Exiting Trump officials get tepid response on job market

Exiting Trump officials get tepid response on job market
© Greg Nash

Current and former high-ranking Trump administration officials are testing the waters of Washington’s job market as the administration begins its second year.

And that water, right now, is pretty tepid.

Lobbyists, headhunters and others involved in hiring processes told The Hill that phones have been ringing.

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They have been hearing from Trump administration officials who are eyeing the exits, wondering how much they could earn in the private sector and what their next steps should be.

Some officials who have recently left the administration have also been seeking coffee meetings, these individuals said, declining to publicly reveal names because it could damage their relationships with those involved.

“There have only been a few high-profile people that have gotten out while the getting’s good. A great deal more very well may have committed professional suicide, at least in the short term, by serving in this administration,” said one person, who has been involved in high-profile hiring and asked for anonymity in order to speak freely. “I don’t think it’s potentially a long-term thing. The net of it is, this administration, in general, was not able to attract the A-team. No one’s asking [for] anyone from the Trump administration.”

Service in the executive branch has long been a punch card to the private sector, with officials from both Democratic and Republican administrations securing lucrative jobs at associations, nonprofits, think tanks, and law and lobby firms after leaving office.

For officials leaving the Trump administration, however, their government service can, at times, be a handicap.

Some of the trepidation has to do with President TrumpDonald John TrumpLondon terror suspect’s children told authorities he complained about Trump: inquiry The Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh Trump to nominate retiring lawmaker as head of trade agency MORE, who has been untraditional in how he staffed his administration, largely relying on aides from outside the political establishment.

“What might work for the political benefit of a president with an anti-Washington message doesn’t match what the objectives of what a traditional corporate function is, which is to manage legislative and regulatory risk,” said David Tamasi, the managing director of Chartwell Strategy Group and former finance chairman for the Trump Victory Fund.

The turmoil in the White House and the administration has also led to an unusually high volume of departures in Trump’s first year, adding to the competition for open positions.

“Everyone is saying it’s a shitshow, that’s why they’re looking to leave early,” said a person who has conducted executive searches and also asked for anonymity. “Normally you would want to serve the first term at least or the first half of the term. What I’m trying to figure out is, how toxic are some of these people?”

For headhunters, the turnover in the administration makes it difficult to assess the value of potential hires. A former official could be prized for his contacts to someone still in office — but there’s no guarantee that the other official won’t also head for the exits.

“The question is, you have a rotating cast of characters in the administration and so if somebody is selling themselves as having a relation with one or two people, what is the long-term value of that given … [there appears to be] short half-life of White House employment?” Tamasi said.

Some former Trump officials have found new positions, at least on boards.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceWhite House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report Overnight Health Care: CBO finds bill delaying parts of ObamaCare costs B | Drug CEO defends 400 percent price hike | HHS declares health emergency ahead of hurricane HHS should look into Azar's close ties to the drug industry MORE, who resigned over his use of taxpayer-funded private flights, has landed on the advisory board of Jackson Healthcare, a health-care staffing service based in his home state of Georgia.

Rick Dearborn, who recently left the White House, said he would be heading to the private sector in the announcement of his departure last year.

The latest departure from the White House is deputy communications director Josh Raffel, who has also told colleagues he intends to return to the private sector.

Across Washington, officials from previous administrations can be found in scores of high-profile jobs.

Marilyn Tavenner, for example, was the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under former President Obama; she now leads America’s Health Insurance Plans, a trade group for insurers. Josh Bolten, to take a Republican example, was chief of staff to then-President George W. Bush; now he’s at the helm of the Business Roundtable, a powerful trade group for CEOs.

Hundreds of other former executive branch staffers and appointees populate K Street firms. Some have become lobbyists, while others have opted to go into communications or consulting.

Critics say the Obama administration’s tough rules on lobbyists joining his administration led to an increase in so-called shadow lobbyists, a term for people who do similar advocacy work but don’t register as a lobbyist.

The shadow-lobbying trend seems likely to continue under the current administration.

Trump repeatedly promised to “drain the swamp,” and while he did not ban former lobbyists from joining his administration, he put restrictions on what they could do afterward.

One of the restrictions in Trump’s ethics pledge is a ban on all political appointees from lobbying their former agency for five years after they depart. Former high-level officials and aides are also not allowed to conduct any lobbying or consulting for a foreign government, political party or official.

Former Trump campaign aides now on K Street are not subject to the pledge.

Despite the hesitance about hiring former Trump aides, several people pointed out that there are still talented people serving in the administration who will be prized hires.

“I’m not as bearish, but it really will depend on how senior they are,” said one headhunter. For example, subject matter experts, such as those on the White House National Economic Council, “will be able to fall back on their prior experience.”

Mike Catanzaro, who came from lobbying shop CGCN Group, and former Fidelity Investments lobbyist Shahira Knight are both on the National Economic Council.

Other people who leave the Trump administration could find a home at conservative organizations, such as the Heritage Foundation or groups run by the Koch network, the headhunter pointed out.

The midterm elections in November are another big factor in the marketability of former Trump aides, given the possibility that Democrats could win back one or both chambers of Congress.

“[After] George W. Bush left, the Democrats controlled the House and Senate and it was really hard for some of those people [who served under Bush]. It becomes more challenging,” said Ivan Adler, a principal at The McCormick Group.

“The worst possibility for those working for Trump is to have this become a Democrat town,” he said.