US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to name Neera Tanden director of the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees the administration’s budget and federal agencies, making her the first Indian-descent American to be appointed to a cabinet position in a Democratic administration.
Tanden, who currently heads Centre for American Progress, a think tank, is expected to be named by Biden along with former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen as treasury secretary and Cecilia Rouse, a Princeton University economist, to chair the Council of Economic Advisers, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Although Tanden will be the first Indian-American in the cabinet of a Democrat president, if confirmed by the Senate, she will be second overall for the community. Nikki Haley was the first as President Donald Trump’s US ambassador to the UN, a cabinet-rank position that was downgraded for her successors.
“Big job and a real important first in the Cabinet. She has a great story (single mother, knows what it is to be poor) but went to Harvard and is the most well-versed person in progressive economics I have ever met,” said Shekar Narasimhan, a top fundraiser for Biden, and a close adviser to the campaign and the transition team who has known Tanden for a long time. He added, “I am (a) huge Neera fan!”
Tanden, who went to Yale, was born in Massachusetts in 1970 to parents from India, who divorced when she was five. Tanden and her brother were brought up by their mother, as Narasimhan said. Tanden has spoken of her family relying on food coupons to get by.
“On the heels of Kamala Harris set to become the next vice-president, it is great to see another well qualified Indian-American woman be nominated for a Cabinet level position,” said MR Rangaswami, founder of Indiaspora, an advocacy group for the community. “It is gratifying to see someone who has dedicated herself to public service be recognised for this important role to manage the budget of the country.”
Biden, who injured an ankle while playing with one of his dogs on Sunday, also announced a path-breaking all-women press team for his White House with Jen Psaki as the most visible face of the team as press secretary. She is a veteran from the Obama administration and is well known and regarded among reporters covering the White House.
Two more Indian-Americans are in the mix for other cabinet positions. Vivek Murthy, a physician and former surgeon general, is a leading contender for secretary of health and human services, a possibility that has been boosted by his appointment by Biden as co-chair of his advisory board on combating Covid-19, which, the president-elect has said will be his first task after assuming office in January.
Others in the race are Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Hispanic governor of New Mexico, and Jeffery D Zients, director of former president Barack Obama’s National Economic Council.
The second Indian-American among Cabinet potentials is Arun Majumdar. He is reported to be in the running for secretary of energy, to head a department whose key mandate includes the upkeep – not deployment or use – of America’s nuclear arsenal. The department traces its origin to the Manhattan Project.
Majumdar, an alumnus of IIT Bombay, heads Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy and is up against Ernest Moniz, Obama’s energy secretary who had played a key role in shaping the Iran nuclear deal, a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama-Biden administration.