Days after news outlets called the election for the Biden-Harris ticket, the presidential transition team released a list of members on its agency review teams — and 19 of them are Cornellians.
The teams will prepare president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris to “hit the ground running on day one,” understand the operations of each executive agency and allow for a smooth transfer of power, according to the Biden-Harris transition website.
Their first steps are to determine policy implementation methods, develop administrative agendas for each federal agency and choose administration staff members — preparing the Biden administration to tackle the pandemic, the economic crisis, calls for racial justice and other pressing issues.
More than 500 federal policy experts currently sit on the transition review teams. Eighteen of them are Cornell alumni, in addition to former University president David Skorton, who is a member of the Arts and Humanities Agency Review Team and was selected because of his experience as the 13th secretary of the Smithsonian Institute.
With the goal of “building an administration that looks like America,” the transition team makeup is markedly diverse. Women make up more than half of the team, and there is also strong representation among people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities.
Some of the transition team members will be temporarily involved and return to their careers after the transition period ends, while others are expected to become members of the Biden administration. Namely, Seth Harris ’83, a Department of Labor Agency Review Team volunteer, is one of four likely contenders to be named Biden’s Secretary of Labor, according to The New York Times.
Many of the Cornellians are also former members of the Obama administration. Some notable examples include Derek Chollet ’93, part of the Department of State Agency Review Team, who was the assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs. Chollet participated in the Cornell in Washington program in 1992, and called the program “indispensable to my understanding of foreign policy but also to my career.”
Jenny Yang ’73, a Department of Labor Agency Review Team volunteer, was appointed by former President Barack Obama to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014. She was the first Asian American to serve in this position, and under her leadership on the commission, the EEOC established a task force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace.
Other Cornellian transition team members include Erin Szulman ’12, who was appointed to the Office of Science and Technology Policy Agency Review Team. Szulman worked in the Department of Energy and Office of Science and Technology Policy for nearly five years under the Obama administration. Szulman’s career in government started at Cornell, where she served as an Arts and Sciences Representative on the Student Assembly.
Part of the Department of Labor Agency Review Team, Patricia Moscoso ’11 worked in the Obama White House as a legislative intern, legislative assistant and assistant to the House Liaison. At Cornell, Moscoso was part of the Quill and Dagger Senior Honor Society and was senior copy editor for The Visible Hand economics journal.
Andrea Ippolito ’06, who is volunteering on the Department of Veterans Affairs Agency Review Team, is a lecturer in Cornell’s Engineering Management Program and the Johnson Graduate School of Management. She served as the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs from 2015 to 2017. During her undergraduate years at Cornell, Ippolito was co-president of Society of Women Engineers and a Kappa Alpha Theta Sorority member.
As the new Biden administration and its transition teams look toward January 2021, they have already hit some bumps in the road: President Donald Trump has still not acknowledged his defeat and has refused to allow Biden-Harris transition team staffers access to the necessary materials, funds and agencies.
Still, the team has worked around these restrictions by connecting with recently departed government officials and experts and tapping into a network of allies in government, The Washington Post reported.
By the time of publication, Skorton, Harris, Szulman, Moscoso and Ippolito declined to comment, citing restrictions on releasing information about the transition.