There are those who suggest anyone who has worked for a corporate entity should not be in the Biden administration. That kind of thinking is insanity. Having experience and contacts in both government and the private sector can be a plus as long as the right ethics controls are in place. We must not assume anyone having worked in the private sector has no ethics.
Those who believe in some kind of purity test have focused on Anthony Blinken, Biden’s choice to be Secretary of State, who founded a consulting firm, WestExec Advisors, during the Trump presidency, and Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice to lead OMB, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. My take is both these individuals will serve our country well and will use all their wealth of knowledge and experience to do so.
It is also important for each government employee to abide by a strict set of ethics rules that guide their actions and let them sever connections with former clients or funders to ensure they are not making decisions on their own that would benefit those connections. It would be unusual for smart people not to have various experiences and jobs over the span of their career.
To ensure compliance with strict ethics guidelines, according to the Washington Post: “Behind the scenes, Biden’s advisers have tried to confront the apparent conflicts directly, with extensive ethics trainings and detailed rules that bar, in most cases, transition officials from working on issues that could benefit a recent employer or client.” I believe this can be accomplished.
People need to recognize the disaster Trump has left in nearly every federal agency because of the incompetent leadership he appointed and their desire to dismantle nearly every valuable program. In response, Biden is appropriately choosing nominees with extensive experience in the agencies, and working knowledge of the agencies, to which they are being named. People who can quickly size up the situation and know what steps to take to bring those agencies back to a level where they can accomplish what their mission should be.
I understand because of this some young people may be left out at the start. It will mean people from the eight years of the Obama administration might get first shot at some important jobs. Those are the people who have the experience. We must also recognize since Biden served as vice president for those eight years he knows those people well and trusts them.
My hope is as the administration is filled out many of the approximately 4,000 C level jobs existing in the various agencies will go to the next generation allowing them to gain the knowledge and experience needed to eventually get the top jobs. Biden promised to be a bridge to the next generation and that is how he can keep that commitment.
The Post column also quotes Norm Eisen, ethics counsel to Obama at the beginning of his presidency, saying, “he is optimistic that there will be adequate safeguards in the Biden administration that will blunt any problems. Government can’t just be staffed with professors and think tankers. The president-elect has made strong ethics commitments — the strongest in American history — and we should allow the transition and the new administration to apply them to its appointees with business backgrounds.”
Biden is also being besieged by various interest groups demanding he appoint more of their people. Groups representing the Latino community, the Asian-American community, the LGBTQ+ community, and the African-American community among them. This is no different from what happens with any new administration but it is resonating more today because Biden made a strong commitment to have his administration represent the diversity of the country. We know it will be impossible to satisfy each group’s demands and Biden will have to deal with that. We know he made good on one commitment naming the first woman, an African American of Indian descent, as vice president.
There are those judging each appointment by how far left they are. It will be incumbent on them to accept while Biden is a progressive he is not far left and because of that he was able to win. His appointments will reflect his view of the world and they will follow his lead.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.