“Great resignation” reaches White House with staff turnover

WASHINGTON – New White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre delivered her third on-camera farewell to a departing employee in less than 24 hours, as she quipped to reporters, “I promise we’ll have a press deal.” She added, “Not all are leaving.”

It’s a dynamic playing out across the White House complex this month — and further proof that not even the White House is immune to the so-called “big resignation” as employers scramble to fill vacancies and Workers are jumping to new jobs at record rates.

The administration is going through a period of unusually high staff turnover as President Joe Biden nears his 18-month term. Long hours, low morale and relatively low wages are taking their toll on both the senior staff and the more numerous junior assistants who keep the White House running.

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It’s not uncommon for staff to change at this point in a presidency, but the rapidity of the change has sometimes been glaring: Two-thirds of the White House press shop, much of the COVID-19 response team, two of the president’s deputy attorneys, even the Staff who manage the White House Twitter account all leave within weeks.

Some of this is intentional. As usual, White House staffers have been told to leave by July or wait until after the November election to leave, current and former officials said.

Still, turnover, particularly at the higher echelons, pales in comparison to President Donald Trump’s tumultuous first year, which hired and fired staff at a record pace. Biden’s White House staffing levels were also more stable in the early days than many of its predecessors, making recent and impending departures more apparent.

The full extent of Biden’s turnover won’t become clear until later in the month, when the White House is due to submit its annual payroll report to Congress.

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Biden aides insist the departures are not tied to the the president’s low poll ratings, but instead reflect a natural transition for employees, some of whom have also worked long hours for the campaign to improve their quality of life. The helpers emphasized that replacements have been found for most of the departing employees and that no critical positions remain vacant.

“It’s a normal time for this turnover in any administration,” White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons said. “Government service requires sacrifice, and employees often have young children or promising careers in private business that they put on hold, or opportunities for advancement within administration or through graduate school.”

Many of the outgoing aides go to federal agencies, which have much deeper pockets than the president’s smaller executive office. They can often double their salary and significantly reduce their workload.

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In many ways, the departures reflect a broader trend in the economy — which the Biden White House has championed — where a historically tight job market has given workers unusual leverage to seek higher-paying jobs that better fit their lifestyles are compatible after the pandemic.

“We’ve seen this historic number of terminations,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research at Indeed Hiring Lab. “We’ve also seen really rapid job growth, so people are kind of taking advantage of the situation, getting new jobs, getting higher wages. So I think it’s a pretty positive story from an employee perspective.”

According to Labor Department data, more than 4 million workers quit their jobs each month last year, accounting for nearly 3% of all workers leaving their jobs each month – most for other job opportunities.

“It’s a labor market right now,” then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last year, months before stepping down for a role at news agency MSNBC. “We know this. People are looking for more reliable benefits in search of higher wages.”

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The White House has balked at the term “great resignation” and has attempted to rephrase it as what Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council, calls the “great upgrade.”

Congress sets the budget for the President’s Executive Office, and that budget has remained largely unchanged despite increased costs, including some caused by the coronavirus response.

Biden also expanded the staff as he entered the White House, in large part due to the West Wing’s centralization of the COVID-19 response and federal climate policy. The 2021 report showed an average salary of around $94,000. That’s 40% higher than the country’s average household income, but still less than what well-skilled employees in the private sector could earn.

“White House salaries are typically well below the salaries people have before they come into the White House,” said Kevin Hassett, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Trump administration. “Of course, that follows from the fact that a president can elect people who are at the top of their professions. So when people go back to their side hustle, the salary is likely to go up for almost everyone.”

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Former West Wing veterans who serve in or are in contact with officials in the Biden administration say there is a striking lack of joy throughout the White House complex. The pandemic has reduced some of the job’s perks that typically make the demands of the job more bearable, they said.

“These aren’t perks in the superficial sense, but they are moments that build your team, sharpen focus on the mission, and recharge your batteries,” said Eric Schultz, deputy White House press secretary at the end of the Obama administration. “Nobody goes to the White House to go to the coast, but the jobs are exhausting, so inspiration along the way can mean a lot.”

The pandemic meant few bowling alley birthday celebrations in the bowels of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and limited opportunities to give loved ones a tour of the historic workplace. In December, the White House was unable to host staff Christmas parties because of COVID-19, and travel is only just returning to pre-pandemic norms. In Biden’s first year in office, most staffers couldn’t even stand on the South Lawn driveway to watch the president arrive or depart on Marine One.

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The COVID precautions surrounding Biden himself, including testing for those who may encounter him on a daily basis, mean many employees have few face-to-face interactions with their boss. For some departing employees, a highlight of their time in the White House was when former President Barack Obama visited the White House and spoke with employees marking the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Aides said he spent nearly five hours in the building and made it a point to mingle with staff — in many cases spending more time with them than Biden could.

Biden, aid workers said, has resumed a pre-pandemic tradition: providing exit photos for employees and their families leaving administration.

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Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/08/great-resignation-reaches-white-house-with-staff-turnover/ “Great resignation” reaches White House with staff turnover

Sarah Y. Kim

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