Biden Is Already Cleaning and Disinfecting the Stables

From The New York Times:

When President Biden swore in a batch of recruits for his new administration in a teleconferenced ceremony late last week, it looked like the country’s biggest Zoom call. In fact, Mr. Biden was installing roughly 1,000 high-level officials in about a quarter of all of the available political appointee jobs in the federal government.

At the same time, a far less visible transition was taking place: the quiet dismissal of holdovers from the Txxxx administration, who have been asked to clean out their offices immediately, whatever the eventual legal consequences.

If there has been a single defining feature of the first week of the Biden administration, it has been the blistering pace at which the new president has put his mark on what [the former president] dismissed as the hostile “Deep State” and tried so hard to dismantle.

From the Pentagon, where 20 senior officials were ready to move in days before the Senate confirmed Lloyd J. Austin III as defense secretary, to the Voice of America, where the Txxxx-appointed leadership was replaced hours after the inauguration, the Biden team arrived in Washington not only with plans for each department and agency, but the spreadsheets detailing who would carry them out. . . .

Mr. Biden had named nearly all of his cabinet secretaries and their immediate deputies before he took office last Wednesday, most of them familiar faces from the Obama administration. But the president’s real grasp on the levers of power has come several layers down.

The National Security Council, for example, where American foreign policy comes together, already has staff members in place for jobs that sometimes take months to fill. There is an Asia czar (Kurt M. Campbell, who served in President Barack Obama’s State Department), a China director and directors for other regions. There is a full homeland security staff and a new, expanded White House operation to oversee cyberoffense and defense.

The contrast with the [previous] administration at a similar point in time is striking. [That president] had no experience in government — which he made a selling point in his 2016 campaign — and mistrusted those who did. He made it clear that he planned to shrink or starve some agencies, often before determining how to align their missions with the right number of personnel.

At the National Security Council, the White House said in a statement, Mr. Biden has “nearly doubled the number of staff ready to start and onboarded than . . . Obama in 2009.” The White House offered no specific numbers, but said they reflected “the urgent need to build — in some cases rebuild — capabilities like climate, cyber, global health security and biodefense, and democracy from the ground up.”

Many of Mr. Txxxx’s appointees — except at the Defense Department and at the Department of Veterans Affairs — arrived with instructions to cut, and it became a point of pride among administration officials to leave jobs open. . .  Many posts went unfilled for the first two years. . . .

“In making appointments as a new president, Biden has a much tougher job than Txxxx,” said Michael Beschloss, the presidential historian, who has written about many transitions. “It’s harder to rebuild a government than it is to ransack, demoralize and hollow a government out.”

But there has also been a lot of rooting out.

The tone was set before Mr. Biden was sworn in. On the Saturday evening before the inauguration, Michael Ellis, a Txxxx loyalist, was installed as general counsel of the National Security Agency on the orders of [the] acting defense secretary. It was a classic case of “burrowing” a political appointee into the bureaucracy in a new, nonpolitical job classification that would make it hard to fire him.

But after Mr. Biden became president, Mr. Ellis was immediately placed on administrative leave while the National Security Agency’s inspector general examined the circumstances of how he was chosen. Now it is unclear if Mr. Ellis will ever serve in the job.

The Txxxx administration made a similar attempt to burrow officials into the United States Agency for Global Media, which broadcasts around the world, with similar results.

Some officials were fired outright. The Biden team told Victoria Coates, a former Txxxx national security official who was made the head of the government’s Middle East Broadcasting Networks in the last days of the administration, that it did not care that her contract called for her to serve at least two years and that she could not be removed unless she was convicted of a felony. Her email was cut off at the end of last week in what she called “a shocking repudiation of President Biden’s call for unity and reconciliation.”

In every department, there is already a Biden team on the ground, including those like the hollowed-out Housing and Urban Development, which was run for the past four years by a disengaged secretary, Ben Carson, and a group of ideologically oriented appointees. . . .

At the Justice Department — where morale was largely decimated and Biden administration officials are eager to begin reversing policies on civil rights, immigration and police oversight — all of the department’s top incoming acting department heads are alumni, some of whom worked under multiple administrations. . . .

Much as the politicization of the Justice Department angered [many observers], the neutering of the Environmental Protection Agency prompted outrage, and it is probably no surprise that the agency is already in the throes of transformation.

About a month before Inauguration Day, a Txxxx official who ran the water office, Charlotte Bertrand, suddenly emerged as the woman who would take over as acting administrator if the head of the agency resigned. When that moment came, she never had a chance to settle into the chair.

Just hours into his presidency, Mr. Biden named Jane Nishida, the agency’s principal deputy assistant head of the Office of International and Tribal Affairs, to lead the agency until his nominee, Michael S. Regan, North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, is confirmed.

But long before Mr. Regan gets to the building, a cadre of young staff members — a roster that reads like a who’s who of climate change policy wonks, many of them culled from the Obama administration — will be at work.

Tiernan Sittenfeld, the senior vice president for government affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, said the team of seasoned staff members was chosen specifically to make quick work of reversing [the previous administration’s] policies.

“It was clear that we were coming off of the most anti-environmental, anti-climate action administration we’ve ever had,” Ms. Sittenfeld said. She added: “The need to act immediately was going to be so vitally important. There was a very intentional, very thoughtful, ambitious effort to get highly skilled experts in place right away.”