Deedra

List of Presidential “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” Appointments

One step forward, two steps back, was the name of the game.

by Deedra Abboud in Political, Relationships, Social Views
February 15, 2021 0 comments

This list is not an exhaustive “Breaking the Glass Ceiling” presidential appointment list, but it is an extensive one with a fascinating timeline.

The Glass Ceiling is an unofficially acknowledged barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minority groups.

Both laws and prejudice have prevented women and minorities from advancing to government positions, particularly presidential appointments.

The Naturalization Act of 1790, the same year the census started, allowed citizenship only to “a free white person.”

Arabs, along with Italians, Jews, and others, were forced to litigate their identities in line with prevailing conceptions of whiteness — which fluctuated according to geographic origin, physical appearance, and religion “to whom the act of Congress has donated the privilege of citizenship in this country with its accompanying duties and responsibilities.

It wasn’t until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that the US outlawed discrimination in the naturalization process.

Scores of Muslim immigrants were turned away at U.S. ports in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a notable 1891 case, the Supreme Court highlighted “the intense hostility of the people of Moslem faith to all other sects, and particularly to Christians.”

Arab Christian immigrants were often excluded as suspected “secret” Muslims as well as subject to “whiteness” assessments. In 1913, a South Carolina court rejected the citizenship petition of a Lebanese Christian, saying that his skin complexion, “about [the color] of walnut, or somewhat darker than is the usual mulatto of one-half mixed blood between the white and the negro races,” provided evidence of miscegenation (race mixing) with Muslims.

In 1915, George Dow, an immigrant from Syria, had to prove he was white and not “Asiatic” to gain citizenship on an appeal to the Circuit Court. Though Dow passed on the literacy obstacles, the judge ultimately rejected Dow’s petition for naturalization based on the fact that, “the applicant is not that particular free white person to whom the act of Congress has donated the privilege of citizenship in this country with its accompanying duties and responsibilities.”

Ahmed Hassan — a native of Yemen and the first Arab Muslim to apply for citizenship — was denied naturalization in 1942, because, a court said: “It cannot be expected that as a class they [meaning Arabs, a term used synonymously with Muslims at the time] would readily intermarry with our population and be assimilated into our civilization.”

The first court ruling to grant naturalization to an Arab-born Muslim was for a Saudi man, in Ex Parte Mohriez, in 1944 — and, even then, based only on the finding that Arabs should be considered part of “the white race.”

The first Arab-Americans to receive presidential appointments was a man in 1961 and a woman in 1993.

President Joe Biden has appointed two Arab American women to key White House positions: one as co-deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs and the other as a senior legal affairs advisor.

Though enslaved people were emancipated in 1863, the Civil War ended in 1865, the 14th Amendment in 1868 granted formerly enslaved people U.S. citizenship [while still defining voters as male], the 15th Amendment prohibited denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” in 1870, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act directed the Attorney General to enforce the right to vote for both male and female Black U.S. citizens, the first presidential appointment of a Black man didn’t occur until 1966, while the first Black woman came in 1977.

Though not a presidential appointment, Joseph Rainey was elected as the first African American to preside over the House of Representatives as Speaker pro tempore, or Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1874. He was the first Black person to serve in the United States House of Representatives and the second black person, after Senator Hiram Revels, to serve in the United States Congress. [Fun Fact: Rainey supported legislation that became known as the Enforcement Acts, to suppress the violent activities of the Ku Klux Klan. This helped for a time, before white insurgents developed other paramilitary groups in the South, such as the White League and the Red Shirts, gained dominance of the Southern state legislatures to pass laws for segregationJim Crow, and making voter registration more difficult, effectively disenfranchising black people. In 1895, they passed a new South Carolina state constitution that completed the disenfranchisement of most black people, stripping them of political power and excluding them from the political process for the next several decades into the 1960s.]

In 2003, Nancy Pelosi became the first woman Speaker pro tempore.

Just one Black man and one white woman have held this position out of 127 speakerships since 1789.

In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act barred people of Chinese ancestry from naturalizing to become US citizens. In 1922, Supreme Court ruled that people of Japanese heritage were ineligible to become naturalized citizens. In 1923, the Supreme Court found that “Asian Indians” were also not eligible to naturalize. The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act granted all people of Asian ancestry the right to become citizens.

The first Asian descent presidential appointment came in 1991, two women, and 1998, one man and one woman.

In 1876, the Supreme Court ruled that Native Americans were not citizens as defined by the 14th Amendment. In 1887, the Dawes Act “granted” citizenship to Native Americans who give up their tribal affiliations.

In 1890, the Indian Naturalization Act “granted” citizenship to Native Americans whose applications are approved – similar to the process of immigrant naturalization.

In 1919, Native Americans who served in the military during World War I were “granted” US citizenship.

The 1924 Indian Citizenship Act “granted” citizenship to Native Americans, but many states nonetheless made laws and policies that prohibited Native Americans from voting.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and subsequent laws passed in 1970, 1975, and 1982 built stronger voting protections to allow Native Americans to vote without intimidation, literacy tests, poll taxes, and fraud.

Though not a presidential appointment, Charles Curtis served as vice president to Herbert Hoover from 1929 to 1933, the Senate Majority Leader from 1924 to 1929, and president pro tempore of the Senate in 1911. Curtis, whose mother was 3/8 Indigenous and 5/8 European, was the first person with any Native American ancestry and with acknowledged non-European ancestry to reach either of the highest offices in the federal executive branch. He is the highest-ranking enrolled Native American ever to serve in the federal government. He was also the first multi-racial, person of color, and Native American to hold any of the three positions.

In 2010, Daniel Ken Inouye, of Japanese descent, became the second racial minority to become president pro tempore of the Senate as wells as the highest-ranking Asian-American politician in U.S. history. Inouye was the also the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives and the first Japanese American to serve in the U.S. Senate. Since the office was created in 1789, 91 individuals, from 39 of the 50 states, have served as President pro tempore of the Senate – but only two racial minority men and no women.

The first Indigenous presidential Cabinet appointment came in 2021 when Biden has nominated Deb Haaland for the Secretary of Interior.

Despite the forcefulness of the nativists’ pleas to restrict Mexican immigration, the agricultural and industrial lobbies put significant pressure on lawmakers to waive Mexican nationals from the requirements of the immigration laws of the 1910s and 1920s. Pressure from agricultural and economic interests kept such legislation from becoming enacted, but only as long as the economy remained strong.

In 1929, as the stock markets crashed and unemployment began to rise, native-born US citizens targeted Mexican immigrants. Across the country, local and federal officials launched “repatriation drives” — raids and campaigns to deport Mexican immigrants back to Mexico. The repatriation campaigns expelled hundreds of thousands of Mexicans (some estimate as many as 1.8 million), and continued throughout the 1930s. Many of them had entered the United States legally, and many — especially their children — were American citizens.

The first Latinx/Hispanic presidential appointments were in 1971 and 1993, both men. The first Latina woman was in 2009.

While white women received the right to vote in 1920, no women of any color or ancestry received presidential appointments until 1933, and then only two white women of European descent. One of the 1933 appointments was also the first documented LGBTQ presidential appointment. The next appointment of a woman didn’t come until 1949, and the next was 1953.

In 2000, a federal court decided that Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico, though US citizens, cannot vote for the US president, and I found no record of any Puerto Rican appointed by the president that did not already reside in one of the fifty U.S. states. The first Puerto Rican descent presidential appointment came in 2005, a man, followed by a woman in 2017.

Presidents are required to fill roughly 4,000 politically appointed positions in the executive branch, including the heads of 15 executive departments and more than 1,250 other positions that require Senate confirmation.

A person appointed as acting temporarily holds a position that requires Senate approval and is, therefore, not considered to have fully held the appointed position.

1933

Secretary of Labor

In 1933, Frances Perkins became the fourth Secretary of Labor and the first woman as well as the first female in the U.S. history ever to be appointed in the Cabinet. Perkins was also the first documented LGBTQ member of the Cabinet. No other woman or minority was appointed until Ann McLaughlin in 1987.

In 1997, Alexis Herman became the first Black person and woman to hold the position.

In 2001, Elaine Cho became the first Asian-American woman to hold the position and the first Taiwanese-American in U.S. history to be appointed to a President’s Cabinet. [See also Secretary of Transportation and Director of the Peace Corps.]

In 2009, Hilda Solis became the first Latina/Hispanic woman appointed as the Secretary of Labor.

In 2013, Tom Perez became the first Latino/Hispanic male appointed as Secretary of Labor.

Marty Walsh has been nominated to serve as the United States Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration.

Director of the United States Mint

The office of Director has existed since the creation of the Mint by the Coinage Act of 1792. Initially appointed serving at the pleasure of the President of the United States, the Coinage Act of 1873 specified a five-year term for directors.

In 1933, Nellie Tayloe Ross became the first woman appointed as the U.S. Mind Director. [She was one of the first women to be sworn in as governor of a U.S. state, and remains the only woman to have served as governor of Wyoming.]

In 2006, Edmund Moy became the first person of Asian descent, Chinese, appointed as Director.

Though several women have been appointed Director, no other person of color has ever been appointed as Director of the US Mint.

In July 2015, Matthew Rhett Jeppson was nominated by President Barack Obama to become the Mint’s 39th director, however, the nomination was never confirmed by the Senate. 

Until the appointment and Senate confirmation of David Ryder as director in 2018, the Mint had been without an official director since 2011. Ryder’s term expires in 2023.

1949

Treasurer of the United States [not to be confused with the Secretary of the Treasury]

In 1949, Georgia Neese Clark became the first woman Treasurer.

In 1971, Romana Acosta became the first Hispanic treasurer of the United States. [She was also the owner of a multimillion-dollar business, Ramona’s Mexican Food Products, Inc. headquartered in Gardena, California.]

In 1977, Azie Taylor Morton became the first and only Black woman to serve as Treasurer.

All fifteen subsequent Treasurers have been women. Seven of the past eleven Treasurers have been Latina/Hispanic, and only one has been Black.

The position has been vacant since January 2020.

In the last 100 years, the length of time the office has been vacant totals more than 4,000 days, or eleven years.

No minority men have served in this position.

No word on a nomination for the Biden administration yet.

1953

Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (Defunct department)

In 1953, Oveta Culp Hobby, a woman, became the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare which later divided into the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Education. No other minorities or women held this position before it was divided.

1961

Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)

In 1961, Najeeb Halaby became the second Administrator of the FAA and the first of Arab descent. Halaby was Lebanese/Syrian. (Fun Fact: He was the father of Queen Noor of Jordan.]

In 1997, Jane Garvey became the first woman administrator. [Garvey’s term weathered through 9/11, FAA sexual harassment issues, union air traffic controller negotiation following Reagan’s strike firing, Y2K threat, and government website “cookies” violations.]

In 2011, Michael Huerta became the first Latinx/Hispanic administrator of the FAA.

No word on an appointment for FAA Administrator yet, but the Biden administration did announce A. Bradley Mims, who is Black, as Deputy Administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration

1966

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Robert Weaver became the first Black man appointed to the position in 1966, also becoming the first Black man appointed to a US cabinet-level position and the first to enter the line of succession to the Presidency.

In 1975, Carla Hills became the first woman appointed to the office and the third woman to serve as a Cabinet officer. [See also United States Trade Representative.]

Patricia Harris was the first Black woman appointed to the position in 1977, making her the first Black woman to serve in the United States Cabinet, and the first to enter the line of succession to the Presidency. Harris was also the first Black woman to represent the United States as an ambassador in 1965.

President Biden has nominated the second Black woman, Marcia Fudge, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Chair of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Before becoming the first Black person appointed as the Secretary of the Army, Clifford Alexander Jr became the first Black person appointed as Chair of the EEOC in 1967.

Ethel Bent Walsh was the first woman acting Chair in 1975, while Eleanor Holmes Norton was both the first woman and the first Black woman approved by the Senate for the role in 1977.

In 1993, Tony Gallegos became both the first Latinx/Hispanic and the first of Native American descent acting Chair of the EECO until Gilbert Casellas became the first Latinx/Hispanic Chair approved by the Senate in 1994. [Casellas was also Senate approved and sworn in as the first Latinx/Hispanic General Counsel of the United States Department of the Air Force in 1993.]

In 1998, Paul Igasaki became the first acting EEOC Chair of Asian descent, serving until Ida Castro was sworn in as the first Latinx/Hispanic woman EEOC Chair the same year.

In 2010, Chai Feldblum became the first openly gay/LGBTQ person approved by the Senate as commissioner (not Chair) to serve on the EEOC.

In 2012, Jenny Yang became the first person of Asian descent (Vietnamese) to be confirmed by the Senate for the Chair position as well as the first Asian woman.

Since 1994, all eight EEOC Chairs, as well as the three acting Chairs, have been women or ethnic minorities.

Biden has continued that trend by naming current EEOC Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows Chair of the EEOC and Commissioner Jocelyn Samuels Vice-Chair of the EEOC.

1967

Associate Justices of the Supreme Court 

Since 1789, there have been 103 Associate Justices in the Court’s 232-year history.

Thurgood Marshall became the first Black person and minority to serve on the Court in 1967.

Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman in 1981.

In 2009, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic and Latina member of the Court.

While five women, including one Latinx woman, and two Black men have served on the Court, no other minorities have risen to that level.

1975

Secretary of Transportation

In 1975, William Coleman Jr became the first Black person to serve as Transportation Secretary and the second to serve in the Cabinet.

In 1983, Elizabeth Dole was appointed as the first woman Secretary of Transportation and later served as Secretary of Labor, though not as the first woman.

Federico Pena became the first Latino/Hispanic Secretary of transportation in 1993, though his self-description is “Spanish surnamed.” [See also Secretary of Energy]

Norman Yoshio Mineta became the first Asian/Japanese descent Secretary in 2001. (Mineta holds longest-serving Transportation Secretary in the Department’s history, five years.) [See also Secretary of Commerce]

In 2017, Elaine Chao became the first Asian woman to be appointed as Secretary. [See also Secretary of Labor and Director of the Peace Corps.]

In 2021, President Biden nominated Pete Buttigieg for Secretary of Transportation, becoming the first openly gay cabinet nominee in U.S. history and would the second documented gay person to serve in a cabinet position. [See Department of Labor and Director of National Intelligence]

1977

Secretary of Commerce

In 1977, Juanita Kreps became the first woman and first economist to hold that position, and the fourth woman to hold any cabinet position in the United States Executive Branch. [Krebs had also become the first woman director of the New York Stock Exchange in 1972.]

In 1993, Ron Brown became the first of two Black men appointed to the position.

Norman Mineta became the first Asian-American to hold a Cabinet position when he was appointed as the first Asian-American Secretary of commerce in 2000. [Mineta and his family were denied the ability to naturalize and were detained in an incarceration camp in Wyoming during World War II along with thousands of other Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans.]

In 2009, Gary Locke became the second Asian-American, and first Chinese-American, to serve as Secretary of Commerce. [Locke is the first governor in the continental United States of East Asian descent and the only Chinese American ever to have served as a governor of any state. He was also the first Chinese American to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China.]

Three women, and three acting women, have held this position, but no minority woman has ever held this position.

President Joe Biden has selected Gina Raimondo to serve as the United States Secretary of Commerce.

While not the highest post in this agency, when Amanda Simpson was appointed to the position of Senior Technical Advisor in 2010 at the Bureau of Industry and Security, a component of the Department of Commerce, she became the first openly transgender woman political appointee of any Presidential administration.

Ambassador to the United Nations

In 1977, Andrew Young Jr became the first person of color, and the first Black man, to serve as U.S. Ambassador.

Jeane Kirkpatrick became the first woman in 1981, Susan Rice became the first Black woman in 2009, Michael Sison became the first Asian/Pacific Islander acting Ambassador in 2017, and seven days later Nikki Haley became the first Asian/Indian descent person approved by the Senate.

In 2001, Zalmay Khalidzad became the first Asian to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Khalidzad is an immigrant from Afghanistan, a County in South Central Asia, not the Middle East.

Linda Thomas Greenfield will become the second Black woman to serve if approved by the Senate in 2021.

Secretary of the Army

In 1977, Clifford Alexander Jr became the first Black person to serve as the Secretary of the Army. [See also U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission]

From 1997 until 2017, three Black men but no other minority person has held this office.

In 2017, Eric Fanning became the first openly gay/LGBTQ head of any service in the U.S. military with his appointment to Secretary of the Army. The appointment also made Fanning the highest-ranking openly gay/LGBTQ member of the Department of Defense. [Fanning’s previous high-level appointments were: deputy undersecretary and deputy chief management officer for the Department of the Navy (2009); Under Secretary of the Air Force (2013); acting Secretary of the Air Force (2013); special assistant to the Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense/Chief of Staff (2015); and acting Under Secretary of the Army and Chief Management Officer (2015)].

No women have held this position.

While Biden has not nominated for this position yet, John Whitley has been named as acting Army secretary, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Financial Management and Comptroller), and is also performing the duties of Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation for the Department of Defense.

Director of the Peace Corps

In 1977, Carolyn Robertson Payton became the first woman and first Black person to head the Peace Corps since its creation in 1961.

In 1991, Elaine Chao became the second woman and first Asian person to be the director.

Gaddi Vasquez was the first person of Hispanic ancestry to head the Peace Corps in 2002.

In 2009, Aaron Williams became the first Black man to serve as Director.

President Biden has appointed Carol Spahn as acting director until he nominates a director.

1979

Secretary of Education

Though Oveta Culp Hobby served as the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1953, Shirley Hufstedler became the first United States Secretary of the new Department of Education as well as the first woman in 1979. At the time of her secretarial appointment, Hufstedler was the highest-ranking woman in the federal judiciary, serving as a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In 2001, Rod Paige became the first Black person appointed to the position.

In 2016, John King Jr became the second Black man and the first Latino/Hispanic man to serve in the position. King is of African-American and Puerto Rican descent.

Following President Biden’s nomination of Miguel Cardona, the second Latino/Hispanic will hold the position.

Though two additional women served in this position since 1979, no women of color or other minority men have been appointed to Secretary of Education.

1980

Secretary of Health and Human Services

In 1953, Oveta Culp Hobby became the very first secretary and first woman secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare which later became the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

No woman or minority served again until Patricia Roberts Harris was appointed in 1979. Harris was the first Black person and Black woman to serve in the position. Her term overlapped the transition from Health, Education, and Welfare to Health and Human Services, making Harris also the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first Black person to fill the role of Secretary for the new Department of Health and Human Services.

In 1989, Louis Sullivan became the first Black man to serve in this position.

In 1993, Donna Shalala became the first appointee of Arab/Lebanese descent to hold the position and the first Lebanese-American to serve in a Cabinet position.

In 2018, Alex Azar became the first Arab/Lebanese descent man to hold the position.

In 2021, President Biden nominated Xavier Becerra. If confirmed, Becerra will be the first Latino/Hispanic to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

Chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR)

The commission studies alleged discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, age, disability, or national origin. It also studies alleged deprivations of voting rights and discrimination in the administration of justice. Though the commission has no enforcement powers, its commissioners try to enhance the enforcement of federal civil rights laws. Its recommendations often lead to action in Congress. The eight commissioners serve six-year staggered terms.

The U.S. Commission was created under President Dwight D Eisenhower, a Republican, in the 1957 Civil Rights Act. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan sought to weaken the commission, reducing its staff and resources.

In 1981, Clarence Pendleton Jr became the first person of color and the first Black man to Chair this bipartisan, independent commission of the United States federal government.

In 1993, Mary Frances Berry became the first woman Chairperson of the commission.

In 2011, Martin “Marty” Castro became the first Latinx/Hispanic Chairperson.

In 2017, Catherine Lhamon became the first Black (bi-racial) woman to serve as Chairperson.

Though not the Chair, Roberta Achtenberg, who was the first openly LGBTQ person appointed to a federal position requiring confirmation by the United States Senate in 1993 as assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, became a commissioner on the USCCR in 2011.

1981

Chairperson for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission

In 1981, Susan Phillips was appointed acting Chairperson and then Chairperson in 1983, becoming the first woman to lead a US financial regulatory agency.

In 1988, Wendy Lee Gramm, of Korean and Native Hawaiian ancestry, and famously connected to the Enron scandal, became the first person of Asian descent appointed to Chair of the Commission.

While several women have served on the Commission, no other person of color has ever been appointed to the Commission or as Chair.

Biden has appointed Rostin Behnam as acting CFTC chair.

Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Created in 1977, Georgiana Sheldon was the first woman appointed as acting Chairman in 1981.

In 1986, Martha O. Hesse became the first Senate-approved woman Chairman.

In 2015, Norman Bay became the first person of Asian descent, Chinese, to be appointed as Chairman. [Bay is also the former United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, the first Chinese-American United States Attorney.]

Neil Chatterjee was the second person of Asian descent, Indian, appointed as Chair in 2017 and 2018, though he was fired by Trump the day after the 2020 election in retaliation for his openness to incorporating market-based carbon pricing into electricity markets.

On January 21, 2021, Chatterjee was again named chairman of FERC by President Joe Biden.

1985

Director of the Office of Personnel Management

In 1985, Loretta Cornelius was appointed as the first woman acting Director until Constance Horner became the first woman Director confirmed by the Senate.

In 2001, Kay Cole James became the first Black woman to hold the position. [James also became the first woman and first Black woman named president of The Heritage Foundation in 2017.]

John Berry became the first openly gay/LGBTQ head of a federal agency when he was appointed as Director in 2009.

Elaine Kaplan became the first openly gay person to serve as acting Director in 2017. [Kaplan also served as General Counsel of the United States Office of Personnel Management from 2009 to 2013.]

In 2017, Jeff Tien Han Pon became the first Asian descent Director.

President Biden has appointed Kathleen McGettigan to serve as acting Director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

1987

National Security Advisor

In 1987, Coin Powell became the first black man to serve as National Security Advisor, followed the first Black woman, Condoleezza Rice, in 2001.

Since that time, only one minority, Susan Rice, has served in this position.

Jake Sullivan was announced as President Biden’s choice to be National Security Advisor.

1989

Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, aka White House Chief of Staff 

In 1989, John Sununu became the first Arab-American to serve as Chief of Staff. Sununu’s father was Lebanese-Palestinian and his mother’s family immigrated to El Salvador from Lebanon. [Fun Fact: Sununu was born in Havana, Cuba while his parents were on a business trip.]

No other ethnic minority or woman has served in this position among the 30 times the position has been filled.

President Biden has appointed Ron Klain as his Chief of Staff in 2021.

United States Trade Representative

Carla Hills served as the first woman United States Trade Representative, appointed in 1989.

Ron Kirk was the first and only Black person to serve in this position, appointed in 2009.

Biden’s nomination of Katherine Tai will bring the total of women serving in this position to three, in addition to four female acting Secretaries. Tai will also be the first woman of color approved by the Senate [Puerto Rican born Maria Pagan served as acting twice] as well as the first Asian-American to hold the position.

Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA)

In 1989, Susan Engeleiter became the first woman appointed as Administrator of the SBA.

In 1991, Pat Saiki became the second woman and first person of Asian descent appointed to head the agency.

In 1997, Aida Alvarez became the first person of Latinx/Hispanic descent to head the agency and the first Latina woman to hold a United States Cabinet-level position.

In 2008, Sandy Baruah became the first man of Asian descent, Bangladesh, appointed as acting Administrator of the SBA.

In 2009, Darryl Hairston became the first Black person appointed as acting Administrator.

While Jovita Carranza was not the first Latinx/Hispanic woman appointed as SBA Administrator, her 2020 appointment did make her the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in the Trump administration.

In 2021, Isabel Casillas Guzman was the first Latina named to a cabinet-level post by President Biden.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 

Since its creation in 1949, twenty men and zero women have filled the most senior position in the U.S. armed forces.

In 1989, Colin Powell became the first and only Black person and minority to ever serve in this position.

Mark Milley still serves in this role as Biden has not made an appointment.

1991

Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy 

There have been eight male “drug czars” since the office was created in 1989 and four acting “drug czar” men.

Bob Martinez became the first Spanish descent, not Latinx/Hispanic, to serve as Director in 1991.

In 1993, Lee Brown became the first Black director. [Brown was also the first African-American police chief in Houston, Texas in 1982 and the first African-American to be elected mayor of Houston, Texas in 1998.]

While President Biden hasn’t made a nomination for this position yet, he has appointed Regina LaBelle to serve as the first woman acting director.

1993

U.S. Attorney General

In 1993, Janet Reno became the first woman Attorney General.

In 2009, Eric Holder was the first Black person appointed as acting U.S. Attorney and the first Black man appointed to Deputy U.S. Attorney in 1997.

In 2015, Loretta Lynch became the first Black woman appointed, and the first Black person gaining Senate approval, for the position.

Out of 86 U.S. Attorneys, only one other woman and no other minorities have been appointed, including acting.

President Joe Biden has nominated Merrick Garland for the position of United States attorney general. [You may remember Garland as the Supreme Court Justice nominee by Obama that McConnell refused to consider Garland’s nomination, holding “no hearings, no votes, no action whatsoever” on the nomination.]

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

In 1993, Jesse Brown became the first Black person appointed to this position.

In 2009, Eric Shinseki became the first Asian-American Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Of Japanese descent, Shinseki was also the first Asian-American four-star general. [See also Chief of Staff of the Army.]

Togo West was the only other Black person to hold this position in 1998.

In 2021, Dat Tran was selected to act as interim (acting) United States secretary of veterans affairs, becoming the second Asian-American to serve in this role, pending the confirmation of nominee Denis McDonough by the United States Senate.

No other minorities or women have held this position.

President Biden nominated Denis McDonough to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs. If confirmed, McDonough would be the second non-veteran to hold this position.

Secretary of Energy

In 1993, Hazel O’Leary became the first woman and the first Black person appointed to this position. She also remains the only black person to have been appointed to this position.

In 1997, Federico Pena became the first Latino/Hispanic Secretary of Energy, though his self-description is “Spanish surnamed,” after becoming the first Latino/Hispanic Secretary of Transportation in 1993. [See also Secretary of Transportation]

In 2009, Steven Chu became the first and only Asian-American appointed to the position.

Only one other woman had served in this position until Biden nominated Jennifer Granholm in 2021.

Secretary of the Air Force

In 1993, Sheila Widnall became the first woman to serve as the Secretary of the Air Force and the first woman to lead an entire branch of the US military in the Department of Defense.

In 2005, Michael Montelongo was the first Latino/Hispanic to serve as acting Secretary of the Air Force. Montelongo was of Peurto Rican descent.

Three other women, and one acting, have served in this role but no other minorities.

Biden has appointed John Roth as acting Air Force secretary.

Secretary of Agriculture

In 1993, Mike Espy became the first and only Black person, as well as the first person from the Deep South, to hold this position.

In 2005, Ann Veneman became the first woman and remains the only woman.

No other minorities have been appointed to this position.

President Biden announced his intention to nominate Tom Vilsack to once again serve as the Secretary of Agriculture.

Deputy Secretary of State 

In 1993, Clifton Wharton became the first Black person and minority to serve as Deputy, though for less than one year. [Fun Fact: Editorials and op-eds commented that Wharton was unfairly cast as a scapegoat for the failures of Clinton’s foreign policies since Wharton had not been involved in foreign policy.]

No other minority has ever been appointed to this position.

While three women have served in the top state spot since 1790, the deputy role, established in 1972, has been all men.

President Biden has nominated Wendy Sherman to be the first woman Deputy Secretary of State under Antony Blinken.

1994

Chief of the National Guard Bureau (NGB)

The position is a statutory office (10 U.S.C. § 10502), held by a federally recognized commissioned officer who has served at least 10 years of federally recognized active duty in the National Guard; the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard

In a separate capacity as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(10 U.S.C. § 151), the chief is a military adviser to the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council, the secretary of defense, and the president on matters pertaining to the National Guard.

The Chief serves a four-year term of office at the pleasure of the President.

By statute, the Chief is appointed as a four-star general in the Army or Air Force, serving as a reserve officer on active duty.

In 1994, Edward Baca became the first Latinx/Hispanic and minority to serve as Chief of the National Guard Bureau. [Fun Fact: In 1998, Baca unsuccessfully attempted to have the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) changed to eliminate what he perceived as cultural biases.]

In 1995, Russell Davis became the first Black person to serve as NGB Chief.

No other minorities or women have served in this position.

President Biden has not made a nomination for this position.

1997

Secretary of State

Madeleine Albright served as the first female Secretary of State, appointed in 1997; while Colin Powell served as the first Black man, appointed in 2001; and Condoleezza Rice was the first Black woman, appointed in 2005.

Hillary Clinton was the second woman to serve, appointed in 2009.

No other minorities or women have served in this position out of the 71 secretaries since 1781.

Antony Blinken has been chosen by President Joe Biden as his nominee for the position of Secretary of State.

Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

In 1997, William Earl Kennard became the first appointed Black person to Chair of the FCC.

In 2001, Michael Powell, son of Colin Powell, became the second Black man appointed as Chair.

In 2013, Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Rep. Jim Clyburn, was appointed as the first Black woman Chair of the FCC.

In 2017, Ajit Pai became the first person of Asian descent, Indian, appointed as Chair.

On January 21, 2021, President Joe Biden picked Jessica Rosenworcel to be the interim chair of FCC, making her the second-ever woman to serve in this position. [Fun Fact: Jessica Rosenworcel is the sister of Brian Rosenworcel, the drummer for the band Guster.]

1999

Chief of Staff of the Army

This position is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

As the highest ranking officer assigned to serve in the Department of the Army, the chief is the principal military advisor and a deputy to the secretary of the Army. In a separate capacity, the CSA is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(10 U.S.C. § 151) and, thereby, a military advisor to the National Security Council, the secretary of defense, and the president of the United States. The CSA is typically the highest-ranking officer on active duty in the U.S. Army unless the chairman or the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are Army officers.

In 1999, Eric Shinseki became the first Asian-American Chief of Staff of the Army as well as the first and only minority to serve in this position. Of Japanese descent, Shinseki was also the first Asian-American four-star general. [See also Secretary of Veterans Affairs.]

The 40th and current Chief of Staff of the Army is General James C. McConville., appointed in 2019.

2001

Secretary of Interior

In 2001, Gale Norton became the first woman to serve as the Secretary of Interior.

Only one other woman, and one woman acting, have been appointed until Biden appointed Deb Haaland, who became both the first Native American person to hold this position and the first Native American in a Cabinet role.

No other minorities have ever been appointed to this position.

2009

Secretary of Homeland Security

The new department created in 2003 consisted primarily of components transferred from other Cabinet departments because of their role in homeland security, such as the Coast Guard, the Federal Protective ServiceU.S. Customs and Border Protection (which includes the United States Border Patrol), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (which includes Homeland Security Investigations), the United States Secret Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

It does not, however, include the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Central Intelligence Agency.

The first woman to hold this position was Janet Napolitano in 2009. A second woman was appointed in 2017. Neither were ethnic minorities.

In 2013, Jeh Johnson became the first and only Black person to hold this position.

Six men and two women have served as acting Secretaries, none of them ethnic minorities.

The current secretary of homeland security is Alejandro Mayorkas, since February 2, 2021, appointed by President Biden. He is the first Latino and immigrant to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

NASA Administrator 

The role of top NASA official and senior space science adviser to the president was created in 1958 and has always been men.

Only one man has been Black, Charles Bolden, who was the first African American to head the agency on a permanent basis in 2009.

No other minorities or women have been appointed to this position.

The current administrator is Steve Jurczyk, who became acting administrator on January 20th, 2021

Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

In 2005, Shana Dale became the first woman to hold that position and thus the highest-ranked female official in NASA up to that point.

Of the five most recent deputy administrators, four have been women, including one acting deputy administrator, though none have been minorities. Nor have any minority men held this position.

President Biden has not appointed a Deputy Administrator yet.

2003

Secretary of the Navy 

This civilian position, created in 1798 and removed from the President’s Cabinet in 1949, has been held only by men, though Susan Livingstone was the first woman to serve as acting secretary for eight days in 2003. [Fun Fact: Livingstone was also the first of two women to serve as Under Secretary of the Navy as well as the first of two women to serve as the Assistant Secretaries of the Army.]

In 2009, Biddle Joe (B.J.) Penn became the first and only Black or minority man to serve as acting secretary.

President Biden has appointed Tom Harker as acting Navy secretary.

Architect of the Capitol

The first appointment for this position was in 1793 but no woman or minority has ever served in this office – though Christine Merdon was appointed as acting Architect of the Capitol in 2018. Merdon was also the second Deputy Architect ever appointed as well as the only non-white-male in 2011.

President Trump nominated Brett Blanton as Architect of the Capitol on December 9, 2019. On December 19, 2019, the United States Senate confirmed his nomination by voice vote.[3] He was sworn in on January 16, 2020.

President Biden has not yet made an appointment for this position.

2014

Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board

In 2014, Janet Yellen became the first and only woman appointed as Chair. No person of color has ever been appointed as Chairperson.

Nancy Teeters was the first woman appointed to the Board of Governors for the Federal Reserve in 1978 and Emmett Rice, the father of Susan Rice, was the first Black person appointed as governor in 1979.

Though several women have served, no other person of color has ever been appointed as governor.

The current chair is Jerome Powell, who was sworn in on February 5, 2018. His term ends in 2022.

2018

Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) 

The Chief of the Central Security Service (CH/CSS) is the Director of the National Security Agency (DIRNSA), who also serves as Commander of the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM), and is the highest-ranking military official of these organizations.

In 2018, Paul Nakasone, of Japanese descent, became the first Asian-American and minority to serve in these roles.

No other minority or woman has advanced to these positions since the NSA’s creation in 1952.

2019

Chief of Space Operations

The post of Chief of Space Operations was created, along with the United States Space Force, in December 2019 and elevated to membership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  

There has only been one person appointed so far and it was neither a woman nor a minority.

2020

Director of National Intelligence (DNI) 

In 2020, Richard Grenell the first openly gay person to serve in a U.S. cabinet-level position when he was appointed acting Director for three months.

The Senate has confirmed Avril Haines, making 2021 the year the first Senate-confirmed woman will serve as head of the eighteen-member United States Intelligence Community

Lora Shiao was the first woman appointed as acting director of national intelligence for one day by President Biden until the Senate confirmed Haines.

Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force

This position is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In 2020, Charles Brown Jr became the first African-American to be appointed as Chief of Staff and the first African-American to lead any branch of the United States Armed Forces. [Fun Fact: Brown is included in Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020.]

Since its creation in 1947, no other minority or women have served in this position.

2021

Secretary of Treasury

President Biden appointed and the Senate confirmed Janet Yellen as the 78th secretary and first woman in 2021. 

There have never been any minorities appointed to this position.

Secretary of Defense

In 2021, Loyd Austin became the first Black Secretary of Defense after becoming the first and only Black commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in 2013.

The Department of Defense has never been led by a woman or any other minority since its inception in 1947.

Deputy Secretary of Defense 

No woman has been confirmed to be deputy secretary of defense either, although President Obama named Christine Fox as acting deputy secretary of defense in 2013 for almost six months.

President Biden has now nominated the first woman, Kathleen Hicks, and she is waiting for Senate confirmation.

No minorities have ever served in this position.

Still waiting…

Commandant of the Marine Corps

This position is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Since its creation in 1775, no woman or minority has ever held this position.

President pro temper of the United States Senate

Though not a presidential appointment, since the office was created in 1789, 91 individuals, from 39 of the 50 states, have served as President pro tempore of the Senate.

Not one has been a woman or ethnic minority.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 

Since 1789, there have been 17 Chief Justices. None have been women or minorities.

Comptroller of the Currency 

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which oversees banks, resides within the Treasury, and dates back to 1863.

Thirty-four men have held the job since, but no men of minority ethnicities and no women.

The acting Comptroller of the Currency is Blake Paulson, who took office on January 14, 2021.

Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) 

In February 2020 special agents were 79.1% male and 20.9% female. This was a slight improvement from 79.6% male and 18.8% female in 2010.

For ethnic minorities, there were 17% in 2010 and 18.4% in 2020, according to FBI statistics.

No women or minorities have been appointed to the director position since the first appointment in 1908.

The last appointment was in 2017. [Fun Fact: The FBI Director is appointed for a single 10-year term.]

Comptroller General, or Director of the Government Accountability Office 

Established in 1921, the fiscal accountability office has a term of fifteen years.

Of the eight Comptroller Generals appointed, none have been women or minority ethnicities.

On March 13, 2008, Gene Dodaro became the acting Comptroller General, nominated by President Obama, and he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate for a term of fifteen years on December 22, 2010.

Deputy Director of the FBI 

The office is the highest position attainable within the FBI without being appointed by the President of the United States, but no women or minorities have attained it since the position’s creation in 1930.

David Bowdich, former associate deputy director of the FBI, was named Acting Deputy Director on January 30, 2018. On April 13, 2018, Bowdich was promoted to Deputy Director.

Director of Science and Technology Policy 

Since its creation in 1976, no person of minority ethnicity has held this position, though two women served in temporary acting director capacities.

Eric Lander is President Joe Biden‘s nominee for director of Office of Science and Technology Policy and adviser on science, which Biden has elevated to a cabinet post.

Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Since its creation in 1987, no woman or minority has ever held this position.

Beginning January 1, 2021, the vice chairman’s statutory term length will increase from two years to a single four-year term and cannot be reappointed unless in times of war or national emergency. The vice-chairman will begin assuming office on October 1st of every odd-number year, except the assumption of that term may not begin in the same year as the term of the chairman. The vice-chairman will not be eligible for appointment to chairman or appointment to any other four-star position unless the president determines such appointment is necessary under national interest.

The last appointment was in 2019.

Director of Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) 

Since the agency creation in 2008, only men have held the director position. No person of minority ethnicity or women have held this position.

In September 2019, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in an en banc opinion, ruled that the structure of the FHFA is unconstitutional. The case is pending before the Supreme Court.

The last appointment for this position was in 2019.

We’ve come a long way but the timeline was rocky for each advancement of women and ethnic minorities, even within agencies that showed early presidential appointment progress.

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