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White House Asian-American, Pacific Islander initiative names new leader

by Chris Fuchs /

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has installed a new executive director, the Department of Education announced on Wednesday.

 Holly Ham, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, housed in the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC. U.S. Department of Education

Holly Ham, who joined the Department of Education in January, will be in charge of directing efforts of the initiative and its associated presidential advisory commission, according to a statement from the Department.

She takes over the spot once held by Doua Thor, who was appointed in November 2015.

"I am excited to step into this role at a time when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are now the fastest growing racial group in the country," Ham, formerly the assistant secretary of management at the Department of Education, said.

The White House initiative aims to increase access to and participation in federal programs in which Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders may be underserved, the statement said.

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Before joining the department, Ham worked in the private sector, according to the announcement. She is also a fellow at the Asian Pacific American Women's Leadership Institute through the Center for Asian Pacific American Women, a nonprofit working to develop greater leadership skills in Asian-American women.

Ham’s priorities, the announcement said, include meeting with community leaders across the United States and filling out the president’s advisory commission, which saw two-thirds of its members resign in February in protest of Trump’s policies.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education, which houses the initiative, said no updates were available at this time.

A White House spokesperson told NBC News that they do not comment on personnel issues and had no announcements at this time.

News of Ham’s appointment comes around two months after Trump ended speculation over the fate of several White House initiatives by signing an executive order extending them until Sept. 30, 2019.

Since Trump’s inauguration in January, there had been no formal meetings of commissions associated with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, several then members told NBC News in September.

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The commissions are considered federal advisory committees, of which there are more than 1,000. As diverse as they are many, the groups are viewed as a conduit between government and citizen. Members provide expert advice on issues from education to healthcare, technology to the environment.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was established by former President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Originally focused on involving more Asian Americans and Pacific Islander involved in federal programs, it shifted direction in 2001 under former President George W. Bush to focus on business and economic issues. The initiative was later moved to the Department of Education under former President Barack Obama.

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