Obama Alums in the Mix for Biden Cyber, USCIS Jobs (Corrected)

  • Experience an asset for Biden’s Homeland Security Department
  • Former deputies and assistants strong contenders for directors

(Corrects name of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in second paragraph of story from Jan. 8.)

President-elect Joe Biden’s Homeland Security Department will rely on seasoned experts to lead top DHS agencies, several former Obama and Trump DHS officials said in interviews.

Ur Jaddou, currently the leader of Biden’s DHS transition agency review team, tops the list to lead the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the ex-officials said. Jaddou served for three years as the USCIS chief counsel.

Robert Silvers, assistant secretary for cyber policy and DHS deputy chief of staff among other homeland roles under President Barack Obama, also is a candidate for a top DHS or subagency slot, the persons said. Neither has been offered a DHS post, which are in high demand, they said.

The Biden transition team declined to comment. Silvers also declined to comment.

Biden would find experienced hands in Silvers and Jaddou. It will take adept leadership to bring to heel the Homeland Security Department, which President Donald Trump directed to separate migrant children from their parents at the border with Mexico. Critics also faulted his administration for an aggressive posture toward Black Lives Matter protesters in the summer of 2020.

The subagency chiefs would serve under Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee to lead the DHS. Mayorkas served as the deputy DHS secretary under Jeh Johnson and as USCIS director, both during Obama’s administration.

Mark Makela/Getty Images
Alejandro Mayorkas at his nomination announcement Nov. 24, 2020 in Wilmington.

Citizenship, Immigration

Jaddou, whose tenure as USCIS chief counsel ran from July 2014 to January 2017, already knows many of the career staff. She took over that role from Mayorkas. She’s considered a likely pick for the director role, a lobbyist and a former Obama DHS official said.

The president-elect’s immigration policies diverge sharply from those of his predecessor in several areas, particularly over asylum and creating a path to citizenship for undocumented people who were brought into the country unlawfully while they were still children.

On temporary work visas, Biden has pledged to work with Congress to increase the number of visas available, while enacting changes that will protect U.S. workers.

Jaddou’s time at USCIS also means she could bring a wide range of knowledge on immigration issues, and, according to one former Obama DHS official, she was well respected in the agency.

Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Security

Silvers is a prime candidate to take the top Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency slot, a lobbyist and a former Trump DHS official said. His name has also been floated for a possible high level policy position within DHS, the same officials said.

The CISA took on a new prominence in 2020 for the agency’s handling of disinformation and foreign interference in the 2020 election, which ultimately led to Trump firing his own appointee, Chris Krebs.

Silvers is a partner at the Paul Hastings law firm, where he is vice-chairman of the firm’s privacy and cybersecurity practice and co-chairman of the artificial intelligence. He has a long relationship with Mayorkas—the pair were lawyers at international law firm O’Melveny & Myers at the same time. Silvers later became senior counselor to Mayorkas when he served at director at USCIS.

Another that had been floated for the CISA role under a Biden administration was Alex Stamos, but he announced Jan. 8 that he was forming his own consulting firm with Krebs. Another possible candidate was Caitlin Durkovich, but the Biden-Harris transition team announced Jan. 8 that she would be the senior director for resilience and response on the White House National Security Council.

The new CISA head will have to help the agency shift from its post-election response to addressing the massive foreign intrusion of federal networks linked to Solar Winds, widely used network management software.

With assistance from Rebecca Kern

To contact the reporters on this story: Shaun Courtney in Washington at scourtney@bgov.com; Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cheryl Saenz at csaenz@bloombergindustry.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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