Treasury secretary-designate Janet Yellen said she looks forward to working with the public servants at Treasury and rebuilding public trust.

Treasury secretary-designate Janet Yellen said she looks forward to working with the public servants at Treasury and rebuilding public trust. Andrew Harnik / AP file photo

Incoming Biden Officials Praise Career Federal Workers

Nominees' new tone marks contrast from the often adversarial relationship between Trump administration and career feds.

President-elect Biden has consistently offered kind words to career federal employees, promising as a candidate and during the transition to rely on their expertise and rebuild agencies he says Trump has hollowed out. 

So far, the nominees Biden has announced to lead those agencies are striking a similar tone. 

Biden’s transition team has repeatedly stressed its plans to engage with civil servants, who officials called “the heart and soul of government.” The team has held meetings with labor unions, advocacy groups and former government officials on how to best address the needs of the federal workforce, and has placed a particular emphasis on restoring full capacity to federal agencies. 

Biden’s team has focused on the “decimation” of the federal workforce during the Trump years and is committed to finding ways to rebuild it, according to several individuals directly and indirectly involved in the effort. Many experts with institutional knowledge fled federal service, the thinking went, and the incoming administration is looking at various hiring authorities to get them back in the door. President Trump has overseen job losses at nearly every federal agency, a trend Biden has promised to reverse. 

Part that effort, it appears, will involve a rhetorical shift, as made evident by many of Biden's appointments so far. 

Whereas Trump often derided those with extensive background in government jobs, Biden continued his trend of praising government work on Tuesday. He called California attorney general and his nominee to lead the Health and Human Services Department, Xavier Becerra, a “true public servant” and said his choice to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, would “restore morale” at the agency and “marshal our finest scientists and public health experts at the CDC to turn the tide on the urgent crisis facing us today.” 

Here’s what some of Biden’s nominees have said of those they, if confirmed, will soon lead: 

  • Neera Tanden, director-designate of the Office of Management and Budget: “I believe so strongly that our government is meant to serve all the American people—Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike, all of whom deserve to know that their government has their back,” Tanden said earlier this month. “I look forward to working together alongside the dedicated career professionals at OMB to expand those possibilities for every American family.” Tanden could face an immediate crisis in working with those employees, as Trump has designated the vast majority of them to be converted to political positions. 
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, secretary-designate of the Homeland Security Department: “There are more than 240,000 career employees who selflessly dedicate their talent and energy to this mission,” said Mayorkas, who previously served as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director and DHS deputy secretary. “Many risk their lives in doing so. I would be honored to return to the department and support these dedicated public servants in fulfilling their responsibilities and realizing our country’s greatest hopes, all in partnership with the communities we serve.”
  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, ambassador-designate to the United Nations: “On this day, I’m thinking about the American people, my fellow career diplomats and public servants serving around the world,” Thomas-Greenfield said last month. “America is back. Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.” Prior to her appointment, Thomas-Greenfield herself was a career foreign service officer for 35 years, serving in many different positions including assistant secretary and bureau director. 
  • Janet Yellen, secretary-designate of the Treasury Department: “To the great public servants of the Treasury Department, I look forward to working with you…to rebuild the public trust,” said Yellen, who previously led the Federal Reserve as its chair. 
  • Jake Sullivan, national security adviser-designate: “I pledge to the exceptional national security team you have named today,” Sullivan said in November, “and to the brilliant and diverse career professionals in national security across our government, that I will manage a humane and rigorous decision-making process that honors their work.” 
  • Avril Haines, director-designate of national intelligence: “I am especially honored to be standing not only by your side but also alongside some of the most talented and inspiring public servants this country has ever known,” Haines said. 
  • Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: Fauci, himself a career federal employee, has agreed to remain in his role and will not require Senate approval to do so. He noted on Tuesday he was attending the ceremony for his National Institutes of Health colleague Harvey Alter, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine: “Such an achievement is a reminder of the incredible public servants we have at the NIH and of America’s place as a pioneer in science and medicine,” said Fauci, who will advise Biden on the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Biden himself has said Trump has a "fundamental misunderstanding" of how government works and that the new administration will depend on a fully functioning civil service. 

“By hollowing out the ranks of federal agencies and using employees as scapegoats for problems in the government, this administration has demonstrated a level of cynicism that undermines who we are as a people and what we strive to accomplish," Biden said earlier this year. “A strong, healthy, supported federal workforce is essential to the success of any administration, and as president, I will not be able to do my job without them."