By Jordan Fabian, Jennifer A. Dlouhy, Alan Levin and Ben Bain
Four years ago, Trump stocked his so-called agency “landing teams” with conservatives from think tanks and advocacy groups — including people who had been openly hostile to the agencies they were charged to review. It foreshadowed an aggressive rollback of regulations under Trump’s watch.
Biden has taken a notably different tack with what he calls “agency review teams,” though some liberals have raised concerns about the participation of executives from companies, including Amazon.com Inc., Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and Airbnb Inc.
The groups of advisers that enter federal agencies ahead of Inauguration Day are a hallmark of presidential transitions, but their influence only goes so far. After the 2016 transition, some Trump “landing team” officials later complained their policy recommendations were ignored.
And in Biden’s case, they may not have much time to work. They cannot access office space or begin closely working with government officials until the administrator of the General Services Administration, Emily Murphy, issues a finding that Biden is the incoming president. She has so far declined to do so as Trump fights the election results in several states and insists, falsely, that he won.
Biden says that won’t prevent his transition officials from beginning their planning.
Biden’s energy- and environment-focused transition teams feature a host of former Obama administration officials as well as some activists from advocacy groups.
The president-elect’s Environmental Protection Agency landing team draws heavily from veterans who served under former President Barack Obama, including former chief of staff Matt Fritz and enforcement head Cynthia Giles, climate adviser Joseph Goffman and former top water official Ken Kopocis. The head of the EPA team is Patrice Simms, a former agency lawyer who now serves as a vice president of Earthjustice, a group known for challenging federal environmental policy decisions.
By contrast, Trump’s EPA transition team was led by the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, who accused the agency of relying on “junk science” to justify regulations, is skeptical of humanity’s contribution to climate change and sought a major reduction in agency staffing. Another adviser on Trump’s EPA team, Christopher Horner, had spent years relentlessly seeking agency emails, texts and other documents, even unearthing former administrator Lisa Jackson’s reliance on an alias account.
Arun Majumdar, a Stanford University professor who was Obama’s founding director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, is leading Biden’s Energy Department transition team. During his time in government, the agency funded experimental research projects on flying wind turbines and enzyme-based carbon capture technology. Majumdar is on the short list to be Biden’s Energy secretary, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The head of Trump’s Energy Department team was Tom Pyle, president of the non-profit American Energy Alliance, which has combatted government efforts to subsidize clean energy.
Shortly after they arrived at the Energy Department in 2016, Trump’s advisers delivered a lengthy questionnaire to Obama officials, seeking to root out the names of employees and contractors involved in climate policy and negotiations. The effort unsettled agency staff, and Democrats cast it as a witch hunt.
Biden’s Energy landing team also includes Brad Markell, a top AFL-CIO official who was involved in auto industry bargaining talks and negotiations over tailpipe emissions standards during the Obama administration. Maggie Thomas, who advised Democrats Jay Inslee and Elizabeth Warren on climate policy during their presidential campaigns, is also set to shape Interior Department policy on Biden’s review team.
Biden pleased progressives this week by naming a slate of people to review U.S. financial watchdogs who’ve been critical of Wall Street, a stark contrast to the industry insiders and anti-regulation policy experts who populated Trump’s transition.
Among Biden advisers who will play a key role in picking leaders for agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission is Gary Gensler, a former Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman who emerged as a bane of banks’ swaps trading desks after the 2008 financial crisis.
“The Treasury and financial regulatory landing teams seem to show an appreciation for the critique of Wall Street that the progressives have been trying to get across for several years,” said Jeff Hauser of the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington.
Trump’s landing teams at the financial regulatory agencies included Ralph Ferrara, a securities and white-collar defense lawyer, and Paul Atkins, a former Republican SEC commissioner known for his free-market views.
Among those examining the Treasury Department for Biden is Michael Barr, a University of Michigan law professor who was one of the main authors of the Dodd-Frank Act when he worked at Treasury during the Obama administration. Biden’s Treasury team is led by Don Graves, a former Obama administration official, who was head of corporate responsibility at KeyBank until he joined the campaign in September.
Also on Biden’s team is Better Markets President Dennis Kelleher, whose Washington trade group advocates for tougher rules and penalties for financial firms. Last month, Kelleher called Goldman Sachs Group Inc. a “recidivist lawbreaker” as it prepared to pay more than $2 billion to settle U.S. allegations that it helped facilitate a Malaysian bribery scheme.
Progressives, however, have raised concerns about Biden’s team for the Office of Management and Budget, which includes Brandon Belford of Lyft, Mark Schwartz of Amazon Web Services and Airbnb’s Divya Kumaraiah. OMB houses an office which reviews regulations across the federal government, and they fear Biden’s appointments telegraph a light regulatory touch for tech giants.
Liberal activists are also wary of Bridget Dooling’s addition to the budget team. Dooling is a professor at George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, which favors expanding the use of cost-benefit analysis in regulation — an approach that could curtail ambitious approaches to rule-writing.
Meanwhile, the Biden transition team for the Transportation Department signals another departure from Trump’s deregulation push, which froze or curbed numerous safety and consumer measures.
Voters in cities powered Biden to victory, and he rewarded them by stocking his transition team with transit veterans and labor leaders. The Transportation Department review team is led by Phillip Washington, CEO of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Biden’s DOT team also includes leaders of transit and transportation planning agencies in New York, Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Bay area. Another member is Polly Trottenberg, commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, who has been mentioned as a possible Transportation secretary in the Biden administration.
Biden’s team is peppered with figures from organized labor, which played a role in delivering critical swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. They include representatives of the Teamsters, United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters and the Transport Workers Union.
“I think there’s significant representation for working families,” Larry Willis, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department.
Trump’s team for the Transportation Department included critics of robust federal infrastructure spending like the late Shirley Ybarra, a former senior transportation policy analyst at Reason Foundation. Other members of the Trump transition’s DOT transition team came from the private sector.
Trump’s team for the Pentagon included former executives at defense contractors Boeing Co., Elbit Systems of America and Cubic Corp., as well as several retired Army officials. Trump’s presidency was marked by a steady increase in defense spending, which the president frequently touted on the campaign trail.
Biden’s team includes several Obama veterans who served in national security posts before decamping to left-leaning think tanks, like Center for a New American Security and New America, as well as RAND Corp. Kathleen Hicks, a former defense official under Obama now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is the team leader.
Women make up more than half of Biden’s Pentagon team, whereas there was only one woman among Trump’s Defense Department transition advisers.