Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Heritage Hires John McEntee To Help Staff Next GOP Administration

As voters begin to assess each of the Republican candidates running for president, behind the scenes, the conservative Heritage Foundation is vetting personnel as they prepare to staff the next White House as part of “Project 2025,” their $22 million transition operation.

The New York Times previously dubbed the effort, “right-wing LinkedIn.” But Heritage calls it the “Presidential Personnel Database,” and RealClearPolitics is first to report that John McEntee, a former director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office and favorite of former President Donald Trump, will join the operation officially as a senior advisor.

Heritage has long operated according to the motto that “personnel is policy” and helped Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan staff their administrations. The group has never before launched such a broad, well-financed effort, however. The push was born of previous failure, or, at very least, opportunities not fully realized the last time a Republican entered the Oval Office.

“We don’t want a repeat of what happened in 2016 and 2017,” Heritage President Kevin Roberts previously told RCP of the ad hoc, chaotic scramble to staff the previous Trump administration. “As a movement, we were not at the top of our game.” More than a year before the next election, Heritage has been busy building broad alliance of more than 50 major organizations, spanning the conservative universe and working in concert, to write the game plan for day one of the next Republican presidency.

Heritage recently released its “Mandate for Leadership,” a 900-page document with plans for how a conservative president might tackle everything from agriculture to fiscal policy. With a vision ready to go in that “policy bible,” McEntee now say the goal is to “assemble the A-Team.”

According to Paul Dans, director of Project 2025 and former chief of staff at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the ideal candidate is “not beholden to Washington” but rather “someone committed to the conservative movement” and “who has battle scars” to show for it. Officials and staffers can be trained on policy, Dans told RCP, but “the character of a person is really what we are searching for.” 

Enter McEntee, who Dans said “has a real intuitive grasp on identifying these people.”

In a brief interview Tuesday morning, McEntee told RCP it was easy to determine whether an applicant for service in a Republican White House meets those requirements “within your first conversation with someone.” Heritage will “of course” review the staff rolls of the previous administration, he added, but will cast a wide net. “We want fresh blood,” he said.

A longtime confidant of Trump, in the previous administration McEntee rose from the position of body man to the role of personnel director, which oversees and manages the more than 4,000 positions in the federal government that require political appointments. Relentless in his pursuit of finding people who would pursue policy as Trump prescribed, and ruthless in rooting out those who didn’t comply, he ruffled his fair share of feathers.

“We probably won’t have to be as crazy or hardline if we do all the work now,” McEntee said, explaining that vetting candidates in advance “actually makes things so much easier.”

Republicans are a long way from selecting a nominee. The first primary debate is four months away, and the Republican National Convention isn’t for another year. But Heritage, and the coalition they lead, is operating with a sense of urgency. “It’s too late to start on day one to pick personnel, and it’s too late to start the day after the election,” Dans explained. “This work needs to be done now.”

Heritage officials have already briefed representatives of the Trump campaign as well as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. They have contacted former Vice President Mike Pence, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy as well. “We are at the ready to assist,” Dans said, “any candidate who is going to be advancing those conservative ideals.”

The foundation casts a long shadow over Capitol Hill and has long served as the epicenter of the conservative movement. It has the resources and infrastructure necessary to manage such a mammoth project as staffing the federal government. The goal is to assemble a list of as many as 20,000 potential job candidates, and Heritage has already contracted with the technology corporation Oracle to manage the secure personnel database. The website is live and accepting applications.

Heritage has also detailed Spencer Cretien, previously associate director of presidential personnel in the Trump administration, to the project full time. James Bacon, previously director of operations for Trump’s PPO, will also serve as an adviser to the project.

Conservatives have chafed under what they see as President Biden’s federal overreach. In broad strokes, the goal of the Heritage transition project is nothing less than undoing as many of that president’s policies as quickly as possible. “It is not enough for conservatives simply to win elections,” Roberts previously told RCP. “We must ensure that the right people, those who love this country and are willing to fight for her, are serving in key roles in the next administration.”

Bringing McEntee on board early is part of an effort to look past some of the “same D.C. Republicans” and hire conservatives “from around the country.” And if personnel truly is policy, then the hire, who will make recommendations about hiring, is unmistakably aimed at disruption.

McEntee told RCP that his addition to the project will help Heritage “bring the people that are a little more hardline, who are going to go in there and kind of shake things up, because that’s what we need.”

“Conservatives think we’re running out of time, which maybe we are,” he concluded, “but I think the sooner we can get rolling on this the better.”

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.