Democratic frustration is boiling over as Biden administration staffing slogs along, and 2020 staffers tell Insider they feel 'left out in the cold'
- Some Democrats are frustrated by the Biden administration’s hiring process.
- Former campaign staffers and transition officials applied for jobs but haven’t heard back.
- “The personnel system is a black box,” one former transition official told Insider.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
If you’re a Democrat in Washington right now, there’s a decent chance you’re working for the Biden administration.
But not everyone who wants a job on Team Biden — or thinks they deserve one — has landed a gig working for the new president.
Some feel like they’ve been left in limbo. Several described President Joe Biden’s hiring process as opaque. And even time spent volunteering for Biden’s presidential transition team has not necessarily yielded a dream job inside for the executive branch of the US government.
“There’s a general sense of frustration and angst,” a former member of Biden’s transition team told Insider. “The personnel system is a black box.”
It’s a starkly different employment dynamic compared with the previous four years when Democrats were in the political wilderness while Republicans got the jobs in President Donald Trump’s government. Now, former Biden transition team officials, Biden campaign staffers, alumni of other Democratic primary campaigns, and former aides to Vice President Kamala Harris are hoping that their time spent winning back the White House will pay off with full-time positions.
They’ve submitted resumes and telegraphed their availability to Biden’s team. But many have nonetheless been waiting months. Communication from the Biden White House has been limited, and people are finding themselves flustered and unsure whether to wait or pursue other opportunities, according to a dozen interviews Insider conducted with Democrats who are hunting for jobs or have spoken with job seekers.
Read more: Here’s how to get a job in the new Biden-Harris administration
“These things are never easy,” said Jim Manley, a longtime aide to former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “I would hope that team Biden would pick up the hiring pace when it comes to their supporters and or people that worked on the campaign.”
‘Slow going or a lot of stonewalling’
Confusion abounds across Biden’s administration. With job openings at the Justice Department, there are questions about who is even making hiring decisions. In interviews, several people in pursuit of Justice Department roles said they’ve come away with the impression that politically-appointed principals hold limited hiring authority.
Veteran Democratic staffers outside the administration have been fielding calls from friends and former colleagues who haven’t yet landed work.
“It is either slow going or a lot of stonewalling,” said one former Democratic Senate staffer who has heard from frustrated colleagues. “There’s always an expectation that there’s going to be a bit of a lag” when a new administration is staffing up, “but it doesn’t feel like there are clear lines of communication,” that person said.
A White House official told Insider the Biden administration has hired roughly 1,200 people for positions that don’t require Senate confirmation, compared to more than 350 at this time during the Obama administration.
Also, the competition is stiff. Former Obama administration officials want to come back to undo what the Trump administration did. Biden’s presidential campaign staffers feel entitled to jobs after grueling months on the trail. Harris’ former Senate staffers left jobless by her ascent need new gigs, too.
In some corners of the government, Biden’s appointees are seen as having taken demotions or roles considered on equal footing with positions they held under the Obama administration.
“There are many talented and diverse campaign staffers who helped elect the president and are now serving their country in government. We’ll continue to rely on that talent to fill positions across the administration in the coming weeks,” the White House official said.
‘Left out in the cold’
Still, the frustration spans from senior Democrats in Washington to campaign staff across the country who worked to help get Biden elected.
Some Democrats are even gauging their colleagues’ jobless status.
Matt Jones, who worked on the Florida Democratic Party’s down-ballot elections program in the fall, said he started an informal survey to keep track of former colleagues who are unemployed so that he could share opportunities as they become available.
Nearly three-quarters of 63 respondents — many of whom worked on the Biden campaign in Florida as organizers — were unemployed as of Friday.
“I know the Biden administration is very busy, they have big plans,” said Jones, who recently took a job as a parks and recreation site supervisor in Colorado Springs after nothing came of his own application to the administration. “But there’s a lot of things that need to happen, and if they’re looking for help, they’ve got all of our emails and phone numbers to reach out. And, you know, these folks are willing to do anything.”
Jones said his own network of former Biden staffers includes about 100 organizers and managers who have experience working in communities. They could help increase COVID-19 vaccinations, work as contact tracers, or even assist at the US-Mexico border.
“A lot of people want to continue to find some way to serve their country,” Jones said.
The Democratic National Committee, in coordination with the Biden campaign, offered programs on resumes and networking that were helpful, said one community organizer who worked for the North Carolina Coordinated Campaign — a joint effort between the North Carolina Democratic Party and Biden campaign.
Even so, the former organizer is now awaiting restoration of his unemployment benefits following passage of Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package. “I know a lot of people who are living in their parents’ basements, they’re moving back home,” said the organizer, who lives with his fiance.
A field organizer for the Florida Coordinated Campaign said she thought her work ahead of the election building a volunteer base in South Florida would land her an administration job.
“We won the campaign,” she said. “I thought it would eventually lead to the Biden administration calling me to work for them in some capacity at some agency.”
She submitted her resume and cover letter, selecting agencies that interested her. Her last email from the Biden team on January 18 stated it was in the “early stages” of staffing. It noted the administration’s commitment to diversity and stated that her interest would be shared with the Office of Presidential Personnel.
The former field organizer needs unemployment benefits, she said, but applying has been complicated, since she worked for two other 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaigns and in several states before heading to Florida. So she’s relying on financial help from her parents.
“I kind of feel like I was left out in the cold,” she said.
The new administration has about 4,000 slots to fill with political appointees throughout the federal government. They range from Cabinet-level department secretaries with decades of experience to entry-level jobs historically filled by political newcomers and former aides who hustled on the campaign trail.
Democratic insiders pointed to a series of possible reasons that staffing up is taking a while for Biden’s team.
For starters, there’s still a pandemic, which could create an interview bottleneck. There’s also a massive number of Democrats in Biden’s orbit — more so than his recent predecessors in the White House.
Biden, after all, served in the US Senate for 36 years and in the White House for eight years as vice president. Biden has also ran for president three times over 32 years. And Harris has her own network of former campaign and Senate staffers hoping for administration jobs.
When President Barack Obama took the White House in 2009, “We had been out of power eight years, so the pipeline of people who could serve from the previous administration was smaller,” said the former Biden transition official. “We’ve only been out of power four years, which makes a difference.”
The transition official added that “it’s numerically impossible” for everyone who served in the Obama administration, the Biden campaign, and new talent to get jobs in the administration.
Even so, “the Biden folks have not done the greatest job of managing expectations and providing information,” that person added. “We can’t get information on where we stand. No one is quite sure who are the decisionmakers.”
Meanwhile, many DC veterans and former congressional and campaign staffers are working their networks of friends and former colleagues.
Others outside the Beltway have sent their applications into the transition team and White House jobs portals, where they get an auto response that essentially tells them, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
One job applicant got an automated email response saying, “Thank you for your interest in serving in the Biden-Harris Administration! We have successfully received your application,” after they applied for a job in November. “Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis, including after Inauguration Day. Given the volume of applications, only candidates who are invited to interview will receive a response.”
Frustration in KamalaWorld
Former Harris staffers who haven’t gotten jobs in the Biden administration have complained to their friends and allies that they haven’t gotten enough help securing work, according to former Democratic Senate aides who are in touch with ex-staffers from Harris’ Senate office.
Gil Duran, who worked for Harris when she was California’s attorney general, told Insider last month that he had “heard buzz that people who had played a big role on her Senate staff were out in the cold now.”
Harris’ Senate aides were told by senior staff after the November election that it would take the administration a while to staff up, according to a former Harris Senate staffer. Some of her former aides have joined her office and others have been hired elsewhere in the administration, but political veterans note that past vice presidents haven’t been able to hire as many aides as they’d like to.
With that in mind, Harris’ Senate staff was told not to limit their job searches to the executive branch, and to pursue a dual track that involved looking for work outside the administration at the same time.
“We were told from the beginning that staffing up a new administration takes months,” the former Harris staffer said. “I know they’re doing what they can to help former Senate staff land new opportunities both inside and outside the administration, but unfortunately it can take some time.”
Ten of Harris’ former Senate staffers moved over to the VP’s office, a Harris spokesperson told Insider in February.
They include her former chief of staff, Rohini Kosoglu, who is now Harris’ domestic policy advisor; her deputy policy director Deanne Millison; and her policy advisor Ike Irby. The Harris spokesperson declined to name the other seven former Senate staffers now working in the vice president’s office.
Moe Vela, who worked for Al Gore and Biden when they were vice presidents, told Insider in a recent interview that it’s common for vice presidents to hire their former trusted aides.
Vela also noted that in his two White House stints, there were plenty of former staffers to the vice president who didn’t secure administration jobs. “The vast majority will not be placed,” he said.
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