Indian-Americans in Biden-Harris Transition Team

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office in January, nearly half of the transition team laying the groundwork for his administration is made up of people of color, and women are in the majority. Among them are several Indian Americans who have been nominated to the powerful Team by Biden-Harris Team.

Two Indian Americans have been named to head key teams that will help Joe Biden’s administration to hit the ground running as soon as he is sworn-in as president on January 20.

Arun Majumdar, the director of the Precourt Institute of Energy at Stanford University is to head the team dealing with the Department of Energy, which also designs, manufacturers and tests nuclear weapons. The team includes University of California Berkely physics professor Ramamoorthy Ramesh, who is one of the 21 Indian Americans appointed to teams dealing with different departments and agencies. Kiran Ahuja is the head of the team dealing with the federal administration’s human resources agency, the federal investigation office for the civil service and the protection of whistleblowers.

The agency review teams that are to ensure “a smooth transfer of power,” according to the Biden-Harris transition organization. Kamala Harris is to be the vice president. These review teams are separate from the high-powered Covid-19 Advisory Board co-chaired by former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and includes Atul Gawande, a surgeon and author who had directed a health care task force committee in President Bill Clinton’s administration.

Although the media have declared Biden the winner, while the officials are still counting the votes, Trump has refused to concede victory to the Democrat and is challenging some of the results in courts. After the presidential election, the winning candidate starts preparing for the transition with facilities and access to the government. But Emily Murphy, who heads the General Services Administration, has refused to accommodate the Biden-Harris transition teams pending a final official announcement of the results.

Like Ahuja, a civil rights lawyer who worked as chief of staff at the Office of Personnel Management and as executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in President Barack Obama’s Administration, many team members are alumni of past Democratic administrations.

Sumona Guha, who had worked with Biden when he was the vice president as a Special Advisor for National Security Affairs, is on the team for the State Department. She is also a former senior director at the US-India Business Council. Puneet Talwar, who was the assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs in President Barack Obama’s administration and worked the Iran nuclear deal, is also on the team.

Serving on the team for the National Security Council is Dilpreet Sidhu, a former career diplomat who was special assistant the national security adviser and staff assistant to former Secretary of State John Kerry.

Pavneet Singh, who had worked on the National Security Council (NSC) and National Economic Council at the White House is also with her on the team. A China expert, he has been an adviser to the Biden campaign and is also on the Science and Technology Policy team.

Arun Venkataraman, who was the director for India in the office of the US Trade Representative and director for policy at the Commerce Department in the Obama administration, in on the teams for the Trade Representative and the Department of Commerce.

With him on the commerce team are Pravina Raghavan, an adviser to Commerce Department in the Obama-Biden days, and Atman Trivedi, who was an adviser to Kerry when he headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and later the senior director for global markets policy at the Commerce Department.

On the team for Homeland Security Department is Asha M. George, a former military intelligence officer and paratrooper, who served as a staff director in the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security. Also on that team is Subhasri Ramanathan, a lawyer who was the deputy assistant secretary in the Homeland Security Department in the Obama-Biden administration and was senior counsel in the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

Bhavya Lal, who has worked with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, is on the NASA team. Other members of teams for other departments and agencies include Shital Shah, in Education; Ashwin Vasan, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Meena Seshamani, Health and Human Services; Raj De, Justice; Seema Nanda and Raj Nayak, Labour; Reena Aggarwal, Federal Reserve; Divya Kumaraiah, Management and Budget; Kumar Chandran, Agriculture, and Aneesh Chopra, Postal Service.

The new lists contain some former Obama Administration officials like Aneesh Chopra who was the Chief Technology Officer, who is now on the U.S. Postal Service ART. According to the press release from the Biden-Harris team, “The ARTs are composed of highly experienced and talented professionals with deep backgrounds in key policy areas across the federal government.”

All the positions are filled by volunteers. Agency Review Teams are responsible for understanding the operations of each agency, ensuring a smooth transfer of power, and preparing for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris and their cabinet to hit the ground running on Day One.

However, when these ARTs are going to start functioning and meeting current agency heads, is not known, as the General Services Administrator is supposed to ascertain the results of the election and that has not happened and may not happen for some time as the Trump team engages in lawsuits on several fronts in relation to the voting in various states.

Following are the members from the Indian American community selected for some of the ARTs. Some ARTs have more than one Indian-American as member, and a few members are on more than one team. :

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – Ashwin Vasan of Sophant Consulting
  2. Department of Commerce – 1. Pravina Raghavan of Empire State Development; 2. Atman Trivedi from Hills & Company; and 3. Arun Venkataraman of Visa, Inc.
  3. Department of Defense – Farooq Mitha of Imbue Group, Inc.
  4. Department of Education – 1. Shital Shah of the American Federation of Teachers; 2. Emma Vadehra of The Century Foundation
  5. Department of Energy – 1. Team Lead Arun Majumdar of Stanford University; 2. R. Ramesh of University of California, Berkeley; and 3. Rama Zakaria of the Environmental Defense Fund
  6. Department of Health and Human Services – 1. Mina Seshamani of MedStar Health; and 2. Cyrus Shahpar of Resolve To Save Lives
  7. Department of Homeland Security – 1.Asha M. George of the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense; and 2. Subhasri Ramanathan of Deloitte & Touche
  1. Department of Justice – Raj De of Mayer Brown, LLP
  1. Department of Labor – 1. Seema Nanda, self-employed; 2. Raj Nayak, self-employed
  2. Department of State – 1. Sumona Guha, Albright Stonebridge Group; 2. Puneet Talwar, self employed
  3. Federal Reserve, Banking and Securities Regulators – Reena Aggarwal, Georgetown University; 2. Satyam Khanna of New York University, School of Law, Institute for Corporate Governance and Finance
  4. International Development – Bama Athreya
  5. National Aeronautics and Space Administration – Bhavya Lal, IDA Science and Technology Policy Institute
  6. National Security Council – 1. Dilpreet Sidhu, City of Los Angeles; 2. Pav Singh, self-employed
  7. Office of Management and Budget – Divya Kumaraiah, Airbnb, Inc
  8. Office of National Drug Control Policy – Team Lead Rahul Gupta of March of Dimes
  9. Office of Personnel Management – Team Lead Kiran Ahuja, Philanthropy Northwest
  10. Office of Science and Technology Policy – Pav Singh, self-employed
  11. Office of the United States Trade Representative – Arun Venkataraman of Visa, Inc.
  1. United States Agency for Global Media—Rumana Ahmed of the National Democratic InstituteUnited States Department of Agriculture – Kumar Chandran of FoodCorps
  2. United States Mission to the United Nations – Mounir Ibrahim, Truepic, Inc.
  3. United States Postal Service—Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney

It is noteworthy that forty-six percent of the transition staff are people of color, according to new diversity data of the transition team provided to CNN, and 41% of the senior staff are people of color. The majority of transition staff — 52% — are women, and 53% of the senior staff are women. The new diversity figures come as Biden is set to announce his Cabinet picks and senior staff for the White House in the coming weeks — one of the first tests of his campaign pledge to build an administration that will “look like America.”

Biden’s first major step toward diversity in his administration came when he selected Kamala Harris, a Black and South Asian woman, as his vice president. In his first staffing announcement, Biden chose a White man and longtime adviser — Ron Klain — as his chief of staff for the White House.

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