Jeff Zients, the former White House coronavirus response coordinator, is expected to become President Biden’s next chief of staff, replacing Ron Klain and entering the role as Biden readies for the 2024 presidential election cycle.
Klain is expected to hand over the reins to Zients, 56, sometime after the State of the Union address in February after two years in the position.
The position of White House chief of staff, while seen as one of the most powerful jobs in Washington, does not require Senate confirmation.
Here are five things to know about Zients.
Zients was Biden’s appointee on COVID administration
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
After he was elected, Biden knew tackling COVID-19 would be one of his biggest tasks.
The coronavirus was a huge issue in the 2020 election, and Biden took office as vaccines to handle the crisis were being rolled out. He inherited an economy that was filled with question marks because of the pandemic’s blow.
In a sign of the trust Biden has in Zients (whose name rhymes with science), he appointed the former acting director of the Office of Management and Budget to run his response effort.
On Biden’s watch, Zients was in charge of making key decisions behind the administration’s response to the deadly virus.
In the early days of the administration, he was tasked with putting together the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, and his team helped accelerate the timeline for the coronavirus vaccinations and their rollout efforts across the country.
Biden and his team were “beyond satisfied,” as one source put it, with the way Zients, 56, a longtime corporate executive and consultant, handled such a complicated issue at a delicate time during the pandemic.
“It was the issue at the time,” the source said. “And he handled it all very, very well.”
While some critics have accused the administration of flubbing the response because it allowed the virus to come back with a vengeance during the holiday season in 2021, those close to the White House say he was able to call the shots quickly when it came to the response.
When he departed the role, Biden called him “an expert manager.”
Zients has a lengthy private sector resume
(Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
Zients, a native Washingtonian who attended St. Albans School, served as the chief executive officer and chief operating officer of the Advisory Board Company and as the chairman of the Corporate Executive Board, the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firms. Zients was also the founder of the investment firm Portfolio Logic.
More recently, he served as the CEO of Cranemere, a holding company, and was on the board of directors at Facebook.
“He’s got a business executive’s mind,” said one source who has dealt with Zients. “He knows how to get stuff done.”
Some critiqued Zients’s business background when Biden brought him on to the White House team. The Revolving Door Project, a progressive advocacy group, raised concerns that Biden’s role would be “a management consultant for the executive branch: cutting costs, finding efficiencies and looking at things like a businessman,” according to a report in the New York Times.
The Washington Post’s editorial board penned an op-ed ahead of his appointment by Biden defending Zients, arguing that the White House could benefit from the private sector perspective.
An Obama World veteran
(Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Former President Obama appointed Zients as the country’s first chief performance officer shortly after his inauguration in 2009, charged with finding ways to cut government costs and streamline procedures, and he was the deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Obama, who lauded Zients’s “superb judgment” and “sound advice” as the chief performance officer, named him acting director of the OMB in 2012.
Zients became known by Obama staffers as “Mr. Fix It” for his management know-how in salvaging government projects.
He was tasked in 2013 with managing an emergency repair job for the administration’s error-riddled ObamaCare enrollment website, HealthCare.gov, after tech problems kept Americans from accessing the medical insurance platform.
He also served the Obama White House as director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy.
Zients is wealthy
(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Zients successfully took the Advisory Board Company public in the early aughts and reaped millions from the offerings. At age 35, he landed at number 25 on Fortune’s 40 richest self-made Americans under 40 list as the consulting firm’s chairman, with a reported $149 million to his name when he made the cut.
Zients debuted on the Fortune list two spots below fellow first-timer Elon Musk, who had just founded PayPal a few years earlier.
In 2005, Zients was part of a group of investors — including former Secretary of State Colin Powell and longtime GOP fundraiser Frederic Malek — who unsuccessfully bid to buy the Washington Nationals team from Major League Baseball.
The group was a front-runner in the sale but ultimately lost out to the Lerner family, which forked up nearly half a billion for the team.
When news broke last year that the Lerners might be looking to sell, Zients, who had just left his role as Biden’s COVID-19 coordinator, was floated by some as a possible buyer.
Zients was an original investor in Call Your Mother
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
This will mean less to residents outside Washington, D.C., but Zients’s business portfolio includes the popular Call Your Mother bagel chain in Washington, D.C.
Zients was an original investor in the chain, which offers “Jew-ish” bites at its seven locations in the capital.
Recipe testing for the flagship deli, which opened in 2018, took place at Zients’s home, according to the Washingtonian. He reportedly divested his shares in the company before heading to Biden’s White House.
Source: The Hill