Big Tech’s stealth push to influence the Biden administration

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Silicon Valley is operating behind the scenes to secure senior functions for technology allies in lesser-known but still vital sections of president-elect Joe Biden’s administration, even as the pushback against Big Tech from progressive groups and authorities develops.

The Biden transition team has stacked its agency review teams with more technology executives compared to tech critics. It has also added to its employees many officers from Big Tech businesses, which emerged as top donors to this campaign.

Currently, executives and employees at tech companies like Alphabet Inc-owned Google, Amazon.com, Facebook, Microsoft are pushing to place candidates in senior roles at government agencies, based on four sources with knowledge of the issue.

The bureaus many of these executives are planning for comprise the US Commerce Department, Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs – a crucial agency under the White House Office of Management & Budget which violates policies impacting the technology sector, the State Department and the Department of Defense, according to the resources.

Many business executives, who in certain cases helped raise money for the Biden effort or have ties to those on the president-elect’s transition team, nevertheless have a huge commercial interest in pushing candidates with business ties at the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission — either of which are exploring if Big Tech abused its market power. But the spotlight on these 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 not any formal procedure via which such names and recommendations have been floated by company executives into the transition team. A Biden transition spokesman Cameron French said bureau review group members and prospective government appointees will be dedicated to implementing Biden’s coverage ideas.

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Amazon’s public policy and communications chief Jay Carney told journalists at our partner news agency Reuters that Amazon is not attempting to get anyone from the company put in the new government.

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

SEEKING INFLUENCE

Researchers, attorneys and advisers tracking the transition or working with the group told Reuters the moves are part of an attempt by many large tech company officials to influence future policymaking. They are also making sure the Biden administration isn’t captive to the ideas of progressive Democrats along with a growing anti-monopoly movement, who have always 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,” explained 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.

By way of instance, Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt, a billionaire who’s a Silicon Valley titan, was making personnel recommendations for appointments to the Department of Defense – since the firm tries to pursue army contracts and defense function, according to three sources.

His vice-chairman about the commission, former deputy secretary of defense Robert Work, has briefed the Biden transition team on national security problems. Schmidt’s name has also come up in talks to lead a Biden White House technology task force, a proposal that has been opposed by progressives, based on three sources.

One of those 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 government 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 functions as an independent unit under Google, to get a role inside the state department or the defense department, according to two sources. Cohen has served in the State Department.

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A NSCAI spokeswoman stated any work has been performed by Schmidt and Work in their personal capacity isn’t associated with the NSCAI.

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

Currently, executives with Amazon are pushing allies for roles inside the Biden government, according to sources working with the transition. Names which have emerged as a result include Indra Nooyi, former chairwoman of Pepsi, that now sits on Amazon’s plank and whose name has been floated to conduct the Commerce Department, three sources said.

Facebook, unlike the other firms, has made significant inroads in the Biden transition group, several sources said.

By way of example, former Facebook manager Jessica Hertz is the Biden transition general counsel. Austin Lin, a former program manager at Facebook, is on an agency inspection group for the Executive Office of the President. Erskine Bowles, a former Facebook board member, is already advising the transition group, together with Jeff Zients, another former Facebook board member, that has now been chosen to become Biden’s COVID-19 czar.

Another ally for some huge tech firms is Biden’s pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, that has ties with Amazon and Google, according to four sources. Google was a customer at WestExec Advisors, which was set by Blinken. Blinken additionally helped Amazon’s public policy and communications leader Jay Carney get hired into Joe Biden’s media group in 2008.

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Google’s Castaneda said the organization’s connection with West Exec lasted one month in 2018 and the firm did not retain any member of the firm. Carney declined comment. WestExec Advisors declined comment. Blinken didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Four sources stated names floated by tech companies have been discussed through meetings held by the Biden transition agency review groups. These teams also have made several hiring recommendations, they stated.

GROWING PUSHBACK

While Silicon Valley reaches to get a bigger seat at the table, the pushback from advanced groups is notable.

In November, 32 antitrust, consumer advocacy, labor and relevant groups delivered a letter to Biden asking him to reject the influence of Big Tech companies on his government.

A number of these classes are now banding together and advocating more forcefully. As an example, several of the 32 are a part of a new coalition that is intended to expand the number of groups that care about the business’s influence on authorities. Alex Harman, who manages competition policy for Public Citizen, an advocacy group that’s part of the coalition, said he’s been in meetings with Biden’s agency review teams with a clear goal: ensuring such hires are not created by the administration.

Biden’s teams have been listening to their concerns, but it is not much dialogue, he added.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington. Editing by Chris Sanders and Edward Tobin.

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