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Indian American Sonal Shah in Obama’s advisory team
Ashish Kumar Sen writes from Washington

President-elect Barack Obama has appointed an Indian-American, Sonal Shah, to his advisory board to assist in the smooth transition of power and many other Indian-Americans are also likely to play key roles in the Obama Administration.

Sonal Shah, an economist who currently serves as director for global development at Google.org promoting the firm’s philanthropic work, at one time was employed by the Center for American Progress. John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s former White House chief of staff, who is heading Obama’s transition team, is the president and chief executive of the Center for American Progress.

Preeta Bansal, partner at the international law firm of Skadden Arps and a senior adviser on the Obama campaign, is also expected to play a significant role in the transition. A former solicitor general of New York, Bansal will likely be a key adviser on personnel placement. Neera Tanden, a senior domestic policy adviser on the Obama campaign and a former top aide to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is also likely to hold a top position in the Obama administration.

Shah’s experience as a senior adviser to the under secretary and assistant secretary at the Treasury Department during the Asian financial crisis makes her an asset on the Obama’s team as the President-elect grapples with the economic crisis gripping the US. A day after Obama was elected, the US markets plummeted more than 500 points. Fixing the economy will be Obama’s top priority. At the Treasury Department, Shah also worked on various economic issues and regions of the world, and served as the director of African nations, covering sub-Saharan Africa.

At Google.org, Shah has been involved in defining global development strategy and promoting philanthropy work. Shah’s father moved from Gujarat to New York in 1970 and she along with her sister and mother joined him in 1972.

Subodh Chandra, an Ohio-based Obama delegate at the Democratic National Convention and a fundraiser for the campaign, told The Tribune he was “completely confident that President-elect Obama would involve Indian Americans in every level in his administration.”

“He has lengthy relations with Indians, going back to his college days,” Chandra noted, adding that, “There is every indication that he appreciates the talents of the Indian-American community and wants Indian-Americans to be a part of his administration.” Noting an abundance of Indian-American staffers on Obama’s campaign, Chandra predicted there would be dozens of them at every level in the Obama administration and this would create a “huge talent pool” that would serve in future administrations as well.

Shah was named “Person of the Year” by an Indian-American publication in 2003. She was honoured for her outstanding contribution to the community through the creation of the non-profit organisation, Indicorps.

Indicorps is a non-profit organisation whose mission is to encourage people of Indian origin to reconnect with India through a one-year competitive service fellowship. Indicorps develops projects with entrepreneurial and innovative non-governmental organisations in India with the aim of fostering an exchange of ideas and expertise. The group also cultivates Indian-American leaders to have a better understanding of India and the challenges of development.

Meanwhile, Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel is reportedly considering Obama’s offer to serve as his chief of staff. Emanuel worked for President Bill Clinton and has served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. His confrontational style won him the nickname “Rahmbo” and conservative pundits warned his selection would irritate Republicans.

President George W. Bush has promised to ease the transition to the White House and said he would brief Obama on any significant decisions he makes in coming weeks. Besides Podesta, the so-called “Obama-Biden Transition Project” would be overseen by senior campaign adviser Valerie Jarrett and Pete Rouse, Obama’s former Senate chief of staff and top campaign aide.

The advisory board includes former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Carol Browner, former commerce secretary William Daley, University of California-Berkeley Law School dean Christopher Edley, Obama law school friends and advisers Michael Froman and Julius Genachowski, Al Gore’s former domestic policy adviser Donald Gips, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, former transportation secretary Federico Peña, Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice.

The Washington Post reported Mark Gitenstein and Ted Kaufman, old friends to Vice-President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., would serve as co-chairs of his transition team. The Obama-Biden team was also expected to launch a transition Website, www.change.gov on Thursday.



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