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Biden Picks Obama Alum Nayak as Labor Department Policy Head (1)

April 23, 2021, 12:27 PMUpdated: April 23, 2021, 8:20 PM

President Joe Biden plans to nominate Rajesh Nayak, an advocate for progressive regulatory policy who served in the Obama administration, as the U.S. Labor Department’s top policy official.

If confirmed by the Senate as assistant secretary for policy, Nayak would oversee an influential central office responsible for supporting all DOL subagencies in the drafting of regulations and coordinating with the White House to complete them.

Nayak’s upcoming nomination—first reported by Bloomberg Law on Friday morning—would signal bolder regulations on issues such as overtime pay, federal contracting mandates, and rules to achieve equity in the workplace. In a 2020 paper he co-authored, Nayak proposed overhauling the White House rulemaking review process to enhance regulatory capacity, and to give greater weight to inequality and worker interests when scrutinizing the need for agency rules.

Nayak served as a Labor Department political aide for most of the Obama administration and recently was part of the Biden transition’s agency review team for DOL.

The White House formally announced Biden’s intent to nominate Nayak on Friday afternoon, marking the administration’s sixth selection for a Senate-confirmed role at the DOL. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh is the only one who’s been confirmed.

Setting the Agenda

Biden’s selection of Nayak comes as the department moves to reverse a pair of late-term Trump administration wage-hour rules and determines whether to issue a workplace safety emergency rule to protect employees from Covid-19 infection. At the same time, most DOL divisions have yet to establish a firm regulatory agenda for the remainder of the Biden administration.

One of Nayak’s multiple roles during seven years at the Obama DOL was as deputy assistant secretary for policy, the No. 2 official in the office he will be nominated to head. A graduate of Yale Law School, he had stints as DOL’s senior counsel to the solicitor and as deputy chief of staff to then-Labor Secretary Tom Perez.

After his work on the Biden transition team, Nayak spent the initial weeks of the Biden administration at DOL as a temporary senior adviser in the secretary’s office. His name was removed from the DOL leadership website in recent weeks, suggesting the short-term role had ended.

The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy is run in an acting capacity by Biden appointee Tanya Goldman. It was without a Senate-confirmed leader for all of the Trump administration and for much of the Obama administration.

Under former President Donald Trump‘s first labor secretary, Alex Acosta, the policy office came under fire for usurping regulatory authority traditionally held by the Solicitor of Labor’s office and other subagencies. Following Acosta’s exit in 2019, the office’s functions were restored to its traditional mission.

The assistant secretary for policy typically will be DOL’s primary liaison with the White House gatekeeper for rulemaking, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. One of Nayak’s allies from the Obama DOL, Sharon Block, is the acting OIRA chief.

(Updated to reflect White House's announcement of coming nomination.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ben Penn in Washington at bpenn@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Lauinger at jlauinger@bloomberglaw.com; Travis Tritten at ttritten@bgov.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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