As a result, the official said, the White House has been “minimizing costs wherever possible, which includes hiring.” Like others quoted in this report, the official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
The pause in hiring comes after several staffers have left the administration recently and others are preparing to depart in coming weeks. Nonetheless, the official said the White House is not understaffed and has 92 percent of its slots filled.
“We’ve had to tighten our belts a little bit,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said aboard Air Force One on Monday afternoon when asked about an earlier version of this story. “We’re certainly prepared to do that, and we have done that as a result in terms of specific budgetary requests.”
Still, officials have resorted to shifting staffers around to compensate for some of the vacancies, a process known as backfilling.
In the communications office, two roles have been backfilled and one remains empty after recent departures, including that of Ike Hajinazarian, a regional communications director, and Paige Hill, the senior regional communications director.
Emma Riley, the chief of staff in the communications office, announced last week she was leaving for a job at the Labor Department. Riley and Hill’s jobs have been backfilled by other staffers. The White House has not hired anyone to replace Hajinazarian.
Last month, Neera Tanden, who joined the White House as a senior adviser in May, was named staff secretary after Jessica Hertz left to become the general counsel at Shopify. Four additional employees in the staff secretary’s office have also departed in recent weeks, including two associate staff secretaries, Vinay Nayak and Rhea Fernandes, who served under Hertz and left to take new jobs elsewhere in the administration.
One exception to the trend: The White House announced last week it was bringing in former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu to serve as a senior adviser and infrastructure coordinator overseeing the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure legislation.
In July, there were 560 people working in the Executive Office of the President, with collective salaries totaling nearly $50 million, according to the White House’s financial disclosure forms submitted to Congress. That exceeds the staffing levels in Barack Obama’s or Donald Trump’s White House, neither of which had more than 500 people employed.
Part of the increased numbers stems from the creation of a coronavirus response team and a domestic climate office housed at the White House, independent of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency, respectively. The coronavirus team, led by Jeff Zients, employs 27 people full time.
The White House’s robust coronavirus safety protocols have especially strained the budget, in particular the cost of testing White House personnel for the coronavirus. The testing requirements for staff increased last month as coronavirus cases rose again, with the White House reintroducing mandatory weekly testing for all employees.
The official said, however, that coronavirus tests for staffers represent a small part of the overall budget, and the majority of tests are conducted by the existing White House Medical Unit.
The official said the White House is not charged for those tests, but the White House also has a separate contract with CVS to cover additional tests that the Medical Unit does not have the capacity to administer. The White House uses funds from the stimulus package to pay for the CVS contract.