A small but growing number of Indian-Americans are assuming top positions at the U.S. Treasury Department in yet another sign of the community’s rising influence in the public arena.
Recent years have seen a surge in the number of public servants from the community in both elected and appointed office at all levels of government. Indian-Americans constitute just 1% of the U.S. population, but have achieved disproportionate success in fields in which they have not been historically represented in high numbers, including diplomacy, law and politics. Although figures like Ambassador Rich Verma, Judge Sri Srinivasan and Governor Nikki Haley have becoming increasingly well-known figures across the U.S., Indian-Americans in other domains like banking and finance have garnered less attention, particularly in the public sector.
A shift is underway, however, with a rising number of Indian-Americans assuming positions in the highest echelons of the historic institution that was first led by Alexander Hamilton more than two centuries ago. The success of Indian-Americans at the Treasury Department is emblematic of the impact Indian-Americans are making on a large as well as to their commitment to public service.
Bimal Patel has been nominated to become the Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Financial Institutions. If confirmed, he would become the highest ranking Indian-American at the Department of Treasury.(LAW.COM)
Deputy Assistant Secretary Bimal Patel
Late last year, prominent banking attorney Bimal Patel was nominated by President Trump to serve in one of the Treasury Department’s most prestigious and influential posts: Assistant Secretary for Financial Institutions. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Patel would become among the most senior Indian-American ever to serve at the Department of the Treasury. The role is a substantial one and the post was previously held by current Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. Patel would be responsible for oversight over cybersecurity policy for the financial system, coordination of insurance policy, administration of community development and small business assistance programs and oversight over financial stability matters.
Patel is widely recognized as one of the leading banking and financial services attorneys in the country despite being only 36 years old. The depth and breadth of his current and previous work reflects not just his expertise, but his commitment to public service. He currently serves as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for the Financial Stability Oversight Council and also served as a Senior Advisor to Director Jeremiah O. Norton on the Board of Directors of the FDIC from 2012-2015 in the aftermath of the infamous U.S. financial crisis.
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Those who know him praise his talents and qualifications for the Treasury Department post. “Bimal is a disciplined thinker whose careful, measured insights disarm even those who might wish to disagree with him,” says Brian Boyle, a Partner at O’Melveny & Myers LLP, who worked closely with Patel in the private sector and is widely regarded as an authority on financial services and ERISA law.
A graduate of Harvard, Stanford and Georgetown, Patel also teaches an undergraduate course on banking regulation at Stanford University where he shares his expertise—and passion—for the field with the next generation of practitioners.
Patel’s story is the story of the American dream. His parents immigrated from India in the 1960s. His father came to the U.S. after growing up in abject poverty, and earned his Ph.D. and split his career between corporate America and owning and operating a series of successful small businesses. Patel’s parents were ultimately able to create a life for him that has allowed him to give back to the country that has given him and his family so much.
Former Deputy and Acting General Counsel Priya R. Aiyar, was the highest ranking Indian American woman to ever serve at the US Department of Treasury.
Former Deputy and Acting General Counsel Priya R. Aiyar
From 2013-2017, legal heavyweight Priya Aiyar served as the Deputy and later Acting General Counsel of the Department of Treasury. As chief legal officer, she oversaw Treasury’s nearly 2,200-employee legal division, and advised the Treasury Secretary on a wide range of issues relating to domestic finance, international economic affairs, tax policy, terrorism finance and financial crimes enforcement. In recognition of her service, she was awarded the Alexander Hamilton Award, the Treasury Department’s highest honor. She is now a Partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP in Washington D.C.
Aiyar’s parents also came to the U.S. from India with limited financial resources but ultimately built successful careers because of the unique opportunities the U.S. afforded them.
After graduating from Harvard, Yale and Oxford (where she was a Rhodes Scholar) and clerking on the U.S. Supreme Court, Aiyar embarked on an exhaustive public service career, which included senior positions at the Energy Department, and as deputy chief counsel responsible for leading the investigation of the government and industry response to the infamous BP spill in the Gulf in April 2010.
The desire to impact the lives of others in a meaningful way attracted Aiyar to public service. She modestly attributes her success in government to the “dedication and expertise of the colleagues that I worked with, who worked incredibly hard in support of the missions of the agencies we served.”
Aiyar’s distinguished career has made her a trailblazer twice over. As deputy and acting general counsel, Aiyar was the highest ranking Indian-American woman to ever serve in the Treasury Department, a rare distinction she is likely to retain for the foreseeable future.
The exact number of Indian-Americans serving within the Treasury Department remains unknown, but there is recognition that that the figure is growing. Aiyar believes this is because of the “wide range of issues that the department works on—from counter-terrorism to tax to international development to financial regulation—and the skill sets that it requires have always attracted a diverse group of employees.”
Aiyar also links the growing number of Indian-Americans working at Treasury “with the increasing representation of Indian Americans at the top levels of many of the fields that the department draws on—from economics to law to IT to intelligence/national security. It makes sense that the numbers would be increasing” as a result.
Ultimately, a desire to give back is what drives both Patel and Aiyar. “Serving in government and working on issues that impacted workers in all different sectors of the economy and people all across the country emphasized for me the importance of having leadership that reflects the diversity in the public we serve,” Aiyar observes. “While there is much progress that still needs to be made on that front…I felt that the different perspectives we brought to bear on issues helped us all become better in our roles.”