- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Visit almost any coffee shop in Washington these days, and you’ll see them.

Twenty-somethings, sitting with laptops adorned with Obama campaign stickers, jumping between job-search Web sites and their G-Mail accounts.

At Tryst, a hangout for young people in Adams Morgan, a man wearing an “Obama for America” T-shirt says he’s been hunting for a job with the new administration since January. After working on the Obama presidential campaign for more than a year as a paid staffer in three states, he has his heart set on joining the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But so far, no luck.

Nearby, Megan O’Neill and boyfriend David Browne, both veterans of the Obama campaign in Missouri, browse job sites and sip lattes. They, too, are still waiting.

Barack Obama inspired thousands of young people last year and had as many as 5,000 full-time staffers during the general election. He then implored his former employees not to abandon their ideals.

Yet trying to find work in the Obama administration has been a difficult way for his loyalists to follow that dream. Many Obama enthusiasts have come to the capital hoping to help the president and, after months of trying, have wound up frustrated.

Chris Pohlad, 24, was the director of campaign operations in Minnesota for the Obama campaign for five months last year. He now spends most days writing e-mails and having lunches with former colleagues. He’s hoping to find a gig in the Obama administration with either the State or Energy Department.

“It’s been a little bit of a grind trying to find a job,” Mr. Pohlad said. “It’s really just a waiting game, and everybody’s doing the same thing.”

The federal government’s Plum Book, which provides an inventory of positions left open at the end of each presidential administration, lists as many as 7,000 jobs in the executive branch. That includes everything from political appointments to part-time positions reserved for major party donors.

Many people coming from the campaign are just a few years out of college and are qualified to be assistants or schedulers - entry-level positions.

“People who are confirmed by the Senate need people to sit outside their offices and make sure they know their schedule and what papers they need for their next meeting,” said Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution, who served on the White House staffs of Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon.

However, the government tends to hire from the top down, so Cabinet secretaries have to be confirmed by the Senate - and other senior officials need to be put into place - before the serious hiring can begin. The process could take months.

“Somebody has to put them in place,” Mr. Hess said of the lower-level hirees. “They are not going to get a low-level job until the boss appears.”

In these recessionary times, cash-strapped young adults may not have the luxury of waiting too long. Widespread business cutbacks mean even temporary work is hard to come by.

Obama-philes are eager for work anywhere in Washington, including in Congress.

In a little more than a week recently, the office of Rep. Ron Kind, Wisconsin Democrat, received more than 100 applications for a press secretary opening. Outgoing press secretary Anne Lupardus said that is more than double the normal rate.

“Applicants ranged from people straight off the campaign trail, graduated over the last two years, or some more experienced people coming out of the journalism profession,” she said.

The office of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, California Democrat, received 200 applications in the first five minutes after a staff position was announced online.

“Many had campaign experience from the presidential campaign,” said staff assistant Ajay Abraham.

Ellie Van Houtte, 25, has spent the past three months sending out her resume, which is filled with the varied skills she acquired during her year on the campaign trail. She assumed she would have her pick of Capitol Hill jobs because of the larger Democratic majority in Congress.

“I thought there will be all these members of Congress who will be looking for qualified and experienced staffers,” she said. But so far, no luck.

In Michelle Freeman´s three months in Washington, she has applied for hundreds of jobs. She sends out five to 10 resumes every day.

“It’s surprising to go to interviews and have them tell me I’m overqualified and then still not get the job,” said Miss Freeman, 23, who interned in the District for four years during college and managed a Democratic Party fundraising office with 60 employees in Los Angeles during the presidential campaign.

State leaders from the Obama campaign continue to keep in touch with their former staffers. An e-mail sent to alumni of the campaign in Virginia included some sad news for job seekers.

“Admin jobs are extremely limited,” it read. “You should look out for yourself in this process and be very proactive in seeking work.”

Mr. Pohlad remains confident he will find a job in the administration, and, like an out-of-work actor determined to make it in show business, he says he will not give up until he hears that no jobs are left in Washington.

“It’s really the person, it´s President Obama. I wouldn’t just work for anyone on the Hill,” he said. “I really believe in him and for what he can do for the country, and I just really want to be a part of and help out in any way possible. If it just starts off as binding folders and bringing people coffee, then I’m fine with that.”

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