SHORTLY after taking his oath of office on January 20, President Joe Biden appointed acting heads of federal and development agencies, and among them is Gloria Steele who will serve as acting administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
At the Department of Interior, Camille Calimlim Touton was named Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, and over at the Department of Defense, Veronica Valdez is the Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs.
They all join a growing list of Fil-Ams serving across the administration that includes Jason Tengco, the Office of Personnel Management’s White House liaison; John Santos, a special assistant at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs; and Angela Dela Cruz Perez, a new graduate of Georgetown University who is now a part of the White House Communications and Press Staff as a press assistant.
Last month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described that her first impression of Perez “was that she is all business with a smile.”
Perez served as a press assistant on the transition, and was a communications assistant on the Biden-Harris campaign.
Gloria Steele (USAID)
Steele was a distinguished career member of the U.S. Government’s Senior Executive Service for over 18 years and has been called a visionary and dreamer by people who have benefited from her work at the USAID.
“These public servants, like so many across the federal government, are dedicated to serving the American people, not a political party or agenda,” Biden said. “I am thankful for their willingness to step-up to lead during these difficult times and help us make sure the government continues to operate and serve the American people. Together, we are restoring trust in the federal government and building our nation back better.”
Before retiring from Federal service, Steele served as the Acting Assistant Administrator and Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Bureau for Asia from 2015 to 2020.
She is supposed to join the NGO CARE this month as its chief operating officer but for now, she will return as USAID acting head until the administration’s nominee, Samantha Power, is confirmed by the Senate.
“I don’t want to be known as the person who became who she is because she’s a woman, or because she’s a woman of color. We should never feel entitled. We have to set our eyes on what we want, and we have to work for it. Each of us has to follow our North Star,” Steele said in a USAID article on Medium, honoring her four decades of public service.
Prior to those assignments, she served as USAID’s Mission Director for the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Mongolia, from 2010-2015, where she oversaw a program budget of over $500 million.
USAID is the world’s premier international development agency and leads international development and humanitarian efforts to save lives, reduce poverty, strengthen democratic governance and help people progress beyond assistance.
Ms. Steele received a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Maryknoll College in the Philippines and her master’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Steele first dipped her toes into the public sector as a management consultant to the country’s Secretary of Agriculture, and taught Business Economics at Letran Graduate School for Business in Manila.
Her awards include a Presidential Meritorious Executive Award in 2007, Presidential Distinguished Executive Awards in 2008 and 2018, and the Order of Sikatuna award from the President of the Philippines in 2015.
Camille Calimlim Touton (Bureau of Reclamation)
Long-time water policy advisor, Camille Calimlim Touton is returning to the Department of Interior since she was named Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation.
“Ms. Touton has been one of my most trusted advisors on water policy for over a decade. She is an engineer, who has counseled U.S. Senators, Members of Congress, and was a leader in the Obama Administration’s Department of Interior’s Office of Water and Science,” Rep. Grace Napolitano said in a congratulatory message. “Although I am losing Ms. Touton for a second time to the Administration, I couldn’t be happier for her, and I am glad the Department is again, getting her great leadership, competency, and expertise.”
“Her appointment is also historic, as Ms. Touton becomes the first Filipino American to serve in this important agency leadership role,” Napolitano added.
In a previous interview, Touton was asked about who provided the greatest influence in her career.
“My mother. As an engineer, registered nurse, and a mother to three children, she showed me that you don’t have to choose between personal and professional goals,” she replied.
The Bureau of Reclamation is a water management agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees dams, canals, and hydroelectric plants across the Western United States. It is the nation’s largest wholesaler of water and the second-largest producer of hydroelectric power in the West.
“Ms. Touton is a master of the complicated issues of Western water policy, who fully understands the grave threats posed by climate change and unpredictable drought cycles.
She is well respected by the wide spectrum of water leaders, including Democrats and Republicans, federal, state, and local water officials, and non-governmental groups,” Napolitano added.
Touton served as Professional Staff for the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She was the staff lead on the resiliency provisions enacted as part of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020.
Her congressional experience also includes serving as Professional Staff for Interior’s authorization committees: the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee. Camille also served as Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science under the Obama administration.
Touton holds a BS in Engineering (Civil), BA in Communication Studies, and a Master of Public Policy.
Veronica Valdez (Department of Defense)
Like Steele and Touton, Valdez is also returning to her old job, in this case at the Department of Defense, where she served as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Secretary of the Air Force and as policy advisor during official visits to Asia-Pacific, South America, and Europe.
Valdez was among the individuals who were sworn-in virtually or in-person at the Pentagon on Jan. 20, according to documents obtained by the Asian Journal.
Prior to this new post as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, she was a policy advisor to the Commission President at the Port of Seattle.
She also served the Secretary of the Navy as an Asia-Pacific policy advisor. Valdez received the Air Force Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the Navy Superior Public Service Award, and Presidential recognition.
Valdez received a B.S. in International Business from Ohio State University, a Master’s in International Affairs from the University of California, San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy and studied Mandarin at Peking University. She is a Truman National Security Project Fellow.
Last year, the Diversity in National Security Network and New America named Valdez as one of the “2020 Asian American Pacific Islander National Security & Foreign Policy Next Generation Leaders”.
Ms. Valdez was born in Manila and grew up in Sydney, Australia.
John Santos (Department of Veterans Affairs)
John Santos is joining the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the country’s second-largest federal agency, as a special assistant in the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs.
Santos previously served as Asian American and Pacific Islander outreach director at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) where he led the DNC’s efforts to mobilize AAPI voters through a close partnership with the Biden-Harris campaign and community leaders across the country.
In addition to his organizing work, Santos has extensive experience in public affairs and communications having served as Western Region press secretary at the DNC.
Previously, he served in the U.S. Army as the Deputy Press Secretary for the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve during a year-long deployment in Kuwait and Iraq. Additionally, he previously served as the health policy assistant director for the American Legion and chair for communications at KAYA: Filipino Americans for Progress.