As the point person for Hill staffers looking for jobs in the Trump administration, Rep. Chris Collins is suddenly very popular among his colleagues.
The New York Republican said that every time he walks onto the House floor, he leaves with a handful of manila envelopes stuffed with application materials. His office started a spreadsheet in November of every job seeker who contacted him.
It now has over a thousand entries, with five or ten added every day, he said.
“It’s like drinking out of a fire hydrant,” said Collins, one of Trump’s first backers in Congress. “It’s anyone and everyone you’ve ever met and known, all the way back to high school.”
After the Trump administration’s unusually rocky start, at least one thing has gone according to script: It has spurred a job search among Republicans.
With Trump’s top Cabinet nominees making their way through the confirmation process, the bulk of his 4,000 potential appointees will start to be named in the coming weeks. That process is expected to last up to a year. Several people close to the Trump administration said they have been inundated with applications, and interest from the Hill has been high, an assessment headhunters and experts on presidential transitions said they found plausible.
To be sure, there have been obstacles.
The slow pace of the Cabinet confirmation process has also has stalled the staffing at the various agencies. Many applicants have privately expressed reservations about Trump’s views, leadership style and polarizing reputation, according to several GOP insiders who said they had been consulted for advice.
Some are concerned about the possibility that Trump will follow through on a promise to institute a five-year lobbying ban on employees who leave the administration.
Others have been rejected because they did not publicly support Trump’s campaign, slowing down hiring, according to sources with knowledge of the process.
But there is still a well of applicants in the GOP who have concluded that a Republican administration — even one as controversial and unconventional as Trump’s — presents a rare opportunity, and it is too good to pass up. It means expanded résumés and new contacts that could one day pay off with lucrative and influential private-sector jobs. Congressional staffers could also expect higher salaries compared to the Hill, where pay has stagnated in recent years.
“The executive office is the most powerful of any branch of government,” said one Hill staffer close to the Trump transition team. “If the opportunity presents itself, you are going to work in the White House.”
Several members of Trump’s transition and administrative teams did not return requests for comment.
In Congress, where aides tend to be in their 20s and early 30s, many GOP staffers spent their careers under the Obama administration, resigned to the idea that they would have fewer options than their Democratic counterparts. That changed in November.
Since then, the mood among GOP aides has shifted from “a sense of surrealness” to “giddy excitement with all the opportunities that are going to come available,” said the staffer with ties to the Trump transition team.
Sky’s the limit?
Liza Wright was one of several GOP insiders who told Roll Call she had received multiple calls from people around Washington, with varying views on Trump, looking to get a foothold in the administration.
Junior staffers can experience a “meteoric rise” in a presidential administration, where the intensity of jobs leads to high turnover and plenty of opportunities to take on new responsibilities, she said. Wright, a former personnel director for President George W. Bush, is now a partner at the executive search firm Lochlin Partners.
“My advice is, you have to go in with the right reasons,” she said. “You are really there to serve something bigger and greater than yourself. You’re not just adding a bullet point to your résumé.”
But not everyone has been keen to jump on board. Rory Cooper, a political consultant who was part of the “Never Trump” contingent in the GOP, said he knew of several highly qualified Republicans who had walked away from opportunities to work in the administration.
“Republicans in Washington are having a really hard time coming to grips with working for the Trump administration in any role, but especially in any role that is public facing,” he said. “You just don’t know what you’re going to have to defend on any given day.”
Cooper worked in George W. Bush’s White House and was an aide to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Most presidents come into office with long lists of candidates for administrative jobs. In addition to their own campaign aides and people they have worked with over the years, they get barraged with recommendations from party leaders, congressional power players and K Street lobbyists.
But when Trump won the White House last year, so many were caught by surprise that the majority of that networking didn’t start until November, several observers said. The late start, combined with Trump’s dearth of Washington experience, created a relatively open field.
Many early posts have been filled with the help of people close to Trump, his family members and his closest advisers.
Early hires have included former employees of the Republican National Committee, where they worked with Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and former congressional aides to Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General-designee Jeff Sessions. Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon, the former executive of the far-right Breitbart News, brought in 25-year-old contributor Julia Hahn to be his aide.
The trust factor
Ivan Adler, a headhunter at The McCormick Group who specializes in government and public affairs, said the Trump administration still seems to be looking for applicants who demonstrated their loyalty during his campaign, through volunteer work, donations or statements of support. But that supply will quickly be exhausted.
“They may have to go to Plan B to staff this administration correctly,” Adler said. “That’s people who may not have been enthusiastic supporters of Trump but are still Republicans and are still qualified to help the administration.”
The first year of a presidential term involves a whirlwind of personnel decisions. The selections of Cabinet members and core advisers make the splashiest headlines, but they are dispatched quickly. Trump has already named his Cabinet picks and hired core members of his White House staff.
Trump has been criticized, however, for not having more staff in place before his inauguration, in part because of his decision to focus on the slower process of making Cabinet appointments first. Trump named only 29 of his 660 executive department appointments by Jan. 19, The New York Times reported.
Dan Blair, who just stepped down as president of the National Academy of Public Administration, said, however, that it will be months before anyone could get a true picture of how efficiently the staffing process is going. Blair served as deputy director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management from 2002 to 2006.
“This is more of a marathon than a sprint,” he said.
In the meantime, administrative offices will be manned by small groups of temporary workers, generally culled from campaign staff and transition aides. Experts on presidential transitions said they did not expect the second or third round of permanent hires to be in place until the end of the year.
Those close to Trump say that the process is moving swiftly. They say candidates should be mining every possible connection and scouring the Plum Book — an official publication of legislative and executive branch jobs — for specific positions that suit them.
Trump’s team set up an online application form in the days after the election that has since migrated to the White House’s page.
But sources with knowledge of the process said most jobs will be awarded the way they often are in politics, through word of mouth.
“It helps to know somebody,” said Scott Mason, a former Trump transition official who left for a position at the Holland & Knight law firm. “It’s Washington.”