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Duke alum to lead Biden's COVID-19 response

As the Biden administration prepares to transition into the White House Jan. 20, a former Blue Devil is playing an important role. 

Jeffrey Zients, Trinity ‘88, is currently co-chair of the Biden-Harris transition team and will serve as coordinator of the COVID-19 response and counselor to the president. As the COVID-19 coordinator, Zients will have to work with multiple government agencies to organize increased testing efforts and the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine to the general public.

Zients, who could not be reached for this article, earned a political science degree at Duke and began his career in the private sector as a management consultant and entrepreneur. He has served in numerous leadership positions, including as the chief executive officer and chairman of The Advisory Board Company and chairman of the Corporate Executive Board.

Zients played several roles in the Obama administration, during which one of his most notable achievements was solving multiple issues in Healthcare.gov, the Affordable Care Act enrollment website, such as website speed. During former president Barack Obama’s two terms, Zients served as director of the National Economic Council, acting and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, and the first Chief Performance Officer of the United States. Zients became a trusted contact for high-profile business leaders.

Obama told The Washington Post that Zients was an “invaluable” asset to his staff, calling him “wicked smart” and praising him for his consistent projection of “a sense of being much more concerned about getting the job done than who’s getting the credit.”

"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,” a source close to Biden told Politico

Zients most recently served as the CEO of Cranemere, a private investment firm formed in 2012. He left that job after the November presidential election to take part in the Biden-Harris transition.

Zients also has a wide investment portfolio. Recently, he put time and money into Call Your Mother, a bagel shop and deli that opened in 2018 and now has four locations in the Washington area. He co-founded the Zients Family Foundation, which provides funding to various charitable organizations, alongside his wife Mary Zients. 

He also co-founded Urban Alliance, which partners with employers to provide skills training and mentorship to young people in under-resourced areas. 

Zients also served on the Facebook Board of Directors from May 2018 to March 2020.

In his role as the COVID-19 coordinator for the Biden administration, Zients will work closely with health experts, especially soon-to-be U.S. surgeon general Vivek Murthy.

The key challenges he will confront include coordinating federal, state and local agencies, ensuring that the COVID-19 vaccine reaches all people and managing the politicization of vaccination and testing efforts. 

The Biden administration has outlined a three-pronged COVID-19 response plan: maximizing the efficiency of the vaccine roll-out, issuing a mask mandate on Biden’s first day in office and getting students back in school as quickly as possible. 

Biden has committed to distributing 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 50 million people during his first 100 days in office. As of Jan. 11, nearly nine million Americans had received the first dose. 

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