The role of federal agencies in policymaking

By: Jillian Dy, ASU Food Systems graduate student.

Chad Maisel is well aware of the powerful platform for change he is afforded through his job. As Director of Racial and Economic Justice at the White House, he makes high stakes policy decisions every day that impact millions of Americans. His portfolio includes immigration, economic mobility, and racial justice. If you’re wondering if it’s easy to sleep at night with that kind of responsibility – it’s not.

Chad is part of a small team of political appointees called the Domestic Policy Council, overseen by Ambassador Susan Rice. Chad and his team advise the president and work closely with agencies across the federal government to translate presidential campaign priorities into reality via legislative, administrative, and executive actions. While many Americans have been frustrated by Congress’ stalemates over the past several decades, you may be comforted to know that there are places to create meaningful federal policy change without Congressional action. That’s where Chad and the work of the federal agencies comes in.

After Congress passes a law, it’s up to federal agencies to determine the rules and design the programs that reflect the law, and it is through these actions that the lives of American citizens are most impacted. As Chad puts it, “the agencies are the ones with the tools: money, programs, and professional staff.” If you’ve ever tried to read bill language, you’ve seen there is often room for interpretation in how a law is implemented. Policy design decisions made by career staff at the rulemaking agencies, like USDA, determine whether or not the policy will work as intended.

For example, Chad has been working on closing the racial wealth gap, which is a complex and enormous undertaking. “Wealth building gives people agency to shape their own future,” Chad describes, and one component of this is home ownership. Due to historic discrimination in federal lending policies, Black families have been barred from the opportunity to build wealth through home ownership, which has impacted generations of Black families and created enormous racial wealth disparity over time.

The design of policy can have a major impact on real world outcomes. President Biden’s proposed Build Back Better Act (if passed) would target first generation home buyers. This means that if your parents were not homeowners and you did not inherit the wealth associated with their opportunity to do so, you could be eligible to benefit from down payment assistance. According to Chad, this is harder to implement but would move the needle in equitably supporting underserved families and closing the racial wealth gap.

While Chad misses the pre-pandemic job perks of bowling in the White House basement and giving West Wing tours to family and friends, he is motivated every day to work with his smart and dedicated colleagues to solve our nation’s most pressing challenges.

This blog is part of a series from the May 2022 Washington D.C. Immersive component of the Swette Center graduate programs. Students met with federal food and agriculture focused officials at USDA, the White House, and Congress alongside many other important influencers of policy in industry and non-profits.