Jan. 5, 2009

At least three members of the college community have been tapped by President-Elect Barack Obama to serve in various high-profile positions in his new administration.

Harold E. Varmus ’61, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, will co-chair the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Jeanne M. Lambrew ’89, associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas (UT) and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, will serve as deputy director of the new White House Office of Health Reform under former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle. And Valerie Jarrett P’07, who is currently leading the Obama transition team, has accepted the positions of public liaison and senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental relations.

Varmus, described by Obama as a “path-breaking scientist,” will be part of a new science and technology team charged with taking on the issues of climate change, energy independence and health. “What I’m focused on is the fact that we have some serious problems and we have a new president who is going to ask scientists to help solve them,” he recently told the New York Daily News. “One of the things that really attracts me to Barack Obama is that he sees the connections in our society between education, science, health, energy [and] climate.”

Varmus was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1989 for his research on the genetic basis of cancer. He currently chairs the Scientific Board of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health program and leads the Advisory Committee for the Global Health Division, in addition to heading Sloan-Kettering. He was a member of the World Health Organization’s Commission on Macroeconomics and Health and is a co-founder of the Public Library of Science, a leading publisher of open-access journals. He also serves as co-chair of the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on the U.S. Commitment to Global Health. He earned a master’s degree in English at Harvard University and an M.D. at Columbia University and was awarded an honorary degree from Amherst in 1985.

Lambrew will assist Daschle in modernizing and reforming the nation’s health care system. (Daschle is Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services and co-author, with Lambrew, of the book Critical Care.) They will work to coordinate efforts within the administration, in Congress and across the country to pass health care reform, reduce medical costs for families and businesses and provide affordable, accessible health care for every American citizen. “Jeanne brings a depth and range of experience on health care that few can match,” said Obama in the announcement of her appointment. “I look forward to working with [her and Daschle] in the months and years ahead.”

Before joining the UT faculty, Lambrew served as an associate professor at the Department of Health Policy at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services. From 1997 to 2001, she worked on health policy at the White House as the program associate director for health at the Office of Management and Budget and as the senior health analyst at the National Economic Council. She also worked at the Department of Health and Human Services during the 1993-1994 health care reform efforts and coordinated analyses of budget proposals in 1995. Prior to serving at the White House, she was an assistant professor of public policy at Georgetown University. She holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. from the Department of Health Policy in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Jarrett, a 2007 Amherst honorary degree recipient, is presently co-chairing the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team. She is a director of USG Corporation, Inc.; Navigant Consulting, Inc.; and RREEF America II. She has worked for The Habitat Company, the City of Chicago government, the Chicago Transit Board, the Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago Stock Exchange Holdings, Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the 2004 U.S. Senatorial Campaign for Barack Obama, Senator’s PAC, the Hopefund and the Obama for America Presidential Campaign. She has also practiced law with two private firms. She earned a J.D.  from The University of Michigan Law School in 1981 and an A.B. degree from Stanford University in 1978. Her daughter Laura, of Amherst’s Class of 2007, attends Harvard Law School.

Another alumnus being discussed for an Obama appointment is Ezekiel Emanuel ’79, chair of the Department of Bioethics at The Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health. A Wall Street Journal blogger recently reported that he will be senior counselor at the White House Office of Management and Budget on health policy.

Emanuel—who developed The Medical Directive, a comprehensive living will that has been endorsed by Consumer Reports on Health, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal—served on President Clinton’s Health Care Task Force, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission and the bioethics panel of the Pan-American Healthcare Organization. He worked at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School before joining the National Institutes of Health. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, UCLA, Johns Hopkins Medical School and Stanford Medical School. He has published a book on medical ethics, The Ends of Human Life, as well as Healthcare, Guaranteed; No Margin, No Mission: Health-Care Organizations and The Quest for Ethical Excellence. He also co-edited Ethical and Regulatory Aspects of Clinical Research: Readings and Commentary. He has a M.Sc. from Oxford University in biochemistry, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School and a Ph.D. in political philosophy from Harvard University.

Know of any other Amherst alumni serving in the Obama administration? We’d like to hear about them! Comment on this story and let us know.