More than 4,000 political appointees in the Bush administration are scrambling for jobs, facing the double whammy of having their appointments end on inauguration day at the same time the job market is shrinking.
Aides at the top levels of the White House say they are trying to concentrate on their current jobs and have not given a lot of thought to what might lie ahead.
“Like many, I remain focused on the important work still at hand and don’t plan to give serious thought to after-administration life until after January 20,” Josh Bolten, Bush’s chief of staff, tells Newsmax.
And Dana Perino, Bush’s press secretary, says, “Most people I know haven’t had a chance to even think about it. They’ll take some time and figure it out.”
Anita McBride, Laura Bush’s chief of staff, who has survived several previous transitions, says, “Of course there’s always some anxiety about finding a new job, and the current economic picture adds to that. However, despite the economy, I feel optimistic for my colleagues. These are good people who work here — some of the smartest and hardest-working with whom I have ever shared a professional journey.” As political appointees, “We sort of know this is the deal when we sign up for this line of work.”
But for many less prominent White House aides and political appointees throughout the rest of the government, anxiety has set in as more and more companies and nonprofit organizations lay off employees as a result of the recession, at the same time that the new Congress is employing fewer Republican staffers.
“I talk to my colleagues and they say, do you know where you’re going? And I say no, do you know where you’re going? And they say no, and they sort of shrug and smile,” says Peter Roff, a speechwriter for Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.
Roff has an impeccable résumé. He was political director of GOPAC, which promotes Republican candidates, when Newt Gingrich headed it; executive director of Americans for Tax Reform; and a senior political writer for United Press International.
Like Michael Barone, he can spout the most minute details of political races going back decades. But Roff, 43, faces the prospect of no income after Jan. 20.
“It’s a bad time to be looking for work,” Roff says. “Lots of people have their budgets frozen because of the economy, because of fears that contributions are going to be down. The not-for-profits aren’t hiring, some are closing and laying off people. And a lot of the for-profit entities are interested in hiring people with solid Democrat contacts, not people who know Republicans.”
For many coming out of government, the ideal situation is to act as a consultant. But, “because of the economic situation, there are going to be a lot fewer consultants,” says Ric Grenell, who recently took a private sector job after serving as the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations. “Private sector companies are cutting back, especially on their consulting dollars.”
Brad Blakeman, a former Bush aide, says, “Former Bush aides have a much better chance if they return to their hometowns and try and find employment than if they stick around Washington or travel outside Washington. But quite frankly, prospects are not going to be good in their hometowns, either.”
Those having more luck have defense or national security backgrounds and security clearances, Roff says. “But beyond that, it is not a bright picture right now.”
Political appointees were asked more than a year ago whether they intended to stay on until the end of the administration, Roff says. If they did not, they were given the word that they should start looking for a job.
“I committed to stay through the end, and up until very recently, I was focused on the people’s business,” Roff says. “I’m not employed by the president of the United States to go look for a job. I’m employed by the president of the United States to help conduct the people’s business. That doesn’t stop because there’s just been an election. We’re expected to be on the job until the new folks come in.”
Despite talk of setting up a Web site or clearinghouse for Bush aides looking for jobs, nothing has come of it. But the aides remain as loyal as ever. At a dinner last month at the White House, current and former senior aides gave the Bushes two rocking chairs as a present. Both were made from wood from Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch and from a tree that fell on White House grounds. A few months ago, Bush aides formed an ad hoc alumni association, exchanging news and ideas in conference calls with each other every other week.
“If you’re a twentysomething, your first real work experience was working in government, and you’re not married, and you can pick up and go back to Iowa or go back to South Carolina, go back to Florida, you have those options,” Roff says. “But it’s different for people like me, a single father with a single-income household.”
Besides the recession, Republicans face retribution from Democrats, Roff says.
“Some Republicans were fairly heavy-handed about who got jobs in the corporate sector during the years that the Republicans controlled Congress,” Roff says. “I don’t know that they were any less heavy-handed than the Democrats were, but they were certainly less sophisticated about it, and they got their fingers slapped more than once. Now you’ve got lots of Democrats who are looking to settle some scores.”
In general, Republicans don’t have as much institutional backup as Democrats have, Roff says.
“Republican conservatives don’t have the kind of institutions where people can be absorbed up onto the payroll,” Roff says. “We don’t have large labor unions, we don’t have universities, and we don’t have a whole alphabet soup of not-for-profit organizations with multimillion-dollar-a-year budgets. There are only so many people that can get picked up by a Heritage Foundation or a Cato Institute.”
Roff remains optimistic. “In the best of all possible worlds, I’ll find a position with an organization and be in a place where I can continue to do the things that bring value-added to my employer and hopefully to the country and the people’s business,” Roff says.
Roff has some savings. If he doesn’t get a job by Jan. 20, he says, “I may end up doing piece work in the interim while I’m trying to find some things — write a speech here, an op-ed there, for a little bit of money and keep the wolf from the door.”
Picking up a line from “Saturday Night Live,” Roff says that a year from now, “I could be living high on the hog, or in an abandoned van down by the river.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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