Politics of Poverty

The 15 most overlooked appointments the next president will make

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Oxfam staff Nic Serhan, Divya Amladi, Samantha Sheridan, Amy Loper, and Alivelu Ramisetty march as part of the Boston Women's March on January 19, 2019. Coco McCabe/Oxfam America

It’s time to put each to the intersectional feminist test.

Our principles for appointments to the federal government may look fantastic on paper, but how are they reasonably applied to government roles? Moreover, how can they improve a candidate search for roles that are typically not analyzed through an intersectional, feminist lens?

We’ve selected 15 sub-cabinet roles that rarely garner media attention and put them to the intersectional feminist test.

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, United States Department of Health and Human Services

The Assistant Secretary leads the nation’s medical and public health preparedness for, response to, and recovery from disasters and public health emergencies. According to Principle 2, the intersectional/feminist lens requires intersectional feminist knowledge, specifically a commitment to effecting large-scale transformation of systems that do not work for everyone or favor the elite, white, male, able-bodied and wealthy individuals. This means the appointee should have a track record of ensuring that everyone has access to health care and that all persons are considered when responding to disasters and emergencies. As the coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated, when the most marginalized in society are not centered in response and recovery efforts, whole communities—whole nations—can be left without assistance.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Environment and Energy, United States Department of the Treasury

The office represents the United States at board meetings of the U.N. Green Climate Fund and at Group of 20 finance minister summits, and plays a leading role in the Department of Energy Loan Guarantee Program and in aspects of U.S.-China bilateral cooperation. The office also oversaw a host of other aid and spending programs, including the Global Environment Facility on the environment and sustainable development. Which is why the disbanding of this office is even more concerning. Without a dedicated office within the Treasury, environmental considerations will struggle for funding and dedicated financial guidance.

Applying an intersectional feminist position here means the official should have a track record demonstrating: (a) support for mitigation, adaptation efforts, solutions, and leadership of frontline communities—such as Indigenous communities, women’s organizations and organizations led by BIPOC—within the US and globally; (b) support for the end of environmental racism; (c) support for the decriminalization/exoneration of environmental defenders; and (d) systemically confronting extractive, exploitative, and unsustainable production patterns.

Applying the intersectional feminist position on climate change is crucial here, as this lens helps to determine which environmental considerations to review for funding. And as feminist proponents of gender mainstreaming will argue, without a dedicated office and role to oversee such work, it will fall by the wayside.

Under Secretary for International Affairs, United States Department of the Treasury

According to its website, the Office of International Affairs within the Department of the Treasury “protects and supports U.S. economic prosperity by strengthening the external environment for U.S. growth, preventing and mitigating global financial instability, and managing key global challenges.” This is where the intersectional feminist principles on the economy will be put strongly to the test.

In practice, this means an official who has a track record demonstrating: (a) views that elevate the importance of US development policy on par with diplomacy and defense, and push for the primary purpose of US development assistance to fight poverty, inequality, and gender inequality; (b) support for mediated and long-term mutually beneficial trade agreements; and (c) strong support for immigration, migration and refugees nationally and internationally; support for the softening of borders and the welcoming of newcomers.

In a role such as this, we need a leader who is thinking about the global economy beyond GDP; they need to see the human contribution to a strong economy, including those contributions that are not captured in traditional monetary measurements.

Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, United States Agency for International Development

The individual who takes up this role will have a large portfolio, as “the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3) provides technical leadership, research, and field support for worldwide activities in the areas of Economic Growth and Trade, Infrastructure and Engineering, Education, Environment and Global Climate Change, Water, and Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment,” according to its website. If there ever was a role that required analysis from an intersectional, feminist perspective, this is it.

The appointee should have a track record of: (a) advocating for and implementing a national health service that centers women, girls and marginalized populations in the US (BIPOC, LGTBQIA+); (b) advocacy in support of enforcing and developing more progressive civil rights laws; and (c) using US development assistance to fight poverty, inequality, and gender inequality;

Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment, United States Department of State

Another role with an expansive portfolio, this position “leads the State Department’s efforts to develop and implement international policies related to economic growth, energy, agriculture, the ocean, the environment, and science and technology,” according to its website. As such, an appointee should have a track record of: (a) pushing economic policy positions that directly address the needs of the most marginalized; (b) holding fast in the face of opposition from traditional corporate powers; (c) following the lead of scientists and tech specialists who center the needs of the most marginalized as well; and (d) systemically confront extractive, exploitative, and unsustainable production patterns.

Solicitor of Labor, United States Department of Labor

The Solicitor of Labor is hugely influential in what and how enforcement cases are brought by all the agencies, as well as regulatory process, impacting not only the main enforcement arms but lesser known ones as well. The focus they choose to apply can shape how effectively and comprehensively the Department of Labor protects workers. Which is why a feminist, people-centered approach to work is valued for such an appointment. The appointee for this position should have experience: (a) protecting working people, including enforcing labor and employment laws in the workplace; and (b) advocating for and enforcing workplace practices that empower women, including equal pay, greater access to types of employment, and directly addressing sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination in the workplace.

Such a person should have the demonstrated ability to focus on people—particularly women, BIPOC, people with disabilities, and other marginalized identities—so that no community or worker is left without the protection of the DOL.

Assistant Secretary of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, United States Department of Labor

It is crucial that the next Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA be vetted through an intersectional feminist lens, as this department has racked up negative headline after negative headline against its own mandate since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The role is meant to oversee the protection of workers, and more often than not, the workers needing the most protection are women—particularly women of color—disabled people, and people of lower economic status. Multiple news outlets have revealed that OSHA has in fact closed more than half of workers’ retaliation complaints without reviewing them, and overall has failed to protect workers’ safety during the pandemic.

The person that holds this role must be willing to work to correct the failings of OSHA and bring it forward as a department put in place to advocate for and protect America’s most marginalized workers. This means an appointee with a track record of (a) demonstrating inclusive workplace culture practices, such as efforts to accommodate worker disabilities, encouraging flattened hierarchical workplace structures, and communal, stakeholder-led decision-making practices; and (b) elevating health and well-being of workers above short-term profits and exploitation of workers.

Administrator, Wage and Hour Division, United States Department of Labor

The administrator of the WHD holds a comprehensive portfolio of topics that include the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), break time for nursing mothers, child labor, immigration, subminimum wage, and employment of workers with disabilities. These topics cover a breadth of issues faced by those most marginalized by labor policy in the United States, meaning the administrator had better be prepared to understand and work for those individuals who fall within them. Someone who is vetted via the intersectional feminist labor principles will be better suited to the task.

This means an appointee with a demonstrated understanding of the challenges working parents and caregivers face, and being a proponent of policies to address these challenges, including flexible working hours and arrangements, schedule control, paid leave, and a prioritization of education for workers and their families. Such an appointee would be in the best position to execute a comprehensive rulemaking around a potential national paid leave program, should the US one day have one.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Tax Affairs, Office of Tax Policy, United States Department of the Treasury

The person in this position will finalize ongoing international negotiations to set a global minimum tax for multinational corporations, which should decrease corporate tax dodging and raise billions of dollars of additional revenue in the United States and globally. We know corporate tax dodging to be an intersectional feminist issue, as the loss of funds from corporations practicing tax avoidance means far fewer public funds for distribution to address policy issues that would bring greater equality for marginalized communities.

The next Deputy Assistant Secretary should have a proven track record in advocating against international corporate tax avoidance and guaranteeing they have not previously worked for law or accounting firms that give tax planning advice to corporations. The ideal individual would: (a) support a progressive tax scheme, taxing the ultra-rich their fair share, and ensuring a distribution of wealth that is supported by government; and (b) advocate against monopolization of economic power into the hands of the few. Such an individual would be well positioned to implement a global minimum tax for multinational corporations to bolster and support marginalized communities in the US and worldwide.

Director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, The White House

The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs is vital for regulation across a wide range of policy issue areas, and the director of this office can easily be considered the rulemaking gatekeeper at the Office of Management and Budget within the White House. According to its website, “OIRA is the United States Government’s central authority for the review of Executive Branch regulations, approval of Government information collections, establishment of Government statistical practices, and coordination of Federal privacy policy.”

The right candidate for the role of director needs to be thinking from a feminist and intersectional position from the outset—training their focus on the needs of those most marginalized by current policies and institutions, asking who and what is missing from information processes and statistical practices, and advising the president wherever possible that the decisions made within the Executive Branch must not be swayed by moneyed or traditionally powerful interests.

Director of the Office of Foreign Assistance, United States Department of State

The State Department’s Office of Foreign Assistance is the leading body for coordination of U.S. foreign assistance globally, providing strategic direction for both the State Department and USAID. Particularly, it plays a crucial role in U.S. national security and development objectives by coordinating policy, planning, and performance management efforts. The director of this office will have considerable power over how all foreign aid is ultimately distributed and spent. For this reason, a candidate vetted through intersectional feminist principles seems obvious: They must have a proven track record advocating for rights-based, sustainable aid practices, demonstrate support for feminist-informed peacebuilding and peacekeeping, and see the value in separating national interests from foreign aid goals.

Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, United States Environmental Protection Agency

The Office of Air and Radiation at the EPA oversees, among other policy issues, the development of national programs, policies, and regulations on industrial air pollution and importantly, climate change. The principal deputy assistant administrator, who leads the office, is essentially the person making all the rules on climate and air pollution for the United States. What better appointment to get the intersectional feminist treatment? Climate change is a feminist issue, as the most affected are typically the most marginalized, and the most at fault are those who hold unchecked corporate power. Such an appointee must have a track record of supporting mitigation, adaptation efforts, solutions, and leadership of frontline communities—such as Indigenous communities, women’s organizations and organizations led by BIPOC—within the US and globally.

Director, Women’s Bureau, United States Department of Labor

The Women’s Bureau at the Department of Labor has always had the interests of working women at heart: working to safeguard the interests of working women, advocating for their equality and economic security for themselves and their families, and promoting quality work environments. In order to ensure that such a bureau has the right intersectional feminist leadership at the helm, the next director should not only demonstrate their proven track record working directly for the needs of women in the workforce, but that they have specifically fought for BIPOC and disabled women, gender-diverse people, and paid special attention to the plight of those in the care economy—a typically gender-skewed professional sphere.

Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, United States Department of State

The Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration may be one of the more watched bureaus in recent years, given the political attention trained to the vast waves of migration seen around the world and on the southern US border. As the humanitarian bureau of the State Department, its mandate is to provide protection, ease the suffering, and resolve the plight of persecuted and forcibly displaced people around the world. The deputy assistant secretary must demonstrate a track record of working directly with such populations, with a particular focus to the most marginalized people within them—women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, individuals with disabilities—and be adept at working with and across civil society and non-government organizations to ensure the centering of those regions and populations most at risk of displacement.

Vice President, Department of Policy and Evaluation, United States Millennium Challenge Corporation

The leader of MCC’s Department of Policy and Evaluation has a significant task at hand, as this department manages the annual country eligibility process for compact and threshold programs and the technical economic analysis and evaluation methods that underpins MCC’s engagement with partner countries, including the development and conduct of rigorous independent evaluations of MCC programs. In fact, the monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) agenda for MCC falls within this appointee’s purview, an important job in setting and socializing the broader learning agenda for the agency internally and externally—both nationally and abroad. This role must be vetted through feminist, intersectional principles, to ensure that MEL practices meet feminist standards and that decision-making around country eligibility take into account feminist economic measures.

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