Meet the three Filipino-Americans appointed by Biden to top government posts
Representation has been an important thrust in US President Joe Biden’s choices for top White House positions. "This cabinet will be more representative of the American people than any other cabinet in history,” Biden told reporters December last year.
Indeed, this year, during Biden’s administration, the US may soon see many firsts in its cabinet appointees: the first Native American cabinet cabinet secretary, the first openly gay cabinet member, the first Latino homeland security chief, among others. The list goes on.
This week, Biden also signed four executive actions to advance racial equality.
The White House also issued a memorandum condemning racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
Perhaps it’s no accident that Biden has appointed a number of FIlipino Americans to top White House posts.
One of them is Jason Tengco, who was appointed as the White House liaison in the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
According to its website, the OPM is the “chief human resources agency and personnel policy manager" of the US government.
“President Biden made a promise to the American people that he would assemble diverse and talented teams that look like America, and today he continues to fulfill that promise,” the announcement regarding the Biden staff appointees said.
Tengco was chief of staff for the Coalitions Department of the Biden-Harris campaign prior to the appointment. He also served as executive director of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, among others.
He is a Political Science graduate of UCLA, and in May last year he finished his Master’s in Public Affairs from UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. He was also a fellow for Public Policy and International Affairs at (PPIA) at Carnegie Mellon University.
In October 2020, Tengco told the Asian Journal, “I already knew that we couldn’t afford another four years under the current president, but that was the day that I told myself that I wanted to jump back in and get involved in the campaign myself.”
And so despite a job offer waiting for him in California after he completed his master’s degree, Tengco reached out to people he knew on Biden’s campaign, and was appointed chief of staff of the coalitions team.
Biden also appointed Filipino American Gloria Diño-Steele as acting administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID is an international development agency that provides foreign aid and development assistance.
According to the USAID website announcing her appointment, Steele was a distinguished career member of the US Government’s Senior Executive Service for over 18 years.
She also served as USAID’s Mission Director for the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Mongolia from 2010 to 2015.
Steele graduated from Miriam College with a Business Administration degree in 1974 and is an Amazing Alumna Awardee (the highest award given by the college). After Miriam (Maryknoll College back then), she joined the Department of Agriculture under then Secretary Arturo Tanco. She also taught Business Economics at Letran Graduate School for Business in Manila.
Steele left the Philippines in 1980 with her American husband who was working with the USDA. She received her master's degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University. She returned 30 years later, in 2010, as Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), her first foreign assignment.
Pangasinan native Camille Calimlin-Touton, meanwhile, was appointed by Biden as s deputy commissioner of the US Bureau of Reclamation. The bureau is a water management agency under the US Department of the Interior, which oversees dams, canals, and hydroelectric plants across the Western United States. It is the nation’s largest wholesaler of water and the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western US.
The announcement of Touton’s appointment was made by Representative Grace Napolitano of the 32nd District of California. Napolitano said Touton’s appointment is “historic” as she becomes “the first Filipino American to serve in this important agency leadership role.”
“Ms. Touton is a master of the complicated issues of Western water policy, who fully understands the grave threats posed by climate change and unpredictable drought cycles. She is well respected by the wide spectrum of water leaders, including Democrats and Republicans, federal, state, and local water officials, and non-governmental groups,” Napolitano added.
Touton previously worked in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Soon after the appointment, Rep. Christopher de Venecia of Pangasinan’s fourth district filed a resolution in the House of Representatives to congratulate Touton. “The appointment of Calimlim-Touton brings honor and pride not only to the people of Dagupan City but also to the entire Philippines,” De Venecia said.
Touton was born in Quezon City to Pangasinense parents. She and her family migrated to the US when she was in grade school.
Touton received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and her Master’s in Public Policy from George Mason University.
Banner photo and thumbnail from Angela Weiss/ AFP via Philstar.com