do "¦ to the intellectual and historical perspective of housing issues through the New Deal and Great Society into the present." She rose to become the executive vice president of GE Capital Asset Management before becoming the general counsel — and later chief operating officer — of the AFL-CIO's Housing Investment Trust, which invests pension funds in housing securities. Kanovsky also served as then-Sen. John Kerry's chief of staff in the late 1990s. Apart from a brief mix-up before her congressional hearings when she had to remind the White House that she hadn't been formally nominated yet, Kanovsky sped through the confirmation process in 2009. She went to work supervising the legal aspects of the national mortgage settlement, a program dealing with mortgage-lending abuses; revitalizing the agency's investigative division; and leading an ongoing effort to bring federal mortgage documents "into the 21st century." Kanovsky grew up in Pennsylvania and earned an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.