President Joe Biden adviser and head of personnel at the White House, Cathy Russell, is leaving her post within the administration after being named the new executive director of UNICEF.
Russell was named as the incoming UNICEF executive director on Friday, with outgoing director Henrietta Fore hailing her successor’s “knowledge, experience, and deep care for children and women.”
Biden described the White House’s loss as “UNICEF’s gain,” and praised Russell’s management of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel for “[breaking] records in both speed and diversity of hiring” since his inauguration earlier this year.
Russell’s position in the White House was a powerful one, with the office in charge of selecting and vetting political appointees for around 4,000 positions. Since Biden became president, Russell’s office has boasted of putting “diversity” at the heart of its operations, in keeping with Biden’s pledge to build an administration that “looks like America.”
Prior to her White House appointment, Russell served in the State Department under Barack Obama, including as an ambassador for women’s issues. She also worked on Biden’s ill-fated 1988 presidential campaign, and as deputy attorney general to Janet Reno during the Clinton administration.
While both Biden and UNICEF touted Russell’s experience advocating for women’s rights around the world, some of her initiatives didn’t quite pan out. Whilst serving as Obama’s ambassador-at-large for women’s issues – a post created by the then-president – she secured $7 million in funding to “empower adolescent girls” in Afghanistan and “change perceptions” in the country on child marriages. According to UNICEF, however, rates of child marriage increased during the final years of American occupation, regardless of Russell’s efforts.
Russell will be replaced in the White House by Gautam Raghavan, a long-time “civil rights and social justice” activist and currently the deputy director in the Personnel Office.