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Policy

Meet the new tech bureaucracy

As Joe Biden takes the oath of office, here are the nominees who will loom large in the lives of tech companies and the people who work for them

Meet the new tech bureaucracy

Here are the nominees who are most likely to wield power over the tech industry.

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tech billionaires and the people who work for them overwhelmingly supported Joe Biden's election in November. Now, as he takes the oath of office and becomes the 46th president of the United States, the real work begins.

For the tech industry, that means working with or battling a new administration over everything from antitrust to workforce labor issues. While Biden will undoubtedly set the agenda, the work itself will be carried out by the new heads of federal agencies and the rank-and-file bureaucrats working underneath them.

Over the last several months, Biden has announced an ever-growing list of nominations to powerful positions within his administration. Here are the ones who are most likely to wield that power over the tech industry.

Merrick Garland

Nomination: Attorney General

Garland was an antitrust law professor in the 1980s and has written extensively on the topic. As attorney general, he'll now oversee the Department of Justice's case against Google's alleged search monopoly. Though Attorney General Bill Barr played an unusually hands-on role in the Google case, it's unclear whether Garland will take the same kind of interest or how he might approach the legal questions around Big Tech. He's already facing progressive pressure to broaden the DOJ's complaint against Google, which is relatively narrow, and to see the case through rather than settling early. The DOJ is still pursuing separate investigations into the other major tech platforms, including Apple, which could lead to more tech monopoly cases over the next few years.

Vanita Gupta

Nomination: Associate Attorney General

Gupta led the DOJ's civil rights division under President Obama, but more recently, as head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, she took a key role in pushing tech companies, including Facebook, to take action on issues like voter suppression and other election threats. Gupta is expected to apply those experiences in her role at the Justice Department, ensuring that tech platforms and their algorithms don't fall afoul of longstanding civil rights laws. As Laura Murphy, the ACLU's former legislative director who worked with Gupta, recently told Protocol, "She's going to bring her tech fluency to the leadership of the Justice Department."

Gina Raimondo

Nomination: Commerce Secretary

Raimondo is a former venture capitalist who will help shape the contours of Biden's trade policy — specifically his administration's approach to tariffs, one of Trump's favored tools for punishing other countries during disputes. Tariffs have disrupted supply chains and created expensive headaches for the tech industry over the past four years, and Raimondo will help decide how they're used moving forward. Raimondo, the governor of Rhode Island, has a close relationship with House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee chairman David Cicilline and has pledged support for his ongoing efforts to "ensure big tech companies are held accountable."

Antony Blinken

Nomination: Secretary of State

Blinken, who began his confirmation process on Tuesday, will lead the Biden administration's efforts to rebuild U.S. relationships with key allies, including the European Union, and formulate the Biden administration's stance towards China. Trump's Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, launched the Clean Network Program to crack down on Chinese technology on U.S. soil. While Blinken likely wouldn't take up that program specifically, he could engage in a similar effort to formulate rules of the road for Chinese tech companies.

Marty Walsh

Nomination: Secretary of Labor

Marty Walsh is known as a "union guy" through and through, and he's expected to come down heavily on the side of labor in the ongoing battle over whether gig workers should be reclassified as employees. Walsh's Department of Labor is widely expected to pursue aggressive executive actions to create more rights for gig workers, and it could even go so far as to sue one of the gig companies, such as Uber or Lyft, to force them to classify their workers differently.

Isabel Guzman

Nomination: Small Business Administrator

While the SBA administrator may have little influence on tech industry giants, Guzman, who most recently served as head of California's Office of the Small Business Advocate, will certainly be of interest to tech startups. That's particularly true for tech startups still feeling the pinch from COVID-19, given that the SBA is responsible for overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program.

Avril Haines

Nomination: Director of National Intelligence

Haines, who is currently going through confirmation hearings, worked her way up through the CIA, becoming deputy national security advisor under President Obama. Her most direct tie to the tech industry has been through consulting work for Palantir. But as DNI, Haines's work will undoubtedly brush up against other tech giants, including Facebook and Google, who now regularly consult with the intelligence community regarding emerging threats, including foreign influence campaigns.

Eric Lander

Nomination: Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy

Lander, a top geneticist, previously co-chaired the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology under President Obama and has served on the Defense Innovation Board alongside top tech executives Eric Schmidt and Reid Hoffman. Now, he'll be charged with overseeing the Office of Science and Technology Policy, which, for the last four years, has focused on emerging tech, including 5G deployment, the AI race with China and quantum computing.

Narda Jones

Nomination: Legislative Affairs Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Jones was most recently a top tech policy staffer to Sen. Maria Cantwell on the Senate Commerce Committee, and she'll bring that legislative expertise to her role at the OSTP, where she'll work with Congress on issues including the future of AI, 5G, advanced manufacturing, quantum computing and more.

Alondra Nelson

Nomination: Deputy Director for Science and Society, Office of Science and Technology Policy

Nelson will bring her deep background in the social sciences to OSTP's work as deputy director for science and society, a newly created position. Nelson, president of the Social Science Research Council, has spent years researching the intersection of race and technology and worked side by side with Facebook to launch Social Science One, a sprawling social science dataset. Nelson will likely work closely with the chief technology officer, who has not yet been announced.

Tarun Chhabra

Nomination: Senior Director for Technology and National Security, National Security Council

Tarun Chhabra, a former National Security Council and Department of Defense official under Obama, will help facilitate relationships between the tech industry and the national security world from his perch on the National Security Council. He'll work to coordinate an approach to technology issues across multiple federal agencies.

Michael Sulmeyer

Nomination: Senior Director for Cyber, National Security Council

Sulmeyer, who has held cyber positions in the Trump and Obama administrations, will pick up the mantle as one of Biden's closest advisers on cyber. He has written at length about issues including election interference and federal cybersecurity.

Brian Deese

Nomination: Director of the National Economic Council

Deese recently said that the Biden administration hopes to invest domestically in the U.S. tech sector in order to compete head-to-head with China, rather than turning first to tariffs and export bans. "I think it's clear that China is our most serious global competitor," Deese said during CES. "And this competition is going to be one of the central challenges of this century."

Bruce Reed

Nomination: Deputy Chief of Staff

Reed was Biden's most important tech policy adviser during the campaign, and he's expected to play a similar role over the next four years, especially when it comes to the issue of Section 230, which Reed says needs to be overhauled. Reed helped craft California's landmark privacy law in his capacity as an adviser to Common Sense Media, a nonprofit that advocates for tougher online regulations to protect children. California's privacy law "would not have happened without Bruce, there's no question," California State Senate Majority Leader Bob Hertzberg told Reuters.

Still to come:

Biden has yet to announce his picks for some of the most pivotal roles for the tech industry, including the chief technology officer, the head of the DOJ's antitrust division, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission and the chair of the Federal Trade Commission. He's likely to name acting chairs for the FCC and FTC this week, at which point his administration will get to work figuring out who to select for the open chair slots at both agencies. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and FTC Commissioner Reecca Slaughter are favored to become chairs of their respective agencies, but no formal announcements have been made.

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