Janet L. Yellen was sworn in as the secretary of the Treasury Department on Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, a history-making moment as both are the first women to hold two of the most powerful jobs in the United States government.
Ms. Yellen is the nation’s 78th Treasury secretary and the first woman to head the institution in its 232-year history. She is also the first woman to have held all three top economic jobs in the government, having served as chair of the Federal Reserve and the Council of Economic Advisers.
She is taking the job at a time of economic crisis, with millions still out of work and the recovery slowing as the coronavirus persists. Ms. Yellen will quickly be thrust into fraught negotiations over how to design and pass a robust stimulus package to help revive an economy that has been hammered by the pandemic.
Standing outside the White House, Ms. Yellen took the oath of office with her husband, the economist George Akerlof, and her son by her side. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Ms. Harris said, “Congratulations, Madam Secretary,” to which Ms. Yellen replied, “Thank you, Madam Vice President.”
Ms. Yellen said on Twitter that she was proud to be joining the Treasury Department and described the field of economics, and the agency’s mission, as one that can “right past wrongs and improve people’s lives.”
Later in the day, Ms. Yellen sent a message to the Treasury Department’s staff, introducing herself, laying out her objectives and making clear that she plans to create a welcoming environment for career employees. Many career staff complained that Ms. Yellen’s predecessor, Steven Mnuchin, operated within a tight-knit inner circle and did not make use of their abilities.
“These are ambitious goals, and I am fully aware none of them will be accomplished by working exclusively with a small team out of the secretary’s office,” Ms. Yellen said. “Ours will have to be an inclusive department.”
The new Treasury secretary said in the memo that she plans to soon embark on a “listening tour” of the department, holding virtual meetings with each office and bureau to learn about what can be improved at the agency.
The Treasury Department said that Ms. Yellen also spent her first day talking to her advisers and being briefed on the status of President Biden’s rescue plan and the implementation of the existing relief programs.
The White House and lawmakers in Congress have begun the process of negotiating over President Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion relief bill. Ms. Yellen, a labor economist, will assume a central role in making the case for why the economy needs more fiscal support.
At her confirmation hearing last week, Ms. Yellen told senators that it was time to “act big” and that doing so would be fiscally responsible in the long run by creating a healthier economy.
In a sign of the task ahead, the Treasury Department has been rapidly adding staff and advisers in recent days. Ms. Yellen was confirmed by a bipartisan vote on Monday, but her top deputy, Wally Adeyemo, and other senior officials who will oversee the department’s international affairs, sanctions and domestic finance divisions are not yet in place and will require Senate confirmation.