The Biden administration this week announced the latest round of appointments to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Although some vacancies are still drawing attention – a permanent administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services among them – the new hires show the Biden administration continuing to populate and overhaul the agency during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“As our country navigates an unprecedented public health crisis, President Biden is building a strong, experienced, and diverse team at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” said HHS Chief of Staff Sean McCluskie in a statement.
WHY IT MATTERS
Although some of the hires listed on the HHS announcement had been previously reported – including McCluskie, Dr. Rochelle Walensky as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director and Micky Tripathi as National Coordinator for Health IT – a few new names also appeared.
Jordan Hefcart, for instance, has been named to the position of special assistant at ONC’s Office of Technology’s immediate office. Hefcart was a member of the information systems security team on the Biden campaign, and founded and led a team to help nonprofit organizations defend themselves against cyberattacks in addition to helping safety-net providers navigate the technical requirements of complying with health IT regulations.
Arielle Woronoff, who since March 2017 has served as senior health counsel to the Senate Committee on Finance, will lead the office of legislation at CMS. Woronoff formulated and led procedural arguments before the Senate Parliamentarian during attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and led policy on private market insurance.
Max Lesko, who served on Biden’s transition team working on the domestic COVID response, will be Chief of Staff in the Office of the Surgeon General. Previously Lesko was the national executive director at the Children’s Defense Fund.
Joining Lesko in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health is Jessica Scruggs, as Senior Advisor and Director of Scheduling and Advance for the Surgeon General.
Sonia Chessen, who also served on Biden’s transition team, where she was responsible for slating the Domestic and Economic Agency Review Teams, will be the new Chief of Staff at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Chessen also has nearly a decade of experience at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Clare Pierce-Wrobel and Perrie Briskin will be senior advisors to McCluskie, and Shannon Myricks will hold the position of Deputy White House Liaison in the Office of the Secretary.
Kimberly Espinosa will be Deputy Assistant Secretary for Legislation, and Kirsten Allen, Sean Higgins and Luisana Pérez Fernández will all join the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.
THE LARGER TREND
The hires will join a number of high-profile appointees to the HHS, including Rear Admiral Susan Orsega as acting surgeon general.
Other HHS nominations are still awaiting Senate confirmation, including Xavier Becerra for Secretary and Dr. Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary of Health. Both nominations are historic: Becerra would be the first Latino person to lead the department and Levine would be the first openly trans federal official to be confirmed by the Senate.
ON THE RECORD
“Together, in the Biden-Harris Administration, we will tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, protect and strengthen the Affordable Care Act, expand access to quality, affordable healthcare, and advance health equity in communities across the country,” said McCluskie.