Bush's team of 3,000 get on their bikes: Patrick Cockburn in Washington on bleak job prospects for Republicans

WHEN Barbara Bruin is sacked next month she will receive no severance pay and will probably be given only a few hours to clear her desk. 'One of the more depressing experiences in my life was going to the Justice Department's special seminar on how to claim unemployment benefit,' said Ms Bruin, a Republican political apppointee in the department, who will lose her job when Bill Clinton takes office.

Ms Bruin is one of 3,000 Republicans holding a job listed in the Plum Book, the volume which contains all the positions in the gift of an incoming president, and which will therefore pass to a Democrat with the change in the administration. For unemployed Republicans the prospects are bleak.

With the Democrats now in control of the White House, Senate and House of Representatives, Republican office-holders below the topmost ranks have little enough to sell.

Glen Roberts, a lobbyist for four big trade associations, says: 'If I was hiring, the fact that somebody knew the Bush people would be no recommendation. I want people who know Bill Clinton.' Ms Bruin, a conservative Republican in her early thirties from New Mexico, now regrets rejecting a job as prosecutor in a district attorney's office in Massachusetts earlier in the year, before it became evident that George Bush was likely to lose the White House. Job prospects in her home state are also poor and the legal profession as a whole is depressed.

White House staffers will have fewer problems. Some who have appeared frequently on television should be able to build on their notoriety. Marlin Fitzwater, the White House press secretary for six years, and Margaret Tutwiler, communications director for President Bush, are thinking of setting up a firm to advise clients on crisis management and product development.

Other leading Republicans had a head start. John Sununu, fired as White House chief of staff in 1991, turned this to good account by replacing Pat Buchanan, candidate of the Republican right in the primaries, on CNN's programme 'Crossfire', where he represents the right in opposition to the liberal Michael Kinsley. He also returned to his own engineering consulting firm. But lower down the Republican ranks these opportunities are not open because the job-holders facing dismissal in January were not well known or were political operatives without professional experience. Nor are they alone in the job market. In the November election, 110 congressmen and 10 senators retired or lost their seats; they employed 2,120 staff most of whom are looking for jobs.

The new congressmen will presumably produce a similar number of jobs but they do not yet have their official offices. They do, however, have boxes into which job seekers put their resumes: so far, each congressman has received an average of 2,000 applications.

In the intensely political atmosphere of Washington, even those who aren't looking for a post are interested in what is on offer. Glen Roberts, formerly legislative director on the staff of Democratic Senator Barbara Milkudski of Maryland, says: 'You half want the phone to ring even if you don't want the job.' Mr Roberts says that when he first came to Washington in 1981, he did not even bother to apply for a position until the dust had settled from the hirings and firings that accompanied Ronald Reagan's arrival in the White House.

A Democrat who was losing his job in the same transition recalls the clash of ideologies between the outgoing office-holders and the Reagan appointees. 'To them we were the guys destroying America,' he said. 'Out of the 10 guys I worked with, four or five became lobbyists, while I went back to foreign service.'

Political appointees are seldom popular with career office- holders. The Democrat who got back into the State Department says he was given 'the worst job available': monitoring the ceasefire between Egypt and Israel. For more than a year, he patrolled the torrid sands of Sinai dressed in an orange jump suit. 'If the State Department had owned a slave galley, they would have sent me to it,' he says.

Barbara Bruin says that the job hunt in Washington is made more difficult for her because the federal bureaucracy is overwhelmingly Democratic. Not that Republicans are alone in worrying about their job prospects.

Suddenly, Washington think tanks of liberal and Democratic persuasion, such as the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, regarded with suspicion by the Republicans, have become hotbeds of political activity and ambition. Democratic congressional staffers want to see their loyalty over 12 years rewarded with federal government positions that are also better paid.

For the lobbyists, promotions and demotions are worrying. The semi-conductor and steel lobbies were so disturbed that the former head of the International Trade Commission, Paula Stern, might get the post of US trade representative, that they produced a 'White Paper on Paula Stern' alleging thet 'she has not been a champion of US industries, US workers or of US unfair trade laws'. Her main sin was to have testified as an economist in favour of Japanese flat-panel display makers, who had been accused of exporting their products at unfairly low prices.

Ferocious competition for jobs is in keeping with the traditions of US presidential politics. Abraham Lincoln's collected papers during the Civil War are filled with letters about awarding minor positions in the post office or customs. In 1881, newly elected President James Garfield so disappointed Charles Guiteau, who had expected a government job, that Guiteau lay in wait for him at Union Station and shot him dead.

(Photograph omitted)

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