Zients became White House chief of staff following the departure of his predecessor, Ron Klain, on Feb. 1. His tenure has been marked by a distinct change in leadership style, with many House Democrats complaining that he outsources too many tasks, running his office like a CEO, according to a Politico report. His prioritization of efficiency, adding structure to Klain’s more free-flowing process, has earned the ire of many who complain that it has made the White House much less accessible than before.
“I would give him a C-,” an adviser told the outlet, rating Zients’s first months in his position. “It’s a generous C-.”
Zients, a former management consultant, has done away with Klain’s style of being hands-on with nearly everything, preferring instead to delegate tasks to aides.
“The White House is a quick-paced place and from Jeff on down, we are maximizing every minute,” deputy press secretary Andrew Bates said. “So if we have a 15-minute meeting, it’s because the meeting only needs to be 15 minutes. And if the meeting needs to be an hour, he’ll make it an hour.”
The primary criticism, however, comes from progressives in the Democratic Party, who view Zients as responsible for a number of centrist decisions from Biden recently. Biden’s decision to authorize an Alaskan drilling project and sudden U-turn regarding signing a repeal of a D.C. crime bill were blamed on Zients by House progressives.
“There’s a transition going on in the administration,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told Politico. “We were looking forward to developing a good relationship with Jeff Zients, but at this point, we’re not in that place yet. So we’re still working on it.”
Despite criticism, the chief of staff also has defenders. The Biden administration’s dealing with the Silicon Valley Bank collapse was credited as a positive example of Zients’s leadership,
“It was a race to get things done before the market opened, and he knows this stuff. He’s good at it,” one of his supporters, familiar with the matter, told the outlet. “There was nothing that was not decisive and clear.”
Klain himself stepped in to defend his successor, claiming that he has heard mostly positive things from his former colleagues.
“What I’m hearing from old White House colleagues and from key allies on Capitol Hill is that Jeff is off to a great start — building on the progress of the past two years, with effective outreach and open communication,” Klain said.