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Rex Tillerson is latest casualty in Trump’s record-breaking turnover

By Danielle Paquette

March 13, 2018 at 10:29 AM

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President Trump set a record for White House staff turnover in the first year. Here's an ongoing list of White House staff, Cabinet members, and federal appointees who quit or were fired under Trump. (Joyce Koh/Washington Post)

In a surprise move Tuesday, President Trump dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to replace him with CIA director Mike Pompeo, shaking up once again the administration’s major players.

The president has defended his record-breaking turnover, asserting that the shuffle reflects a high standards for staffing — and blasting claims that a revolving door of talent hinders his mission.

“The new Fake News narrative is that there is CHAOS in the White House,” Trump tweeted recently. “Wrong! People will always come & go, and I want strong dialogue before making a final decision. I still have some people that I want to change (always seeking perfection). There is no Chaos, only great Energy!”

With the departure of top economic adviser Gary Cohen last week, the share of Trump’s top staffers who have left or changed jobs, reached 43 percent — almost triple Barack Obama’s at the end of his second year as president (15 percent) and 16 percentage points higher than George W. Bush’s over the same period (27 percent), according to new data from the Brookings Institution. (This figure does not include Tillerson.)

“It’s not just unprecedented,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a political historian who has tracked White House turnover for two decades. “I would call it off the charts.”

During Trump’s first year as president, 34 percent of his “A” team, or senior staffers who work in the White House and other high offices, quit, switched roles or were forced out, per Tenpas’s numbers. (One famous example: Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director who lasted about 10 days.)

Obama’s first-year rate was 9 percent, for comparison, while Bush’s was 6 percent and Bill Clinton’s was 11 percent. Ronald Reagan held the previous record at 17 percent.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 21: White House Director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison Omarosa Manigault listens as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks during a HHS listening session in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 28: Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price attends an Opioid roundtable discussion held in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Sept 28, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 1: White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon walks out before President Donald Trump speaks about the US role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, June 01, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 25: White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci talks with reporters and members of the media outside the West Wing at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The White House is hosting a Regional Media Day with live radio broadcast from the White House Driveway and interviews with White House senior staff, Cabinet members and agency staffers. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 1: White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus walks out before President Donald Trump speaks about the US role in the Paris climate change accord in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, June 01, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 11: White House press secretary Sean Spicer talks to the reporters and members of the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC- JUNE 08: Former FBI Director, James Comey appears before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the Hart Office Building on Thursday June 08, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara arrives before former FBI director James Comey testifies at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Thursday, June 8, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 31: National Security Adviser Mike Flynn listens to President Trump during a listening session with cyber security experts in the Roosevelt Room the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 8: Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee hearing on Russian interference in the 2016 election, on May, 08, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 9: White House Communications Director Hope Hicks watches as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with campaign volunteer and supporter Shane Bouvet in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC on Friday, Feb. 09, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
FILE: President Trump Fires Secretary of State Rex Tillerson WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, testifies during his confirmation hearing before Senate Foreign Relations Committee January 11, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Tillerson is expected to face tough questions regarding his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - Senate Intelligence Committee hears testimony from Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Acting Director Andrew McCabe Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Admiral Michael Rogers Director of the National Security Agency on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Wednesday June 7, 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 23: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster listens to reporters and members of the media during the press briefing in the Brady press briefing room at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 8: Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, March 08, 2018. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26: Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert arrives before President Donald Trump signs a presidential memorandum to declare the opioid crisis a national public health emergency in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt Committee at his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC Wednesday January 18, 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 9: Nikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, announces her plans to resign after the end of the year as she sat next to President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on October 9, 2018. (Photo by Calla Kessler/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 31: Gary Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council, listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting on tax policy with business leaders in the Roosevelt Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 29: White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Staff Secretary Rob Porter follow President Donald Trump as he walks to board Marine One to head to Missouri to push the Republican tax plan, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Photo Gallery: Twenty notable officials, from Nikki Haley to Sally Yates, have quit or been fired.

The spotlight glared on White House turnover last week after Cohn announced his departure. His exit followed Hope Hicks, who left the communications team in February, as well as staff secretary Rob Porter, who stepped down the same month amid allegations of domestic violence.

Through it all, Trump stuck to his stance.

“Everybody wants to work in the White House,” he said this week at a White House news conference. “They all want a piece of that Oval Office. They want a piece of the West Wing. And not only in terms of, it looks great on their resume — it's just a great place to work.”

Experts say the churn is unlikely to slow, since turnover tends to increase during a president’s second year, when campaign brains tire of office jobs or leave for more lucrative roles beyond the administration.

Democratic staffers have a habit of moving on to universities or nonprofits, said Tenpas, who started tracking White House staffers during the Clinton administration. Republicans generally land in high-paying corporate jobs.

President Trump speaks during a meeting with lawmakers about trade policy in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Feb. 13. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Thus far, Trump’s pattern breaks convention. His former marquee employees — Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Stephen K. Bannon and, yes, Scaramucci — have not climbed into cushier positions with the White House on their résumés.

Priebus, the former chief of staff, went back to his old law firm. Spicer, the past press secretary, nabbed a Harvard University fellowship but no permanent role. Bannon isn’t publicly tied to any prominent organizations these days. Scaramucci tried to launch a news site that fizzled out (and will soon appear on “Dr. Phil” to discuss how his brief Washington job pummeled his marriage).

Contrary to Trump’s stance, a White House stint doesn’t necessarily elevate your career, Tenpas said, and mounting resignations could make it harder for the president to advance his agenda.

“There’s a domino effect,” she said. “They’re not replacing people with much speed, and existing staffers have to shoulder more of the burden.”

The risk for burnout grows, she added, which can accelerate turnover.

Chase Untermeyer, who worked on personnel matters for George H.W. Bush’s administration before becoming ambassador to Qatar, said every White House faces staffing changes. The turnover rate between leaders, he pointed out, is “100 percent,” and some workers struggle to adjust to the intense new environment.

But Trump’s rate is an outlier he called “disorienting.”

“Departures create uncertainty: What do we do next? Who is the boss? What does the new boss think of me? Do they want to keep me?” Untermeyer said. “Lots of people asking those questions creates a more generalized sense of uncertainty, which is unhealthy.”

A spokeswoman for the White House referred The Washington Post to comments made Wednesday by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“This is an intense place, as is every White House,” she said, “and it’s not abnormal to have people come and go.”

The White House is a unique organization. The rules of the broader world don’t always apply. In business, however, high turnover is a beast to avoid.

Companies say quitters are expensive. Productivity dips when a specially trained asset is lost. Some firms go as far as monitoring workers' LinkedIn activity to identify and then mollify flight risks, according to the Harvard Business Review.

Kim Ruyle, part of the Society for Human Resources talent acquisition expertise panel, a consultancy that helps employers attract and keep people, said turnover begets more turnover.

“When other people are jumping ship, it does tend to have that demoralizing impact,” he said.

Unexpected transitions, in particular, he said, stir up turmoil.

In Trump’s White House, the most staff disruption happened in four areas: the office of the Chief of Staff, the Office of Communications, the Press Office and the National Security Council, according to Tenpas’s research. In all, 28 workers of 65 have moved roles.

“So many changes at the top,” she wrote, “no doubt made it extremely difficult to create and maintain a high performing office.”

Read more:

Trump tried to save their jobs. These workers are quitting, anyway

Half of millennials could be competing with robots for jobs

Bosses believe your work skills will soon be useless


Danielle Paquette is a reporter focusing on national labor issues. Before joining The Washington Post in 2014, she covered crime for the Tampa Bay Times in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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Wonkblog

Rex Tillerson is latest casualty in Trump’s record-breaking turnover

By Danielle Paquette

March 13, 2018 at 10:29 AM

Watch more!
President Trump set a record for White House staff turnover in the first year. Here's an ongoing list of White House staff, Cabinet members, and federal appointees who quit or were fired under Trump. (Joyce Koh/Washington Post)

In a surprise move Tuesday, President Trump dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to replace him with CIA director Mike Pompeo, shaking up once again the administration’s major players.

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