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Youngkin builds out business-centric Cabinet with help from McKinsey

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Crixell Matthews
Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, seen here on the campaign trail in October, has started to fill out his Cabinet. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

After a slow start, Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin named several key positions in his Cabinet on Monday and Tuesday, including a chief of staff, counselor to the governor and communications director.

Youngkin’s transition team has also received pro bono advice from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, spokespersons for the firm and Youngkin confirmed on Tuesday. Neither would give details on the arrangement.

The transition team has been slower to appoint key posts and acted more discreetly than past administrations, with members of the transition team signing non-disclosure agreements. Lobbyists have also been consulted in the process, but Youngkin officials have not spelled out who is involved or their role.

Analysts say Youngkin’s picks – few of whom have direct experience in Virginia government – reflect the Republican’s background as co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm and his desire to shake up the way the state conducts business. The picks also hint at Youngkin’s focus on data and metrics, with the team tracking data on everything down to the number of calls to lawmakers.

“I think this is what he’s comfortable with,” said Robert Roberts, a political science professor at James Madison University. “He wants to bring business practices to the state.”

Youngkin’s new chief of staff will be Jeff Geotman, a close advisor who headed the transition team and previously led the Export-Import Bank under former President Donald Trump. Like the incoming governor, Geotman spent his career in the world of private equity.

Eric Moeller, a partner at McKinsey, will serve in a new role called Chief Transformation Officer. That title is new to Virginia politics and more widely found in the private sector. Youngkin’s press release didn’t define the role, but on its website, McKinsey says a CTO “acts as the face of the transformation, sets the tone, spurs enthusiasm, and challenges current wisdom”

Youngkin’s pick for communications officer and deputy chief of staff, Becca Glover, comes most immediately from the Brunswick Group, a public relations firm, where she “strategized complex media relations campaigns for Fortune 500 companies.” Glover also previously led the communications team at the U.S. Department of Commerce under Trump.

Several of Youngkin’s previous picks also reflect what insiders expect will be a data-centric approach to governing, with goals expressed as metrics. His incoming education secretary, Aimee Rogstad Guidera, is a national expert on the use of data in education policy.

Stephen Emery Cummings, an investment banker, will serve as finance secretary, and entrepreneur Caren Merrick, who previously co-founded enterprise software company webMethods, will be Youngkin’s commerce secretary.

By far Youngkin’s most experienced pick when it comes to the ways of Richmond will be his counselor, Richard Cullen. The former Republican attorney general is a longtime fixture of Virginia and national politics and partner at the local powerhouse firm McGuireWoods, which maintains a large lobbying presence at the Capitol.

On Tuesday, Youngkin named two more picks. Craig Crenshaw, the former head of logistics for the U.S. Marine Corps, will serve as Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs. Crenshaw is the first Black appointee named to Youngkin’s Cabinet. Former U.S. Senate candidate and former Army officer Daniel Gade will serve as commissioner of the Department of Veterans Services.

It’s not clear what role, if any, McKinsey consultants had in the hires. Youngkin worked as a consultant at the firm for a year after graduating with his MBA from Harvard in 1994.

Greg Romano, a spokesperson for McKinsey, said in a statement that it was helping the Youngkin team “stand up the necessary building blocks for their administration.” McKinsey’s offerings include a “ US State Transitions initiative,” and Romano said the firm had advised past Virginia governors but wouldn't specify which ones. McKinsey doesn’t have any lobbyists registered with the Virginia Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.

Last year, McKinsey agreed to pay nearly $600 million to nearly every state for its behind-the-scenes role in marketing opioids. The company has also faced criticism for allegedly promoting risky practices to Wall Street banks in the runup to the 2008 financial crisis that ultimately led to thousands of foreclosures.  

State officials have turned to consulting firms in several instances during the pandemic. In July, Virginia Employment Commission commissioner Ellen Marie Hesse signed a no-bid, emergency procurement contract with Deloitte worth up to $40 million to quickly stand up call centers to deal with deep backlogs in processing unemployment claims. Deloitte also signed a handful of multi-million dollar contracts with state agencies to help with tasks including vaccine rollouts, building out analytics support and supporting COVID-19 prevention among inmates in state prisons.

McKinsey, meanwhile, inked a $573,680, four-week contract in April 2020 to help state officials quickly secure more testing supplies and protective gear.

Roberts, who studies government ethics, said he doesn’t see a problem with the pro bono help from McKinsey so long as it didn’t influence future procurement decisions.

“If you have a company that's already helping him with the transition, you might believe they would have a greater shot at getting such a contract,” Roberts said, adding that he believed Virginia’s procurement laws were robust enough to prevent that advantage.

Update: This article has been updated with information that McKinsey advised previous Virginia governors. 

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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