The nominees, who must be confirmed by the Senate, include Jewel H. Bronaugh at Agriculture, Polly Trottenberg at Transportation, Andrea Palm at Health and Human Services, Elizabeth Klein at Interior and Cindy Marten at Education.
Four of the women — Bronaugh, Trottenberg, Palm and Klein — held roles in the same departments during the Obama administration, part of Biden’s strategy of turning to a familiar team so his administration will face less of a learning curve.
Deputies at large federal departments often have crucial responsibility for managing day-to-day operations in their sprawling organizations. The deputy has traditionally functioned as the leader who holds things together while the secretary travels or acts as the agency’s better-known figurehead.
That may be particularly true when the secretary is a political figure, like Pete Buttigieg at Transportation or Xavier Becerra at HHS, who has not devoted his career to mastering the policy details that are the department’s focus.
Bronaugh, Biden’s choice for deputy agriculture secretary, is commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She could help blunt criticism of Tom Vilsack’s nomination to lead the agency, especially from Black farmers who said Vilsack was inattentive to their needs during his first stint as secretary.
Vilsack was at the center of a storm in 2010 when he fired Shirley Sherrod, a Black department official, after a conservative blogger released a misleading video clip that appeared to show Sherrod admitting animosity toward a White farmer. Vilsack later apologized and tried to rehire her.
Bronaugh would be the first woman of color to serve as the agency’s deputy secretary. She served as Virginia executive director for the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) during the Vilsack era.
Vilsack said in a statement that he hoped to work with Bronaugh to build the “most talented, most diverse USDA leadership team in history” to address climate crisis, end the coronavirus pandemic, improve access to nutritious food and rebuild rural America.
At the Transportation Department, Trottenberg would bring federal, state and municipal experience that could add significant expertise to Buttigieg’s team.
Trottenberg for the past seven years has led New York City’s transportation department, a 5,800-person operation that oversees the city’s roads, bridges, traffic and parking systems, as well as the Staten Island Ferry and extensive bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. She was under consideration as transportation secretary before Biden turned to Buttigieg.
Trottenberg, who served in Obama’s Transportation Department, “checks a lot of boxes,” said a former senior Obama transportation official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing personnel moves, and “she’s run something,” heading a large agency.
Before his run for president, Buttigieg was mayor of South Bend., Ind., a city of about 102,000 people. He attracted attention during the campaign for his eloquence and ideas, but detractors noted that he had never led a truly large organization.
In her current job, Trottenberg has focused on improving transportation equity and access, including a busway along 14th Street in Manhattan. She also has legislative experience, having worked for three Senate Democrats.
Palm, at HHS, would bring experience overseeing one of the largest state health agencies, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. HHS will be among the most visible Cabinet agencies as it rolls out a strategy to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Palm held a number of roles at HHS in the Obama era, including as acting assistant secretary for legislation, chief of staff and senior counselor to the secretary. She worked on the Affordable Care Act and helped lead efforts to the fight the opioid epidemic.
Klein is another Obama veteran, having served at the Interior Department during his administration, as well as during the Clinton era, working on renewable energy and climate change.
More recently, Klein was deputy director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University’s School of Law, which supports state attorneys general in defending environment rules. Klein has also specialized in energy and environmental law in private practice.
Marten would leave her job as superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District to serve as deputy at the Education Department.
With a 32-year career as an educator, including as a principal, vice principal and literacy specialist, she took a similar path as Biden’s nominee for secretary, Miguel Cardona. A classroom teacher for 17 years before becoming superintendent, Marten worked in one of the city’s most ethnically diverse and economically struggling communities, where she established a biliteracy program and other initiatives.
Among other things, Marten has focused on ways to close achievement gaps among various groups of students.
Two weeks ago, she signed on to a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom from a small group of school superintendents that criticized his plan to reopen schools as inadequate and insufficiently attentive to the coronavirus’s effect on low-income communities.
Michael Laris contributed to this report.