Prominent Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Hawaii are urging President Joe Biden to select Nani Coloretti to be the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Coloretti, a 1987 graduate of Iolani School, would be the first American of Filipino descent to be nominated to a Cabinet-level position, according to a March 15 letter to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. She was deputy secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Obama administration.

The letter is signed by nearly 100 people — “AAPI community leaders, advocates and allies” — that include Ben Cayetano, the former Hawaii governor. It comes in the wake of the March 2 withdrawal of Neera Tanden, an Indian American, to be budget chief.

Nani Coloretti Courtesy: HUD

“Given the fact that Neera had to withdraw, I thought it was appropriate to have another Asian women nominated,” Cayetano, Hawaii governor from 1994 to 2002, told Civil Beat. “As the first Filipino governor in the country, diversity is important to me and to the country.”

Others from Hawaii who signed the letter include Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii; Amy Monk, co-chair of the party’s women’s caucus; Chad Taniguchi, Safe Streets Advocate and a Kailua resident; and Amy Agbayani, co-chair of Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights.

“I have never met her, but I see her as a role model and someone who will help President Biden do important policy changes for the nation,” said Agbayani. “Biden did promise a very diverse Cabinet and he was selected and elected because of the diverse groups that supported him, including Asian Americans.”

Agbayani said Coloretti, who grew up in Honolulu, attended public schools before getting a scholarship to Iolani and came from a family that struggled economically, would be “a history-making appointment.”

Chris Lee, founder and director of the Academy for Creative Media at the University of Hawaii, also signed on to the letter. He said via email that he was encouraged to do so by a cousin, Jacqueline Huey, identified on the same letter as an AAPI leader for equality.

According to the letter, Coloretti, 52, previously served as assistant secretary for management and acting chief financial officer at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. She is currently the senior vice president and chief operating officer of the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

Coloretti holds a master’s degree in public policy from the University of California Berkeley and a bachelor’s in economics and communications from the University of Pennsylvania.

“The OMB Director role is pivotal to the pandemic economic recovery, the reversal of harmful rules and regulations from the prior administration, and increased transparency to engender confidence in the workings of the federal government,” the letter states.

While acknowledging the historic election of Kamala Harris as the nation’s first AAPI and Black vice president, the authors say they are troubled by the lack of AAPI representation in Biden’s Cabinet.

“Our country is facing unprecedented challenges — worldwide pandemic, economic crisis, racial injustice, xenophobia and increase in anti-AAPI violence across the nation. To meet this moment in our nation’s history, we urge you to nominate Ms. Coloretti as the Director of OMB.”

It is not clear whether Coloretti will be nominated. Shalanda Young, who this week was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, is a contender for the top job. She would be the first Black woman to be OMB director.

The push for Coloretti also comes as Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois this week backed down from their threat to vote against Biden’s nominees after receiving assurances from the White House to bring on a senior Asian American and Pacific Islander advisor.

Both senators complained of a lack of diversity among senior staff and Cabinet officials.

But White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “remains committed to making sure this is the most diverse administration in history,” citing Katherine Tai who is now the U.S. trade representative, Julie Su as deputy Labor secretary and Kiran Ahuja as Biden’s pick to run the Office of Personnel Management.

It’s unclear whether Hirono will support Coloretti, although she enthusiastically voted to confirm her in 2014 to be HUD deputy secretary.

In a statement late Tuesday welcoming the appointment of a White House liaison, however, Hirono said she has spoken to the administration about her concerns.

“Based on the private conversations we had, I will continue voting to confirm the historic and highly qualified nominees President Biden has appointed to serve in his administration,” she said.

Update: On Thursday, Hirono said in a statement, “I think Nani Coloretti would make a great OMB director and would welcome her appointment to that role.”

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