Record Indian-American top staffers hired on Capitol Hill

Rohini Kosoglu (Photo: LinkedIn)

At least four South Asian-Americans on Capitol Hill will hold the top job in legislative offices in the incoming 2019 Congress, a recognition of the community’s proven political chops in campaigns and party politics  over the last decade. Three of them are Indian-American.

But not enough Indian-Americans are being hired by the several Indian-American lawmakers who campaigned on inclusion and diversity, indicates one report brought out by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES).

The Washington Leadership Program, an organization that sponsors college graduates for Summer Internships on Capitol Hill and other federal agencies, noted that Saikat Chakrabarti, Gautam Raghavan, Ven Naralla, and Rohini Kosoglu are four South Asian Americans confirmed for the coming Congress as Chiefs of Staff to various lawmakers.

According to Harin Contractor, co-founder of WLP, and currently at the JCPES, though in past years there have been several Indian-American Chiefs of Staff in Congress, this sudden infusion in one term is unprecedented. “It was never all at once, at one point of time where we had so many,” Contractor told News India Times. There have in the past been some top staffers who went on to take up high positions in various administrations, including Richard Verma, who served as Ambassador to India during the Obama administration; Neil Dhillon, Mini Timmaraju, and Rohit Kumar, to name some who served on the Hill.

An Indian-American who follows this situation closely but did not wish to be named,  expressed disappointment over the current lack of adequate recruitment of Indian-Americans by lawmakers from the community. Of the five Indian-Americans in Congress right now – Harris in the Senate, and Jayapal in the House along with Reps. Ami Bera and Ro Khanna in California, and Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois, all Democrats, Jayapal was one who showed more diversity and more Indian-Americans among her top staffers. Now Harris boasts a Sri Lankan-American Chief of Staff.

Saikat Chakrabarti (Photo: LinkedIn)

The JCPES brought out a report Dec. 13, entitled “Racial Diversity of Top Staff of Newly-Elected Members,” which showed that apart from Jayapal, and now Harris, none of the other offices had Chiefs of Staff of Indian origin.

“The report shows members of Congress who represent 30 percent of people of color in their districts, have no people of color in top positions,” said Contractor who is the director of Economic & Workforce Policy at JCPES.

“Twenty (Indian-Americans) were interviewed by Indian-American Congressmen and women, but none of them landed jobs,” said one former Desi Capitol Hill staffer familiar with the issue, adding, “We are tracking who is being hired and how many Asian Americans are being hired.”

Rep. Krishnamoorthi told News India Times he has two senior level Indian-American staffers – his District Director Sabey Abraham, and his Washington, D.C. Scheduler Amol Shalia. In his LinkedIn profile, Shalia says he schedules all meetings, briefings, and events involving the Congressman in Washington; arranges Member and staff air travel, ground transportation, and lodging, including internationally; reviews the Congressman’s mail and invitations that have been accepted, declined, or pending; and coordinate nightly report and briefing materials for all events with appropriate staff and event organizers.

Sabey Abraham, district director for U.S. Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois (Photo: LinkedIn)

The JCPES report shows that while people of color make up 38 percent of the population in the country, they account for only 14 percent of top staffers in the House of Representatives. While that is double the percentage from 2015, it is still not enough, says the JCPES, which released a letter signed by more than 60 civil rights organizations demanding diversity be made a priority in hiring top and key mid-level staff.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has urged lawmakers to hire a diverse staff as well.

The hiring of 4 Chiefs of Staff from the Indian-American community may signal a changing story for this minority, activists hope.

Chakrabarti, a computer science graduate from Harvard University recently among the Politico “Power List” of people to watch in 2019, was the campaign chair for Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won an upset victory against longtime Congressman Joseph Crowley in New York. He co-founded Mockingbird, an online tool for wireframing websites and web applications; was co-founder and executive director of Justice Democrats, an organization that seeks to determine a new direction of the Democratic Party. Earlier, he also served as director of organizing for Senator Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign in 2015/2016.

Gautam Raghavan, former senior official in the Obama administration, and executive director of Indian-American Impact Project and Impact Fund, was recently hired by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, as her Chief of Staff. Raghavan edited a recently released book, West Wingers: Stories from the Dream Chasers, Change Makers, and Hope Creators Inside the Obama White House.“It’s a whole new part of government, and I’m obviously excited to work with Congresswoman Jayapal. I’ve known her practically my whole life, being from Seattle, Washington,” Raghavan told News India Times after his appointment was announced earlier this month.

A Feb. 14, 2017 photo of Ven Neralla, 2nd from right, in front of Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s office on Capitol Hill. (Photo: Twitter/Emily Law)

Neralla, a graduate of McGill University, Canada, served as deputy chief of staff and legislative director in Rep. Jayapal’s office in 2017, and now has moved on to become the Chief of Staff for Democratic Congressman-elect Andy Levin of Michigan. Neralla served in the Obama administration as the White House director of Congressional Affairs, Research, Education, and Economics, and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Kosoglu, a Sri Lankan-American, has been hired by the first ever Indian-American Senator, Kamala Harris, D-California. Kosoglu served as deputy chief of staff till recently when she was bumped up to Chief of Staff to Sen. Harris. A graduate of the University of Michigan with a Master’s degree in Legislative Affairs, Kosoglu has served as a legislative aide on Capitol Hill since 2006, first with U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D- Michigan, and later with Senator Michael Bennet, D-Colorado.



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