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Read our full memo calling on the Biden-Harris administration to bring young people to the table.

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Young People in the Biden-Harris Administration

Young Americans—specifically BIPOC youth—turned out in record breaking numbers and voted overwhelmingly for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. The Biden-Harris administration must address the unique concerns of the voters that helped put them in the White House. This is an important moment in our country’s history: young Americans are more politically active and engaged than ever before, and we expect this administration to be responsive to our needs. As the generation that led social movements over the last several years and fundamentally changed the political landscape that determined the election, we have more than earned our seat at the table. Yet, the systemic lack of sustained, youth-specific roles and Young Americans across the federal government limits young people’s agency. Young Americans are important stakeholders for every issue —and the need for formalized youth engagement work across agencies is pivotal to ensure the authentic engagement and advancement of the nation’s youngest constituency.

We come together as a diverse array of organizations led by and serving youth to call on the Biden-Harris administration to represent and reflect young people across the Executive Branch.

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  • The establishment of an independent Office of Young Americans within the Executive Office of the President.
  • Appoint a Director of Youth Engagement, preferably a member of Gen-Z, to oversee the Office for Young Americans and sit on the Domestic Policy Council and engage with the National Security Council.
  • The creation of an inter-agency working group to evaluate how relevant agencies are engaging Young Americans and provide collaboration across offices.
  • Building out opportunities for Young Americans and creating a public service pipeline through the Office of Presidential Personnel devoting a staffer to the hiring of Young Americans into government.

Past Examples

There is precedent for meaningful youth involvement at the federal government level across Departments. Examples of past involvement include:

  • The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration (HHS) has established a  precedent where young people (18 to 26) who have interacted with the foster care system are paid as consultants to provide technical assistance and input to the program’s administration.
  • The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s 4-H & Positive Youth Development Program that offers young people opportunities to engage within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is constructive, fostering positive relationships and providing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.
  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency has established “The Youth Preparedness Council” (YPC) to convene youth leaders to support national and local preparedness projects. The YPC regularly meets with agency staff and gives FEMA the opportunity to engage young people and get their perspectives, feedback, and opinions.
  • The Department of Education has engaged students in stakeholder and roundtable conversations through the appointment of a “Youth Liaison” staff position.
  • These initiatives display how youth engagement can be utilized within federal departments to advance and inform agencies of the direct impact their work has on young people. However, through discussions with various stakeholders in both the youth engagement space and former administration appointees, it was found that the consistency of youth-inclusive programming across departments has been largely dependent upon individuals and subject to turnover.

Office for Young Americans

While the White House Office of Public Engagement (OPE) does have a liaison to Young Americans, this role historically also has covered other portfolios instead of solely focusing on this demographic. Establishing an independent Office for the Engagement of Young Americans within the Executive Office of the President (EOP) that is devoted to inter-agency youth-programming collaboration would allow the federal government to better respond to and implement the expertise of the largest, most diverse generation of Americans.

Limiting youth engagement within an outreach portfolio often leads to short-term events and convenings that do not provide avenues for meaningful long-term youth decision-making and policy recommendations. Instead, developing an independent office that could work at the intersection of the OPE, Domestic Policy Council (DPC), National Security Council (NSC), and agencies focused on youth engagement would allow for sustainable youth inclusion.  A similar office model can be seen through the Obama-Biden administration’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The Director of Youth Engagement, appointed to oversee the Office for Young Americans, should preferably be a member of Gen-Z and have a seat on both the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council. This is a necessary addition to both the domestic policy and nationals security  team to prioritize issues disproportionately impacting young Americans, and ensure a seat at the table for young American voices, who have traditionally been shut out of the policy agenda. In addition to overseeing the Office of Young Americans, the Director would work to coordinate opportunities for senior members of the administration to see and hear from Young Americans in their communities, and ensure appropriate attention is paid to issues disproportionately impacting the younger generation. For example, the environment, structural racism, affordable healthcare, equity and cost of education and the gun violence epidemic are all issues that commonly drive the interest of young Americans.  

We recommend that upon creation, the office work with relevant agencies to do a full audit of programs and department roles focused on engaging Young Americans. The results of this audit will inform the development of the inter-agency working group and be used to facilitate more streamlined federal engagement with Young Americans. For example, students should be represented within the Department of Education; young workers must be enfranchised by the Department of Labor; and the young Americans leading the climate justice movement must be included in conversations across climate agencies, offices, initiatives, and councils.

Youth Engagement Personnel

The youth engagement portfolio must extend beyond one staffer. We recommend that the Biden-Harris Transition Team formalize Youth Engagement roles, reinstate these positions in departments where these roles have been removed, select Young Americans for appointments, and add in other roles in departments that an interagency audit deems relevant. Youth Engagement personnel should not be a title tacked onto a staff person with other responsibilities; this role requires full-time, dedicated engagement with young people and a community-oriented skill set and expertise. Youth engagement needs to be a forethought, not an afterthought, in every department’s approach to policymaking. It is critical to have full-time staffers to ensure that conversations and policy happen with young people, not simply about them or to them.

Within the office focused on Young Americans should be  2-3 devoted staff members with both policy and engagement expertise. Additionally, we recommend that the Office of Presidential Personnel also consider having a staffer devoted to the hiring of Young Americans into government. This person would build their hiring plans with the office in mind, in addition building out youth service opportunities and strengthening the pipeline to bring more diverse, young public servants into the administration.

Qualifications: Since youth voice initiatives can easily become tokenizing without intentional relationship building, the selection of Youth Engagement personnel should not be taken lightly. It is valuable to have young staffers who are reflective of the demographic they serve. Ideally, these roles should be members of Generation-Z.

The young staff person(s) filling this role should:

  • Have a background in youth organizing, youth engagement, or other fields directly related to building meaningful relationships with young people.
  • Commit to developing a deep understanding of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Intersectionality, and how norms surrounding “professionalism” and “leadership” are rooted in whiteness.
  • Have deep knowledge of both the research and practice surrounding youth voice, meaningful youth-adult co-creation, and how to mitigate tokenism in youth voice initiatives.
  • Seamlessly and effectively liaise with youth, internal department personnel, external departments, and the media to capture the breadth of youth voice and reach.

Functionality and Institutionalization

One of the greatest barriers to institutionalizing youth-adult partnerships at the federal level is that the vast majority of the mechanisms outlined above depend on personnel acting in good faith to elevate youth leadership. To remove the unequal power-dynamic between youth and federal agencies, institutionalized policy levers are needed to strengthen and advance young citizen-adult policymaker relationships.

Meaningful youth-engagement requires Executive Branch coordination. Buy-in and leadership from the EOP are vital to coordinate inter-agency communication, collaboration, and synergy. Moreover, cross-departmental data-sharing and strategic planning are essential to prevent silos and foster transparency for and accountability to young constituents.

Additionally, while each agency has different priorities when building out personnel plans, we strongly encourage appropriate administration staff and leaders to consider Young Americans and the creation of youth engagement personnel who are empowered and formalized within their respective departments. For example, Student Voice, a “by students, for students” non-profit, recently published a report with key mechanisms on how to engage young people within the Department of Education. Implementing these steps can significantly strengthen the relationship between the administration and young people by improving communication, consistency, authenticity, and public policy outcomes that impact the lives of all Americans.

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