UM prof Bagenstos hired as White House budget office lawyer

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — University of Michigan law professor Sam Bagenstos is joining the new Biden administration as general counsel of the White House Office of Management and Budget. 

UM Law School Dean Mark D. West sent an email notifying faculty and staff of Bagenstos' appointment on Wednesday, hours after the President Joe Biden's inauguration.

In his new role, Bagenstos will give legal advice to the director and staff across the largest executive department in the Office of the President whose mission is aiding the administration with policy, budget, management and regulatory priorities. 

Sam Bagenstos speaks at the Michigan Democratic ONE campaign office in Madison Heights in 2018.

The position, which does not require Senate confirmation, includes reviewing proposed agency regulations and agency comments on legislation, helping with the drafting of the president's bill signing statements and overseeing the proposed annual budget for the executive branch. 

The job has included holding meetings with the general counsels at agencies across the administration and overseeing OMB's compliance with ethics and records laws.

"This is an incredibly huge position. It's the most powerful agency nobody has ever heard of," said Nicholas Bagley, a colleague of Bagenstos' at the UM Law School who studies administrative and health care law.

"If you are a federal agency in Washington, you've got to go to OMB to get your budget approved, and that gives OMB a synthetic sense of the what's going on across agencies, but also gives it an immense, real sort of leverage to shape agency priorities."

Bagley said the line he often heard while working in Washington as an attorney with the Civil Division at the Department of Justice was "never, ever piss off OMB." 

"It's a central — the key player — in Washington. It's going to take a lawyer who is creative and can get into issues very quickly, and Sam is exactly that kind of person," Bagley said. 

"I really couldn't think of anyone smarter or better equipped to take on the challenge of being the general counsel of an agency that oversees all of the regulations coming out of every agency, that oversees all the agencies' budget requests, that coordinates closely with Congress. It's just an immense job."

Bagenstos did not immediately respond Thursday to requests for comment.

The post under President Donald Trump was held by Mark Paoletta, who came under fire for his role in the decision to withhold defense aid for Ukraine — a move that became a focus last year of Trump’s impeachment trial. The Government Accountability Office later found it was unlawful for OMB to have withheld the funds after Congress had appropriated them for Ukraine.

Bagenstos' expertise is in constitutional and civil rights litigation, and he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic nominee for the Michigan Supreme Court in 2018.

He graduated from the University of North Carolina and Harvard Law School, and clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Bagenstos worked in Washington during the Obama administration from 2009-11 as a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as the No. 2 official in the Civil Rights Division. 

One of his projects while at the Justice Department, according to his biography, was promulgating regulations for the 2010 Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bagenstos has consulted with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and other civil rights organizations and has argued four cases before the Supreme Court, including the 2015 case against UPS that fought for protections for pregnant employees.

Bagenstos serves on the Ann Arbor Housing Commission and as chair of the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, which is charged with enforcing the rights of public employees to unionize and collectively bargain.

Also joining the Biden administration from UM is Robert Hampshire, associate professor at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, where he has researched the implications of autonomous and connected vehicles on climate, society and equity issues.

Robert C. Hampshire, associate professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, is joining the Biden administration in the Department of Transportation.

Hampshire on Thursday was appointed principal deputy assistant secretary for research and technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation, where he will oversee research, development and technology activities across the department and the 40 University Transportation Centers, according to a news release.