Black Talent Initiative

Report Card on Black Chiefs of Staff to Cabinet Secretaries in the Biden Administration

The full report card can be found below, or click here to read the PDF version.

Black Americans account for 22 percent of Biden's 2020 Voters and 13 percent of Chiefs of Staff to Biden Cabinet Secretaries.

Of the 15 appointees who serve as chief of staff to a cabinet secretary in the Biden administration, only two are Black—just 13 percent of all chiefs of staff. By comparison, approximately 22 percent of President Biden’s votes during the 2020 general election were from the Black community. The two Black chiefs of staff, Jenn Jones and Tanya Bradsher—both women—are employed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs, respectively.

Chiefs of staff are key actors in implementing the administration’s and the secretaries’ priorities, and they can play critical roles in determining the extent of Black appointments within an agency. Chiefs of staff often serve as principal advisors to department secretaries on political appointments and act as gatekeepers to determine which candidates are considered by the secretary. A chief’s regular interactions with division and department leaders can also help create an inclusive culture that actively works to recruit, retain, develop, and promote racially diverse appointees.

Chiefs of Staff to the Cabinet Secretaries
July 19, 2021

Methodology

The data reflect chief of staff positions in the Biden administration as of July 19, 2021.

Like the Joint Center’s earlier studies, this study is limited to 15 executive branch agencies. It does not include the Small Business Administration (SBA) or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which are independent agencies. The chief of staff at the SBA, Antwaun Griffin, identifies as Black.

For agencies such as the Department of Defense that have joint chiefs of staff for each military branch, we only included the chief of staff to the Secretary of Defense. There was a change in chief of staff in one agency before July 19, but neither the former nor current chief of staff there identifies as Black.

We used the 2020 U.S. Government Policy and Supporting Positions (commonly known as the Plum book) and the database LegiStorm to identify appointees. LegiStorm contains comprehensive and accurate biographical and contact data. For chiefs of staff not in LegiStorm, we used the agency’s directory.

We determined whether a chief of staff is Black by: 1) examining photos on social media accounts, news reports, and biographies from government and institutional websites; 2) looking for racially identifiable information in reports or news coverage on the nominee (e.g., the nominee is the first African American appointed to the position); and 3) reviewing whether the nominee is affiliated with an traditionally African American organization or institution, including HBCUs, fraternities or sororities, the NAACP, and so forth.

For those appointees who had publicly available contact information (e.g., email address, LinkedIn account), we contacted him or her to confirm our assumption and asked them to correct information on how they self-identify. We also invited the agency’s public affairs division to correct the data. Finally, we shared the information with the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.

To provide corrections to our findings, please send an email with “CORRECTION” in the subject line to research@jointcenter.org.

In addition to chief of staff to cabinet secretary positions, there are many other high-level appointments that do not require Senate confirmation (e.g., principal deputy assistant secretaries). The Joint Center will analyze Black appointments for many of these other positions in the future.


Karra McCray, a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University, authored this report card. McCray also co-authored this 2018 Joint Center publication Racial Diversity Among Top U.S. House Staff.

To see all of the Joint Center's report cards examining the Biden administration's performance on Black appointments, click here.

Author