A month before Election Day, Nelson Cunningham ’80 received a phone call from a former colleague in the Clinton administration.
“The Obama team was putting together a very quiet transition team,” the colleague told Cunningham, and the campaign wanted Cunningham on it. He accepted a post as a co-lead of the Export/Import Bank-Overseas Private Investment Corporation Review Team.
Obama’s office announced its agency review teams before the fall recess, outlining a roster of over 400 officials that includes that over 40 Yale alumni and faculty who will help the president-elect and his advisors make key policy decisions in the days leading up to the Jan. 20 inauguration. The alumni and faculty, whose backgrounds range from law to religious studies to architecture, will study the current dynamic within federal agencies and report their findings to the president-elect in order to smooth the transition from the administration of President George W. Bush ’68. Agency review team members interviewed said that it is impossible to say just how many of those serving in the transition will be offered Obama administration appointments.
“A lot of people who volunteer are doing it out of a sense of service — service to the country and the president-elect,” said Linh Nguyen ’87, co-lead of the Office of Personnel Management Review Team and president of Albuquerque-based Morningside Consulting. “Most are not doing this as an entrée, but as an opportunity of service. That’s certainly how I’m approaching it.”
Most team members contacted for this story declined comment or referred comment to the press office of Obama’s transition team. Repeated requests for comment from the office of the president-elect were not returned over the weekend.
Obama’s transition team includes the names of several Yale alumni who were heavyweights in the administration of President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and are favorites for top appointments in the Obama administration. The Washington Post reported on Nov. 26 that Mort Downey ’58, co-lead of the transportation team, is on the shortlist for secretary of transportation. Downey, who served as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under the Clinton administration, is currently the chairman of PB Consult, a consulting firm specializing in transportation.
Dan Esty LAW ’86, the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, is a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Team. During the presidential campaign, Esty advised Obama on environmental and energy policy. Although he is considered by pundits to be a likely candidate for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in a phone interview Saturday Esty said that he will complete his teaching obligations this semester and expects to be teaching again in spring 2009.
Don Gips SOM ’89, formerly the chief domestic policy advisor to Vice President Al Gore, is one of Obama’s three agency review co-chairs. Gips, along with co-chairs Lisa Brown and Melody Barnes, will supervise the more than 400 team members involved in reviewing the government’s key departments and agencies.
Other prominent Elis on the Obama transition team include Francis Collins GRD ’72 ’74, the Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor Emeritus of Neurosurgery, a member of the Department of Health and Human Services team and former director of the Human Genome Project; Jeffrey Koplan ’66, also a member of the Department of Health and Human Services team and former chairman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and George Frampton ’65, who is a co-lead of the Council on Environmental Quality Team and formerly served as assistant secretary of the interior under the Clinton administration.
Selection of the transition teams began long before Nov. 4, Cunningham said. President Bush encouraged both the Republican and Democratic candidates to put together preliminary teams, Cunningham added.
Although there is no official termination date for the teams, members interviewed indicated that the teams would remain intact until individual nominees for the agencies were nominated and confirmed. For high-profile agencies, Cunningham said, nominees should be set for confirmation by Jan. 20. For the smaller agencies, however, work could continue for months after the inauguration.