President Joe Biden is expected to name Jeff Zienz, who led the government’s Covid-19 response and held a senior role in the Obama administration, to succeed Ron Klein as the next White House chief of staff.
Biden’s decision to pick Zients after an internal investigation as it became apparent that Klain, who is expected to resign in the coming weeks, backed Zients as his successor played a large role in the president’s decision. Klain hired Zients to lead a talent search for expected staff turnover after the midterm elections, which ultimately didn’t materialize after Democrats performed better than expected.
In the third year of his presidency, replacing Klain with Zients, Biden is turning to an adviser with more business experience than political background.
The decision to pick Zients came as a surprise to some inside, given the differences in management styles between Biden and Zients early in the administration. But Biden was impressed by his work as coronavirus response coordinator, as Zients took over what officials called a “largely dysfunctional” Trump administration.
Another factor to look for is how this part of Biden’s presidency will be focused on enforcing the legislation he enacted in his first two years, with Zients seen internally as a “prime enforcer,” one source said. He showed his operational skills in handling the coronavirus response and helped launch the failed HealthCare.gov in 2013 during the Obama administration.
Zients is now closer to Biden and his top advisers and various cabinet members.
While Zients is not viewed as a political manipulator, his vast experience in two administrations and his reputation for technocratic skills could be assets as both are seen as critical to the problems facing Biden in the coming year. important.
Zients (rhymes with “science”) first joined the Biden administration in December 2020, when the president-elect named him the White House coronavirus czar. He was tasked with containing the coronavirus pandemic, distributing approved vaccines on a large scale and rebuilding the battered economy after Biden took office.
When he left the post more than a year later, Biden praised Zients as “a man of service and an expert administrator” and touted the progress the U.S. had made under Zients’ leadership in vaccinating Americans and fighting the pandemic .
“I will miss his advice and I am grateful for his service,” Biden said.
Earlier in his career, at the start of the Obama administration in 2009, Zients was the country’s first chief performance officer, tasked with making government work smarter and cheaper. Those responsibilities fall under his other title as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. He later became acting director of the office.
Zients also served as director of the National Economic Council and as an economic policy assistant to President Obama.
He is credited with revitalizing Healthcare.gov, the Obamacare registration website, which had problems and crashed shortly after it launched in 2013. The site, an online marketplace for health insurance, is an important centerpiece of Obama’s landmark health care law. Zients are problem solvers and advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as it struggles to resolve them.
Zients has deep ties to the private sector. Prior to his government service, he served as Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer and Chairman of the Corporate Executive Committee of Advisory Board Company, both Washington-area advisory firms. By the time he was 35, he had landed on Fortune magazine’s list of the richest Americans under 40, ranking 25th with a valuation of $149 million after the Advisory Board listing.
He also founded Portfolio Logic, an investment firm focused on healthcare and business services.
After leaving the Obama administration, he served as CEO of holding company Cranemere and served two years on Facebook’s board. Zients is also an investor in Call Your Mother, a popular deli in Washington, D.C., and he often brings bagels to the office to share with White House staff once a week.
Zients divested his stakes in Facebook and Call Your Mother before assuming White House coronavirus czar status. When his financial disclosures were made public in March 2021, he was worth at least $89.3 million, making him the wealthiest member of the Biden-appointed cabinet.