Behind the Scenes: Personnel as Policy in the Biden Administration

President Biden fills his administration with some of the most diverse, progressive appointed in history. It’s not a coincidence.

Over two years before the 2020 election, progressives began organizing to make sure we were ready to influence this process regardless of who became the Democratic candidate. These efforts were fueled in part by Senator Elizabeth Warren’s mantra that “Personnel is politicsAnd the growing awareness that the right people have the power to do it lower prices for prescription drugs, Modify or grant student loans, Putting billions of dollars into green energyand other powers of the executive branch to use Finish tasks for the American people.

We knew we had to do two things – in case progressive candidates were a viable choice, and then make the selection easier for the Biden Transition team.

To accomplish the first task, the Progressive Change Institute (the organization I co-founded) examined hundreds of individual positions to determine what skills and expertise were required, why the positions mattered, and what progressives in those agencies and offices could do if they exercised executive power. We released one 90 page report that became widespread with the progressive community.

With this research we have turned to our second task. We used open source software to create a custom database of over 9,000 administrative positions that can be synced with our recommended list. We then reached out to our allies throughout the movement asking them to nominate diverse, competent and recognized experts with a track record of results. Our database was possibly the most groundbreaking, allowing the groups to support the mutual nominations, giving the Biden team great support for specific recruiting.

Over 60 groups worked together in this database, including racial justice groups such as Color of Change and Liberation in a Generation. Climate leaders like Sunrise and Friends of the Earth; Interest groups such as Indivisible, MoveOn and People’s Action; Think tanks such as Demos and the Center for Economic and Political Research; Corporate watchmen like Public Citizen and Amazon Watch; and farming groups ranging from Family Farm Action to the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association. We also benefited collectively from the participation of regional groups nominating talented local experts who might otherwise have been overlooked by national efforts.

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