Members of Pitt community played role in Biden transition


As the federal government transitioned over the past few months from the Trump administration to the presidency of Joe Biden, a few members of the Pitt community were on hand to help out.

Geovette Washington, Pitt’s chief legal officer, led the team evaluating the Commerce Department; Elizabeth Skidmore, of the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, was an adviser to the transition team on disability issues; and student Gabriella Ogude was part of the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s media and logistics team.

Geovette Washington on Commerce

For Washington, who was general counsel and senior policy advisor for the Office of Management and Budget during the Obama administration and prior to that deputy general counsel for the Commerce Department, one of the big challenges was bringing together a team of around 20 people, all from her house in Pittsburgh.

“It was really challenging to pull together a team that was going to be in different places, in different time zones, different levels of attention,” she said. “On the one hand, we were able to get people to do this that normally wouldn’t be able to do it, because they couldn’t leave their family for 78 days. But on the other hand, you’re dealing with putting together people, some of whom have never met, and you need them to work as a team.”

Their job during those 78 days was to “assess what was happening in the agency and how ready it was to accept a new round of political administration and act on the then-president-elect’s agenda going forward,” Washington said. They also looked at how many vacant positions needed to be filled, but did not give personnel recommendations, and at what the overall morale of the agency was.

Washington, who used vacation time to volunteer with the Biden transition team, said she wasn’t tempted to return to government work, although many colleagues helping bring in the new administration were moving in that direction.

“I had great jobs when I was in the government — working at Commerce was fabulous; working at OMB was fabulous. I can’t think of anything that was going to top that,” she said. “And I just believe it’s important for the next generation of people to get those jobs and to get those experiences. …

“I’m happy to see my friends go back in, and I think a lot of really good people are going in, but I love my job here. I love being in Pittsburgh, and it was not a real pull for me. If I were in D.C. and probably if I were in a law firm, I probably would be like, well, maybe I should. I’m happy where I am.”

Skidmore and rehab research community

Beth Skidmore, associate dean for research in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, met on Jan. 12 with Jeremy Wertz, coordinator for the outreach to the disability community on behalf of the Biden transition team, as part of the Disability and Rehabilitation Research Consortium.

Elizabeth SkidmoreSkidmore was representing the American Occupational Therapy Association, which is part of the consortium, and the greater rehab research community. The consortium consists of scientists, disability advocates and legal experts.

“Our main message was that as we are evaluating policy decisions, difficulty with health access and health equity, … We particularly focused, at the request of Jeremy, on the impact of COVID on populations with disability,” Skidmore said. “And what some of the relevant issues are, what is our science teaching us so far about the impact of COVID and what are our projections for the long-term impact.”

The group of around eight people that met with Wertz stressed the value of the rehabilitation research community.

Skidmore said she has been on panels like this before and also serves on a number of NIH advisory panels or technical expert panels. “In this intersection between science and policy, I get called on to represent folks in the occupational therapy profession or the rehab professionals,” she said.

Skidmore is a 2013 recipient of the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their independent research careers.

Meeting with the transition team gave Skidmore “a glimmer of hope.” She said that when she received her Early Career Award, “I met a lot of President Obama’s team, and they were these young, energetic, highly competent, smart people. … It was just this great energy and was very inspiring. The young man that we met with yesterday, felt the same way, I mean this is a guy that wants to understand what are the big problems we’re facing and then get to effective solutions and to not mess around.”

At work on the mall

Ogude was the youngest person and the only college student on the inauguration team. “Most of them were mid-20s and had experience in political campaigns and on candidates’ advance teams,” she told Pittwire.

She spent three days in Washington, D.C., leading up to the inauguration and got to witness the historic event from the National Mall.

She served as a concierge and first point of contact between members of the media and the incoming Biden administration. Her volunteer role included ensuring that members of the media were properly credentialed by the Secret Service and certified to be on the Mall.

Ogude is on track to graduate in December with a degree in psychology with concentrations in communication and Africana studies from the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Read more about her experience in Washington in Pittwire.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 724-244-4042.


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