Biden transition leans on state and local tech experience

Joe Biden attends a COVID-19 briefing on Oct. 28, 2020. (Flickr / Biden for President)

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The transition advisers introduced this week by President-elect Joe Biden include numerous people with extensive experience in state and local technology and infrastructure policy, leading to predictions that the Biden administration may seek to adapt state and local digital government initiatives to the federal level.

The Biden transition’s agency review teams span hundreds of people with public- and private-sector experience, responsible for charting what course federal agencies will take starting next Jan. 20. And though the Trump administration refuses to acknowledge the results of the presidential election — blocking Biden’s advisers from meeting with the agencies they’re evaluating — the president-elect’s organization says it is forging ahead.

Several of the technology officials involved in the Biden transition are veterans of the Obama administration who have gone on to state and local IT roles.

Ann Dunkin, a former chief information officer of Santa Clara, County, California, is part of the team reviewing the Environmental Protection Agency, of which she was CIO during former President Barack Obama’s second term. The group reviewing the General Services Administration includes Nate Denny, currently the chief of staff at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology and a former GSA official under Obama.

During her years in Santa Clara, Dunkin, who’s currently the chief technology officer for Dell’s state and local government division, oversaw the consolidation of four IT organizations and nearly 1,000 employees into a single agency and the reclassification of the county’s technology jobs.

The team evaluating the Department of Transportation includes Gabe Klein, a former director of the Washington, D.C., and Chicago transportation agencies, as well as Jeff Marootian, the D.C. Department of Transportation’s current director. In both D.C. and Chicago, Klein oversaw the implementation of bike-sharing networks, mobile payments for transit and parking and the installation of “smart” infrastructure.

Biden’s transition also includes several people currently working for the California state government, including Hannah Lee, the product lead for the state’s COVID-19 website. Lee is a former Airbnb executive assigned to the Department of Energy review team.

Several of Biden’s transition advisers contacted by StateScoop said they could not comment about their work. But a transition project that leans on people with state and local IT experience bodes well for how the incoming Biden administration will approach federal tech policy, said Jay Nath, a co-chief executive officer of the civic-tech group City Innovate and a former chief innovation officer in San Francisco.

“If you look at the change that’s happening, it’s often led by local and state leaders,” he said. “You need to bring that perspective of having your users at the center of technology.”

While the Trump administration has pursued many IT modernization initiatives, Nath said Biden’s selection of advisers suggests the next administration will make digital government services as important as physical projects, following on work started by the Obama administration.

“I think a lot of cues are being taken from the Obama administration,” he said. “I think there was a recognition broadly that digital infrastructure can be as important as physical infrastructure.”

But Nath said Biden, who has credited his victory to minority communities, needs to ensure that his technology agenda reflects the diversity of the voters who elected him, especially if the president-elect wants to achieve what Nath called an “inclusive and diverse recovery” out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I hope they do more that underrepresented communities are really part of that recovery,” he said. “We’ve seen that over and over with our cities and states that underrepresented communities bring so much to the table.”

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Ann Dunkin, Gabe Klein, Jay Nath, Joe Biden
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