Caption : Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash.     

Young people have been consistent leaders in movements that advocate for progressive solutions to the issues facing this country—and we are creating substantive change. In November, young people under the age of 35 turned out to vote in historic numbers in large part because of our desire for progressive solutions to issues like the climate crisis, systemic racism, and the gun violence epidemic. Throughout the campaign, Millennials and members of Generation Z made it clear that we want to see action from our government. Now that the election is over and a new administration has come into office, it’s important for us to know who has influence over the issues we care about and who is responsible for enacting the solutions we want to see.    

On January 20th, President Biden took the oath of office to become the 46th president of the United States. And a new president is just the start when it comes to changes in the executive branch of government. One of Biden’s first tasks as president has been appointing the leaders of the departments and agencies that make up the rest of the executive branch. This change in leadership will have a massive impact on many of the issues that young people care about.  

The new executive branch will include the President’s Cabinet which consists of heads of executive departments, independent agencies and other boards, commissions, and committees. These high-level officials serve as advisors to the president, using their expertise to inform the president’s decision-making. Within the departments and agencies that they lead, they are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day enforcement and administration of federal laws and policies. They administer programs, make funding decisions, and collect and analyze data. These agencies set the stage for what is possible in an administration, meaning that the leaders of federal departments and agencies will directly impact whether or not the goals of our generations are accomplished. This is why leadership change is so important and thinking beyond the seat of the presidency is critical. 

Many of President Biden’s appointees require Senate confirmation. As those confirmation hearings and votes continue, we wanted to break down exactly what young people can expect from the various departments and agencies under the Biden-Harris administration when it comes to the policy priorities that they want to see enacted. 

Student Debt

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

The CFPB is tasked with protecting American consumers by regulating products and services that fall under federal consumer laws. The bureau also aims to empower consumers to make informed financial decisions through the spread of information and educational resources. In terms of student debt, the CFPB has the power to protect borrowers through the regulation of servicers and lenders. 

Biden-Harris Appointee: Rohit Chopra

Rohit Chopra is currently a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, and has previously served as the assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), where he worked directly on protections for people with student loans. Chopra has also served as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he worked alongside Generation Progress to address the student debt crisis.

Status: Awaiting confirmation

Department of Education (ED)

The Department of Education may be best known for its role in supporting and strengthening K-12 education. However, ED also regulates and enforces rules to limit or expand the power of student loan lenders, services, banks, and colleges and universities. The department has significant power to act on student debt—including, most notably, the power to cancel student debt in part or in whole. It also has the power to shore up regulations that prevent predatory institutions from  defrauding students and borrowers. The Secretary of Education can lead this department to protect borrowers through regulatory rulemaking, cancelling student loans, and issuing guidance on how federal funding for colleges can be used.  

Biden-Harris Appointee: Miguel Cardona

Miguel Cardona is a former teacher and has previously served as the Connecticut Commissioner of Education.

Status: Confirmed

Climate

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

The EPA protects natural resources like air, land, and water to defend human and environmental health. The agency leads the country in developing and enforcing federal climate policy and conducts research to further public understanding of environmental health and risks. The Administrator of the EPA has the power to fight climate change by putting in place health and environmental safeguards, creating jobs in clean energy technology, and instating more forceful environmental protections and regulations. And importantly, they can prioritize policies that build resilience in frontline communities and embed environmental justice in all the work they advance. 

Biden-Harris Appointee: Michael S. Regan

Michael S. Regan previously served as the Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and has also served as Air Quality Controller for the EPA under Pres. Obama. The Biden administration has indicated that it will prioritize environmental justice in its climate policy, acknowledging that BIPOC communities are often most impacted by pollution, natural disasters, and other manifestations of climate change. 

Status: Confirmed

Department of the Interior (DOI)

The Department of the Interior is tasked with conservation and management of the country’s natural resources. The department also works closely alongside Indigenous communities to protect public lands. The Interior Secretary has the power to address the climate crisis by implementing comprehensive regulations and protective measures and prevent pollution and exploitation of natural resources by corporate interests.  

Biden-Harris Nominee: Representative Deb Halaand

Rep. Haaland is a U.S. Representative from New Mexico’s 1st congressional district. Rep. Haaland is the first Indigenous person to serve as a Cabinet secretary in U.S. history. Her nomination was enthusiastically supported by many young and Indigenous advocates.

Status: Confirmed

Department of Energy (DOE)

The Department of Energy develops scientific and technological solutions to address energy, environmental, and nuclear challenges.The Secretary of Energy has the power to combat climate change by supporting research and innovation that would cut down on carbon pollution, develop further production of renewable and clean energy.

Biden-Harris Nominee: Jennifer Granholm

Jennifer Granholm is the former Governor of Michigan, and the first woman to ever serve in that role.

Status: Confirmed

Gun Violence Prevention

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

The Department of Health and Human Services serves the public by advancing medicine, public health, and social services. The department has the power to combat the gun violence epidemic by declaring gun violence to be a public health emergency, which could result in the allocation of additional resources to address the issue and the promotion of community-led gun violence prevention measures at the federal, state, and local level.  

Biden-Harris Nominee: Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra is the current Attorney General of California and a former U.S. Representative from California. 

Status: Confirmed

Department of Justice (DOJ)

The DOJ is tasked with enforcing federal gun laws and regulating the gun industry, among its many duties. This department has the power to shape our criminal legal system, combat police brutality and white supremacy, and use a racial equity lens to address gun violence by supporting a public health approach and community-centered violence solutions. The department is led by the Attorney General.  

Biden-Harris Nominee: Merrick Garland

Attorney General Garland previously served as a United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. 

Status: Confirmed

Immigration

Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The Department of Homeland Security oversees security efforts in the areas of border security, immigration and customs enforcement, cyber security, and anti-terrorism security. The department also houses the Customs and Border Protection (CBP),  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The DHS Secretary has the power to work with President Biden to implement immigration policy that centers human dignity and provides a pathway to citizenship.

Biden-Harris Appointee: Alejandro Mayorkas

Alejandro Mayorkas is the first Latinx person and immigrant to lead this Department. Mayorkas served in prominent DHS roles during the Obama administration, including Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Deputy DHS Secretary, and led the development and implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. 

Status: Confirmed

Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

As discussed in the section on gun violence prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services serves the public through advancing medicine, public health and social services. The department, via the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), is also responsible for ensuring the care and safety of “unaccompanied children”—children who do not have lawful immigration status in the United States, are under the age of 18, and do not have a parent or legal guardian in the United States.

Biden-Harris Nominee: Xavier Becerra

Xavier Becerra is the current Attorney General of California and a former U.S. Representative from California. 

Status: Confirmed

Conclusion

When young people turned out to vote in November, we voted for a president and vice president. But the impact of our votes extends far beyond those two positions, leading to new people in key positions that will determine U.S. policy for years to come. With this new leadership, young people can expect to see bolder interagency solutions to the urgent issues facing our country that meet the needs of the lived experiences of us all. Over the coming months and years, young people will be paying close attention to who is leading these agencies, what their policy priorities are, and what they are able to accomplish. We expect these new leaders—not just the president—to keep the needs of young people in mind as they go about their work, and we look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together. 

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