Friday, 19th April, 2024
Friday, 19th April, 2024

Big Tech’s stealth push to influence the Biden admin

WASHINGTON, Dec 22: Silicon Valley is working behind the scenes to secure senior roles for tech allies in lesser-known but still vital parts of president-elect Joe Biden’s administration, even as the pushback against Big Tech from progressive groups and regulators grows, reports Reuters.

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 campaign.

Now, executives and employees at tech companies such as Alphabet Inc-owned Google, Amazon.com Inc, Facebook Inc, Microsoft Corp 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 the US Commerce Department, Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs – a key agency under the White House Office of Management & Budget which drafts policies impacting the tech industry, the State Department and the Department of Defense, according to the sources.

Many company executives, who in some cases helped raise money for the Biden campaign or have ties to those on the president-elect’s transition team, still have a huge commercial interest in pushing candidates with industry ties at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission – both of which are investigating whether Big Tech abused its market power.

But the spotlight 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 be sure, there is no formal process via which such names and
recommendations are being floated by company executives to the
transition team. A Biden transition spokesman Cameron French said
agency review team members and future administration appointees will
be committed to implementing Biden’s policy ideas.

“Each 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 comment. Amazon’s public policy and
communications chief Jay Carney told Reuters that Amazon is not trying
to get anyone from the company placed in the new administration. “Any
suggestion to the contrary is completely false,” Carney said.

Google spokesman Jose Castaneda said “as a company, we make no
recommendations and are unaware of any such communications.”

Researchers, lawyers and consultants tracking the transition or
working with the team told Reuters the moves are part of an effort by
many large tech company officials to influence future policymaking.
They are also making sure the Biden administration is not 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 bad optics and bad 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 example, Google’s former Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, a
billionaire who is a Silicon Valley titan, has been making personnel
recommendations for appointments to the Department of Defense – as the
company tries to pursue military contracts and defense work, according
to three sources.

Schmidt chairs the National Security Commission on Artificial
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 opposed by progressives, according
to three sources.

One of the names Schmidt has floated for a senior defense department
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 inside the
state department or the defense department, according to two sources.
Cohen has previously served at the State Department.

A spokeswoman for Eric Schmidt declined comment. A NSCAI spokeswoman
said any work being done by Schmidt and Work in their personal
capacity is not associated with the NSCAI.

Similarly, two Amazon officials have landed spots on the
president-elect’s agency review teams for the State Department and the
Office of Management and Budget.

Now, executives with Amazon are pushing allies for roles inside the
Biden administration, according to sources who work with the
transition. Names that have emerged as a result include Indra Nooyi,
former chairwoman of Pepsi, who now sits on Amazon’s board and whose
name has been floated to run the Commerce Department, three sources
said.

Facebook, unlike the other companies, has already made significant
inroads into the Biden transition team, multiple sources said.

For example, 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, along with Jeff Zients, another former
Facebook board member, who has now been picked to become 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 was a client at WestExec
Advisors, which was 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 retain any member of
the firm. Carney declined comment. WestExec Advisors declined comment.
Blinken did not respond to requests for comment.

Four sources said names floated by tech companies have been discussed
during 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 bigger 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 example, several of the 32 are part of a new coalition
that is designed to expand the number of groups that care about the
industry’s influence on government. Alex Harman, who oversees
competition policy for Public Citizen, an advocacy group which is part
of the coalition, said he has been in meetings with Biden’s agency
review teams with a clear goal: making sure such hires are not made by
the administration.

Biden’s teams have been listening to their concerns, but it’s not much
of a dialogue, he added. “They are not telling us what they are
thinking, they are just asking us what our priorities are.”

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