Would-Be Obama Staffers Hurry Up and Wait

Kristen Psaki, conferring with members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, is launching a program to train the homeless in
Kristen Psaki, conferring with members of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, is launching a program to train the homeless in "green" jobs. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

They are the Obama-wannabes, many of them young and heady former campaign workers, frantically networking or waiting, just waiting, for the ultimate status symbol in their generation's caste system: a job in the Obama administration.

Flocking to the District's creative-class encampments of Mount Pleasant, the U Street corridor and Dupont and Logan circles, people in their 20s and 30s -- those, that is, with a liberal bent -- are prowling progressive Wiki pages and joining Google groups in the hunt for an Obama job. Those already employed elsewhere are secretly uploading their résumés to whitehouse.gov, while others are quitting their jobs to concentrate on the search.

Some are deft anglers: Melody Mathews, 29, a former Obama field worker-turned-Navy contractor, co-hosted a celebratory dinner recently at Old Ebbitt Grill that included top Army brass with whom she campaigned. Her hope is that they will get presidential appointments and, in turn, hire her. Others, such as Noland Chambliss, 25, a former Obama deputy field director, are in come-down mode. He applied for a position in the Energy Department but hasn't heard anything for months. So he has applied for a job at a pizza shop near his shared house off U Street NW.

"It was a pretty big drop-off, going from every moment of your day being filled with extraordinary purpose and intensity, every moment of your waking hours is bent aggressively toward this goal," Chambliss said. "And then there's a large chasm of uncertainty for you."

The job-seekers range from think-tank types to lawyers seeking better hours or a more altruistic mission. Many were low-paid field directors and their nomadic minions who knocked on doors, organized voters and coordinated multimedia promotions for the Obama campaign.

Their collective purgatory highlights the unintended consequences of Obama's influential calls for service. He has cultivated a yen for public service among this generation, but government jobs are limited, and the tight economy is squeezing nonprofit and charitable organizations and their donors. At the same time, the White House has an unprecedented number of applications and résumés to cull, lengthening the process.

Caught in that vise, Chambliss hopes his dream job will materialize, if only because -- thanks to his mortgage-less and childless life -- he can be patient. "If you sit around looking at the phone, it's not healthy," he said. "The ball is very much in their court. What's this president say about the dignity of work? If you're busy, it doesn't matter how long the process takes."

The Obama administration, contending with the nation's economy and two wars, must sift through "hundreds of thousands" of applications for more than 3,000 political or non-career slots, White House spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said in a brief e-mail. White House officials did not return follow-up calls. Previous administrations had far fewer applications than Obama's, according to Clay Johnson, a former deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

Of those jobs, young people typically gun for the roughly 1,500 Schedule C slots, ranging from administrative assistants to directors of small programs, offering salaries of $30,000 to $130,000, Johnson said. (Others are flooding Usajobs.com, seeking civil service jobs.)

Johnson said filling the Schedule C jobs should be completed by the end of summer. He recalled that young former campaign workers seeking to join the Bush administration were given serious looks.

"They are the ones who are most known to the White House. You have to be aware of somebody and know what they're capable of doing," he said.

At the Department of Education, spokesman John McGrath said only a small number of young people have been hired, because higher-ranking slots have yet to be filled.

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