Jeffrey Zients was selected as President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus chief on Thursday, but the selection sparked backlash given the business executive’s former ties to Facebook.
It was revealed earlier this year by The Wall Street Journal that Mr Zients left his position on the board of directors of Facebook over differences he had with the social media giant, specifically how it handled misinformation.
However, Facebook said the sudden departure of Mr Zients was so he could "devote more time to his business and other professional interests." Mr Zients held that position for about two years.
The close ties Mr Zients, 54, has with the social media giant came into question on Thursday, as critics pressed the president-elect to focus on diversifying his administration and staying away from those with corporate interests.
AccountableTech cofounder Jesse Lehrich was one of the outspoken critics of the appointment.
In a statement released on Thursday, Mr Lehrich called the business executive a “talented problem-solver” but his recent service on Facebook’s board of directors caused “serious concern”.
“During Mr Zients’s time on the Board, Facebook played an unparalleled role in turbocharging the growth of the anti-vaxx movement and spread of coronavirus conspiracy theories, consistently prioritising engagement and profit to the detriment of public health,” he said.
Mr Lehrich called for Mr Zients to “immediately divest of the significant equity he earned in Facebook” and “commit to hiring an online misinformation expert to handle his team’s engagement with major social media platforms.”
Prior to his time at Facebook, Mr Zients served under the Obama administration as the director of the National Economic Council and worked as President Barack Obama’s assistant to economic policy – positions that likely put him at the top of the list to become Mr Biden’s coronavirus chief.
He also is currently the CEO of Cranemere, a holding company, which rejects “the debt-fueled buy-and-sell grind of private equity and doing it old-school like Buffett — looking for value where others have missed it and investing for the long-long term," according to The Washington Post.
But Mr Zients is reportedly on leave from that position.
His role as coronavirus czar will be modeled off what Ron Klain, Mr Biden’s chief of staff, did during the Ebola crisis in 2014. At the time, Mr Klain coordinated the Obama administration’s national response to the virus.
Now Mr Zients will work similarly under the BIden administration by coordinating all the different federal agencies and how they respond to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already taken the lives of nearly 275,000 Americans.
Not only will Mr Zients oversee the economic impact of the novel virus, but he will also work to improve testing capabilities and assist in rolling out the vaccine to communities.
"He’s essentially playing that role with the transition now," one source close to Mr Biden told Politico, which first reported Mr Zients new position. "Jeff isn’t a health care guru, and he’s the first to say that, but he’s a manager and a trusted player without an agenda other than outcomes. He has all the attributes you need to manage this across the board — a rare skill set in Washington."
Working alongside Mr Zients will be Vivek Murthy, the former US surgeon general under the Obama administration. Mr Murthy will return to that same role for the Biden administration.