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  • Tarun Ramesh

WLP 2020 Week 6: Public Leadership during a Pandemic

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color, federal and state leaders have prioritized elevating diverse voices from across America, redefining policy for generations to come. This week, the Washington Leadership Program (WLP) cohort spoke with South Asian leaders across agencies and legislative bodies about the importance of incorporating forgotten narratives in policy and advocacy efforts.

On Sunday, we heard from Sita Sonty, a former US Diplomat and current president of Sapphire Partners. Her international experiences as a foreign service officer centered around protecting American interests abroad, while also collaborating closely with allies to develop relationships and broaden cultural ties between nations. She emphasized interpersonal relationships, stressing the importance of maintaining relationships with the WLP cohort. Even with a virtual program, my cohort has met the current moment with a sense of urgency and agency by focusing on careers in public service. Without a doubt, our ties have been strengthened by the adversity of the pandemic, and we will remain life-long friends.

On Monday, we spoke with Ajit Pai, the current chairman of the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). As the head of a regulatory agency, he emphasized community-centric policies to improve broadband access, ease telemedicine restrictions, and connect vulnerable populations with necessary resources. Regulatory agencies have an outsized role in COVID-19 pandemic response, and he spoke gravely about his oath to defend the Constitution and protect the public interest. As an intern at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, I have experienced some of the regulatory actions that executive agencies have undertaken to improve equitable health access and protect Americans from financial ruin. However, listening to the head of an agency speak about ongoing efforts redoubled my faith in government and the importance of investing in public goods.

On Thursday, WLP set up a panel with elected officials in state legislators including State Senator Vin Gopal (New Jersey), State Representative Niraj Antani (Ohio), and Delegate Suhas Subramanyan (Virginia). These three legislators spoke of their experiences as South Asians running for office and the importance of representing the interests of their constituents. Navigating the polarized political landscape seemed perilous, but all three spoke of bipartisan efforts at the state level to facilitate investment, commerce, and education. Each of the legislators spoke of their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of new obstacles to campaigning and governing. They have found innovative ways to maximize technology to connect directly with voters through town halls, phone-banking, and fundraising events. These adaptive strategies have offered new opportunities to engage constituents in rural and underserved communities. I am sure that a few members in our cohort have a future in electoral politics. Our WLP cohort will be behind them, supporting their efforts, every step of the way.

For the past six weeks, I have worked full-time at CMS and developed a vested interest in patient advocacy in the health insurance marketplace. The support of my supervisors at work along with the WLP cohort and leadership have pushed me to expand my understanding of the US healthcare system. The experiences and conversations from this summer will continue to drive me to redefine the future of equitable, quality healthcare in America – all thanks to WLP.

My cohort will have an outsized impact on the American landscape, and I am glad to be a part of their journey.

Tarun Ramesh

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

University of Georgia 2021

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