Connecticut connections to the administration of newly sworn in President Joe Biden continue to make headlines.
The President named current Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who spent her childhood in West Hartford, as interim chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission last week. The Biden Administration’s Press Secretary, Jennifer Psaki, whose youth was spent in Stamford and then Greenwich, began briefing the Washginton Press Corps daily from the White House. And Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, Yale University associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management, was appointed to lead a new COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, established by President Biden by Executive Order on his second day in office.
Rosenworcel, who has served as an FCC commissioner for eight years, will lead the agency until a permanent chair is confirmed by the Senate. She is the second woman in the agency's history to take the role of acting chair. President Barack Obama first nominated Rosenworcel to the FCC in 2011 and she is the most senior commissioner.
Rosenworcel graduated Hall High School in West Hartford, and earned her undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University in Middletown. At her Senate confirmation hearing in 2015, Rosenworcel salued her family – her husband and children, as well as her parents and brother. “Let me also note my brother, Brian Rosenworcel, who is touring the country as drummer for the band Guster. My parents have the unique ability to claim they have children who are a rocker and a regulator.”
“There will be moments when we disagree,” Psaki told reporters in the White House Briefing Room and a national television audience on Inauguration Day. “But we have a common goal, which is sharing accurate information with the American people. I have deep respect for the role of a free and independent press in our democracy and for the role all of you play.”
A Greenwich High School graduate, Psaki previously served as White House communications director in the Obama administration from 2015 to 2017 and as the spokesperson at the State Department under then secretary of state John Kerry from 2013 to 2015. Prior to joining the State Department in 2013, Psaki served as deputy White House communications director, working with administration’s the economic team during the financial crisis, and as a senior adviser and traveling press secretary for the Obama campaigns during the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
Psaki said just after her appointment as Press Secretary was announced late last year that she would work to “rebuild trust of the American people, communicate the Biden-Harris agenda, and make the work of the U.S. government more accessible to the people we will all serve.”
During her communications career, she also was senior vice president and managing director at Global Strategy Group, a New York City–based strategic consulting and polling firm with offices in Connecticut, nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and a contributor at CNN.
The Connecticut Post reported recently that she attended Greenwich Country Day School as a youngster, whose alumni include former President George H.W. Bush and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin.
The Health Equity Task Force, as outlined in President Biden’s Executive Order, would provide recommendations for “mitigating the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future.” The Task Force would also make recommendations regarding how “officials can best allocate COVID-19 resources, in light of disproportionately high rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and mortality in certain communities and disparities in COVID-19 outcomes by race, ethnicity, and other factors,” and recommendations “regarding how to disburse (COVID-19 relief) funds in a manner that advances equity.”
“Making sure communities hardest hit by the pandemic have access to safe, effective vaccines remains a priority,” Dr. Nunez-Smith said recently. But “what’s needed to ensure equity in the recovery is not limited to health and health care. We have to have conversations about housing stability and food security and educational equity, and pathways to economic opportunities and promise.”
While almost every American now knows someone who has been affected by Covid-19, in communities of color at least one third of people have lost someone close to them, The New York Times reported recently. “Think about the individual toll that takes,” Dr. Nunez-Smith told The Times. “These are people’s parents, friends and loved ones. We cannot overstate the disproportionate impact.”
There are numerous others with Connecticut connections in the new Administration, among the most prominent: former Connecticut Commissioner of Environmental Protection Gina McCarthy is senior White House adviser on climate change, and former State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona, a longtime Meriden resident, is awaiting Senate confirmation to be U.S. Secretary of Education.
"I am honored to be designated as the acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission by President Biden," Rosenworcel said last week. "I thank the president for the opportunity to lead an agency with such a vital mission and talented staff. It is a privilege to serve the American people and work on their behalf to expand the reach of communications opportunity in the digital age."
During her 2015 confirmation hearing, Rosenworcel stressed that the FCC “must be guided by four essential values. First, public safety. Our networks must be available when the unthinkable occurs and we need them most. Second, universal access. No matter who you are or where you live in this country, for a fair shot at 21st century prosperity you need access to first-rate, modern communications. That means we need policies that foster deployment and adoption in urban areas, rural areas, and everything in between. Third, competition. Competition increases innovation and lowers prices. Fourth, consumer protection. Communications services are multiplying. We are getting more value from them than ever before. But the marketplace is also bewildering to navigate. So we should always be on guard for ways to help consumers make good choices.”