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Indian American awaits Senate nod to join Obama administration

February 16, 2010 22:04 IST

Suresh Kumar's nomination by United States President Barack Obama, to be assistant secretary of commerce and director general of the United States and Foreign Commerce Service, sailed through two key US Senate Committees last week.

The Senate Banking Committee and the Commerce Committee approved Kumar's nomination, which was buoyed by a rousing introduction of Kumar by Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey. Secunderabad-born Kumar -- a former sports and news anchor for India's State-run Doordarshan channels -- has lived in New Jersey since 1993.

Now the full Senate has to vote on his nomination, and sources said he could be in place in his job at Commerce by late February or early March.

Kumar told Rediff-India Abroad that he was "raring to go and put into effect all of my ideas and priorities on my agenda to help US businesses seeking to expand overseas."

"Fortunately or unfortunately, I happen to be one of only 6 per cent of cases having to go through two committees. Everyone generally only goes through one, like Raj [Shah, administrator, US Agency for International Development] and Richard [Verma, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs]. But this is because of the vastness and the jurisdiction of the portfolio I guess," he said.

Shah is the senior-most Indian American in the Obama administration. Once Kumar is confirmed, he will -- along with Verma -- be the second senior-most ranking desi in US government. To have this many senior level members in the administration is unprecedented in the annals of Indian-American history, though community leaders have vowed not to rest till an Indian American is named to the cabinet.

Introducing Kumar, Menendez said, "Mr Kumar is an experienced profession in global trade, and the right man for the job. He has worked for two of New Jersey's best known corporations, Johnson and Johnson and Warner Lambert, and has balanced his private sector career with a belief in the importance of public service, establishing a successful student internship programme with New Jersey businesses.'

Menendez, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, added, "Mr Kumar's impressive resume is a model for the global economy in the 21st century. He has lived in six countries, speaks six languages, has served on numerous global international councils, boards, and expert advisory panels.'

The lawmaker said that despite all his corporate obligations, Kumar had 'also given something back to the community.' He noted, "As special adviser at the Clinton Foundation, he worked on food security initiatives, agricultural output programmes, and loan and financing protocols in Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Mr Kumar spearheaded initiatives to promote economic development and improve people's lives and livelihoods around the world. Most recently, as president and managing partner of Kaizen Innovation -- a global management consulting firm -- he has advised the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, and the African Development Bank.'

Senator Christopher Dodd, Banking Committee chairman and Connecticut Democrat, told Kumar "this is an absolutely terrific background," and said "this vindicates our system in the US and you remind us of the advantages of a welcoming society."

Kumar said, "I could not help but reflect on the incredible journey from Mumbai via Indonesia, Singapore and Canada that brought me to the USA 16 years ago. If I am confirmed for this position, you will have given me the opportunity to repay a small measure of the debt to a country that has already given me and my family so much."

Earlier, while introducing his family, he got quite emotional when he spoke of his parents 'Colonel Sundaram and Vasantha, who instilled in our entire family the importance of public service. Although they cannot be present here today, thanks to technological advancement that makes the world a global village, broadband and bandwidth permitting, they are watching these proceedings via webcast from their home in Delhi.'

Once Kumar, who was nominated by President Obama in October is confirmed, he, along with his son Aditya Kumar would perhaps be the only father and son serving in the same administration. Aditya, former chief financial officer for Obama's presidential campaign, is currently special assistant to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and director of special projects.

When Suresh Kumar begins work at Commerce, he will join another high ranking Indian American appointed by Obama to push for trade and commerce for US companies and other entities in overseas markets: Ro Khanna, deputy assistant secretary of commerce for domestic operations, United States and Foreign Commercial Service, International Trade Administration, at the Department of Commerce.

Aziz Haniffa