Silicon Valley is working in the back of the scenes to safe senior roles for tech allies in lesser-known but still imperative parts of president-elect Joe Biden’s administration, even as the pushback against Big Tech from progressive groups and regulators grows.
The Biden transition team has already stacked its agency review teams with more tech executives than tech critics. It has also added to its staff several officials from Big Tech companies, which emerged as top donors to the crusade.
Now, executives and employees at tech companies such as Alphabet-owned Google, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft are pushing to place candidates in senior roles at government agencies, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.
The agencies many of these executives are aiming for include america Trade Branch, Office of the US Commerce Representative, the Office of Information & Regulatory Matters – a key agency under the White House Office of Management & Budget which drafts policies impacting the tech industry, the State Branch and the Branch of Defense, according to the sources.
Many company executives, who in some cases helped raise money for the Biden crusade or have ties to those on the president-elect’s transition team, still have a enormous commercial interest in pushing candidates with industry ties at the Branch of Justice and the Federal Commerce Commission – either one of which are investigating if Big Tech abused its market power. But the highlight on those agencies from progressive interest groups and members of Congress is likely to make it much harder for Silicon Valley to succeed, the sources said.
To make sure, there is not any formal process via which such names and recommendations are being floated by company executives to the transition team. A Biden transition spokesman Cameron dressing said agency review team members and future administration appointees will be dedicated to executing Biden’s policy ideas.
“Every member of the Biden-Harris transition and incoming administration will have values that align with the President and Vice President-elect on a host of issues including the tech sector,” he said.
Facebook and Microsoft declined remark. Amazon’s public policy and communications chief Jay Carney told Reuters that Amazon isn’t trying to receive anyone from the company placed in the new administration. “Any suggestion on the contrary is totally false,” Carney said.
Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said “as a company, we make no recommendations and are unaware of one of these communications.”
Researchers, lawyers, and consultants tracking the transition or working with the team told Reuters the moves are a part of an effort by many large tech company officials to influence future policymaking. They’re also making certain the Biden administration isn’t captive to the ideas of progressive Democrats and a growing anti-monopoly movement, who have consistently pushed for higher scrutiny of such companies.
“In 2020, appointing the CEO or top executives of a tech company directly in to your cabinet is poor optics and poor politics,” said Max Moran, a researcher with the Revolving Door Project. He added that allies of Big Tech have begun to emerge as candidates for Biden jobs.
For instance, Google’s former Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, a billionaire who is a Silicon Valley titan, has been making personnel recommendations for appointments to the Branch of Defense – as the company tries to pursue military contracts and defense work, according to three sources.
Schmidt chairs the National Security Commission on Man made Intelligence (NSCAI). His vice-chairman on the commission, former deputy secretary of defense Robert Work, has briefed the Biden transition team on national security issues. Schmidt’s name has also come up in discussions to lead a Biden White House technology task force, a suggestion that has been objected by progressives, according to three sources.
One of the most names Schmidt has floated for a senior defense branch role is Christopher Kirchhoff, a former aide to the Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff under the Obama administration who currently works at Schmidt Futures, two sources said. Schmidt has also pushed for Jared Cohen, the chief executive of Jigsaw, a tech incubator that operates as an independent unit under Google, for a role within the state branch or the defense branch, according to two sources. Cohen has in the past served at the State Branch.
A spokeswoman for Eric Schmidt declined remark. A NSCAI spokeswoman said any work being done by Schmidt and Work in their personal capacity isn’t associated with the NSCAI.
In a similar way, two Amazon officials have landed spots on the president-elect’s agency review teams for the State Branch and the Office of Management and Budget.
Now, executives with Amazon are pushing allies for roles within the Biden administration, according to sources who work with the transition. Names that have emerged in consequence include Indra Nooyi, former chairwoman of Pepsi, who now sits on Amazon’s board and whose name has been floated to run the Trade Branch, three sources said.
Facebook, unlike the other companies, has already made remarkable inroads into the Biden transition team, a couple of sources said.
For instance, former Facebook director Jessica Hertz is the Biden transition’s general counsel. Austin Lin, a former program manager at Facebook, is on an agency review team for the Executive Office of the President. Erskine Bowles, a former Facebook board member, is already advising the transition team, in conjunction with Jeff Zients, another former Facebook board member, who has now been picked to develop into Biden’s COVID-19 czar.
Another ally for some large tech companies is Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who has ties with both Amazon and Google, according to four sources. Google used to be a client at WestExec Advisors, which used to be founded by Blinken. Blinken also helped Amazon’s public policy and communications chief Jay Carney get hired into Joe Biden’s media team in 2008.
Google’s Castaneda said the company’s relationship with West Exec lasted one month in 2018 and the company did not keep any member of the firm. Carney declined remark. WestExec Advisors declined remark. Blinken did not respond to requests for remark.
Four sources said names floated by tech companies have been discussed right through meetings held by the Biden transition’s agency review teams. These teams have made several hiring recommendations, they said.
While Silicon Valley reaches for a larger seat at the table, the pushback from progressive groups is notable.
In November, 32 antitrust, consumer advocacy, labor and related groups sent a letter to Biden asking him to reject the influence of Big Tech companies on his administration.
Many of these groups are now banding together and advocating more forcefully. For instance, several of the 32 are a part of a new coalition that is designed to expand the number of groups that care approximately the industry’s influence on government. Alex Harman, who oversees competition policy for Public Citizen, an advocacy group which is a part of the coalition, said he has been in meetings with Biden’s agency review teams with a lucid goal: making certain such hires aren’t made by the administration.
Biden’s teams have been listening to their concerns, but it is not much of a dialogue, he added. “They don’t seem to be telling us what they’re thinking, they’re just asking us what our priorities are.”
© Thomson Reuters 2020
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