Obama’s alumni-to-be con­tem­plate life after the White House

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Josh Le­d­er­man

WASH­ING­TON >> Their Black­Ber­rys are still buzzing, day and night. For the mo­ment, aides to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama still have world lead­ers to worry about, dis­tant wars to help man­age and de­ci­sions to make that af­fect the na­tion.

All that will come to a crash­ing halt on Jan. 20, In­au­gu­ra­tion Day.

Hop­ing to en­sure that his staffers find de­cent jobs, Obama and his team have brought in rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Face­book, In­sta­gram and other com­pa­nies to of­fer in­sights into the job mar­ket. Of­fi­cials from LinkedIn are help­ing White House staffers iden­tify ways to mar­ket their skills.

And Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, not far from the White House, has de­signed a cus­tom pro­fes­sional devel­op­ment pro­gram dubbed “Fu­ture44” — Obama is the 44th pres­i­dent — to teach Obama’s po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees how to po­si­tion them­selves for life after the White House.

“You go through a detox pe­riod,” said Michael Wear, who worked for Obama for four years on faith-based out­reach. “It was like my brain, after so much time work­ing in­cred­i­ble hours and hav­ing to be so at­ten­tive to so many in­puts, I would be hold­ing my glasses and ask­ing my wife where my glasses were.”

Even be­fore the elec­tion, few if any of Obama’s aides were ex­pected to stay for the next ad­min­is­tra­tion. Many are flat-out ex­hausted and an­tic­i­pated that Hil­lary Clin­ton, if elected, would want to in­stall her own team. But Don­ald Trump’s up­set vic­tory fore­closed any pos­si­bil­ity that any of the nearly 500 staffers will stick around.

For those who have ded­i­cated years to Obama’s mis­sion, of­ten miss­ing out on hol­i­days or fam­ily oc­ca­sions, Trump’s win and his prom­ises to undo most of Obama’s ac­com­plish­ments were a de­mor­al­iz­ing blow. And the fact that Repub­li­cans re­tained con­trol of both the House and Sen­ate means there will be fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties for Oba­maera aides to move into other govern­ment jobs here.

At Ge­orge­town, 271 Obama ap­pointees have al­ready gone through the Fu­ture44 pro­gram, pro­vided at no cost thanks to an anony­mous donor. Par­tic­i­pants reg­is­ter for ei­ther four 2-hour evening ses­sions or one 8-hour “boot camp.”

“We de­signed this unique cur­ricu­lum to help these staffers think through how to mar­ket them­selves or mar­ket their com­pe­ten­cies,” said Kelly Ot­ter, dean of Ge­orge­town’s School of Con­tin­u­ing Stud­ies.

Many out­go­ing White House staffers are ex­pected to move to the San Francisco area and New York, places with high-tech jobs and cul­tural sen­si­bil­i­ties that over­lap with the cul­ture in Obama’s White House. Those staffers would be join­ing dozens of other for­mer Obama aides who have gone on to work for Google, Ama­zon, Vice, Snapchat and sim­i­lar com­pa­nies that cater largely to mil­len­ni­als.

“There are a lot of mis­sion-driven or­ga­ni­za­tions here,” said Clark Stevens, who moved to San Francisco to work for AirBnB after work­ing in the White House and the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment. “These are ar­eas of in­no­va­tion, and they’re pro­vid­ing new so­lu­tions. That aligns in a lot of ways with the fo­cus of the pres­i­dent.”

To help pre­pare staff for post-West Wing life, the White House has been host­ing “dig­i­tal brown bag” lunches about dig­i­tal me­dia and tech­no­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ments, in­volv­ing both out­side speak­ers and Obama staffers who worked re­cently at Google and other com­pa­nies. Smaller ses­sions within spe­cific de­part­ments have fo­cused on mak­ing the tran­si­tion from govern­ment to the pri­vate sec­tor.

White House spokes­woman Jen­nifer Fried­man said Obama had di­rected staff to keep work­ing on his pri­or­i­ties full-speed un­til In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, but was mind­ful that the end is a lit­tle more than nine weeks.

“The tran­si­tion out of govern­ment is a re­al­ity for most ap­pointees, which brings both ex­cite­ment about prospects for the next chap­ter or a long-awaited chance to recharge bat­ter­ies, and a keen aware­ness about a big, im­pend­ing change,” Fried­man said.

That change can be jar­ring for long­time staffers, and even a let­down. Ivan Adler, a head­hunter at McCormick Group who spe­cial­izes in govern­ment af­fairs, said most go on to work in one of two set­tings: firms, like con­sult­ing and lob­by­ing agen­cies, or or­ga­ni­za­tions like trade as­so­ci­a­tions, think tanks and non­prof­its.

“I tell ev­ery­body: You have to un­der­stand there’s likely noth­ing you will do pro­fes­sion­ally that will have the same amount of ex­cite­ment you’ve just gone through in the White House, un­less you be­come a race­car driver or an as­tro­naut,” Adler said.

For Wear, who left Obama’s or­bit in 2013 after the re-elec­tion, life after the White House in­volved start­ing his own con­sult­ing firm, then penning a forth­com­ing book called “Re­claim­ing Hope” about the in­ter­sec­tion of faith and pol­i­tics in the White House.

“I’ve been health­ier since I left,” Wear said. “And I’m very much en­joy­ing my life now.”


In this Nov. 9, 2016, photo, White House staff mem­bers ap­plaud in the Rose Gar­den of the White House in Wash­ing­ton, after lis­ten­ing to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama speak about the elec­tion. Hop­ing to en­sure his staffers find de­cent jobs, Obama and his team have brought in rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Face­book, In­sta­gram and oth­ers to of­fer in­sight into the job mar­ket, and of­fi­cials from LinkedIn have come to the White House to help staffers iden­tify ways to mar­ket their skills for their next po­si­tions.

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