Viewpoint: Outgoing Political Appointees Deserve Recognition
Their professionalism and hard work alongside career employees during the pandemic should not be dismissed.
Our nation has fittingly recognized the thousands of front-line health care providers, first responders, military personnel, logistics and delivery professionals, grocery store attendants, and many more who have led us through the global pandemic. Their countless acts of kindness and healing, many putting their own well-being at risk, continue into the new year.
As our government has responded to the crisis, a smaller subset of people have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to drive policy and program changes in real time. A number of these individuals will soon lose their jobs with the change in presidential administrations, and I believe it fitting and proper they receive some recognition.
I'm speaking of my fellow Cabinet and independent agency political appointees who worked alongside tens of thousands of talented and dedicated career staff who similarly deserve our gratitude. With few exceptions, the political staff soon will trickle out of buildings bearing vaunted names such as Forrestal, Weaver, Hoover, Perkins and Johnson. They leave not as a conquered army but as good and decent people who have earned our appreciation.
Some have been ridiculed and even threatened for simply being appointed by President Trump. Yet through it all remained on the job—steadfast and resolute in their duty–most working every day from their headquarters or field offices, not remotely or from home, and all dedicated to making our government of, by, and for the people function, for all the right reasons.
Examples of their professionalism and hard work abound and resist any partisan label. At the Health and Human Services Department, the team worked overtime to push out $178 billion in CARES Act Provider Relief Funds to hospitals and other health care providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 effort.
The Small Business Administration and Treasury team worked to stand up and deploy the Paycheck Protection Program in a few short weeks, which provided a much-needed financial lifeline to American businesses and entrepreneurs. And they are working overtime to deploy round two of the program.
At my agency—the Housing and Urban Development Department—they worked countless days to help the more than 1 million Federal Housing Administration households who requested mortgage forbearance or needed a foreclosure moratorium to remain home. Other HUD staff worked with their congressional counterparts to make sure property owners and the 4.5 million households who live in HUD-subsidized housing had the funding and critical information they needed to assist vulnerable populations, including seniors and the disabled. And still others helped release more than $9 billion in grants to hard-hit cities, states and tribal nations.
People on both sides of the political aisle are understandably angered by recent events at the Capitol. We witnessed and endured an attack on the greatest symbol of our democratic values, and upon the institution of democracy itself, which has unified us in disgust against those who would betray both.
Despite our unity and defense of the bulwarks of liberty, there is a residue of acrimony in the public square that begs the question: Has decorum degraded so much that people will cease respecting the foundation of our shared public lives which is, put simply, common courtesy?
What do we need to do to set this on a better course? Will we prevent a driver from changing lanes if his or her car bears a Biden bumper sticker? Will we not hold the door open for an elderly man wearing a Trump baseball cap? Where does it end? Let us recognize the federal appointees who worked so diligently—many of them idealistic and under 30, just like the appointees soon to replace them.
To those incoming political appointees at the various domestic policy agencies, you will soon have time to dig in, work with dedicated career professionals, and begin to address many of the same issues we have been facing for months. You will have an opportunity to examine first-hand why the previous team did what they did.
I am hopeful that when you do, you will understand the magnitude of the effort put forth, of the workload that grew exponentially during the pandemic, and of the tools employed to do our duty effectively and efficiently. Not every effort will endure. That is the right of each new administration—to make changes and to set a new course. But nor should every realization of progress be reflexively discarded simply because someone on the other team initiated it.
Although we might differ on governing philosophy, we share common goals, with great admiration for the institutions and the leadership of our government, which ultimately serve the same people.
As we turn a new page on January 20, let us recognize and appreciate what it means to serve the public, regardless of party affiliation. Let us carry on with the common courtesies that are worthy of this grand endeavor, those that come with winning and with losing. While our policy differences remain, I wish our new team of public servants the best and hope we can tip our hats to those who are on the way out.
Brian Montgomery is the deputy secretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department, whose term ends January 20.