Representatives of several Asian American groups met last week in the Roosevelt Room with President Obama and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, director of White House domestic policy Cecilia Munoz, Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, Tina Tchen, and Paulette Aniskoff, who heads the White House Office of Public Engagement.
The groups hardly expected to match the first term’s record three Asian Americans in the Cabinet. But one concern was that two of the Asian American Cabinet members — former commerce secretary Gary Locke and former energy secretary Steven Chu — are gone. And Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki isn’t expected to stay all four years, they figured, so they may be down to zero in a few years.
But their real personnel concern was down the road, and the lack of Asian Americans in the subcabinet jobs — deputy secretaries, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries.
“These folks run the day-to-day operations” at the agencies, said Gregory Cendana, executive director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and they “form the bench for future administrations.”
But the bench has gotten much thinner of late. There has never been an Asian American at the deputy secretary level in this administration, and there are, or will soon be, openings in about half of the deputy secretary slots.
There had been only one Asian American undersecretary in the first term, an acting undersecretary of energy, and he’s gone, we’re told. So that’s zero of about 60.
None of the four Asian Americans serving as counsels general at the agencies are left. (They can’t find lawyers in this country?)
There are perhaps 10 Asian Americans in jobs at the assistant secretary level, the groups estimate. But that’s of a total of some 300 assistant secretary jobs.
Granted, Asian American Pacific Islanders are only 6 percent of the population and perhaps 3 percent of the vote. But they are the fastest-growing demographic, and 73 percent of them voted for Obama in 2012.