Jockeying for jobs is underway in Trump energy circles

By Robin Bravender | 04/01/2024 01:34 PM EDT

Conservative groups are collecting names for political appointments, and job hopefuls are reaching out to their allies in Trump’s orbit.

Donald Trump

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump attends a campaign rally March 16 in Vandalia, Ohio. Jeff Dean/AP

Republicans eyeing energy gigs in a second Trump administration are making early moves to position themselves for jobs in case the former president retakes the White House next year.

Conservative groups are collecting names for political appointees, job hopefuls are reaching out to their allies in former President Donald Trump’s orbit, and Republicans are speculating about who might nab prime energy and environment appointments in a second Trump term, according to Republicans who worked in the Trump administration or on the 2016 transition effort.

“There’s a recognition that a new Trump administration has to get started a lot earlier,” said Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s EPA transition team after the 2016 presidential election.


The first Trump administration was slow to get key personnel in place and get its policy agenda up and running, in part because Trump had been lagging in the polls and was widely expected to lose that race. But former Trump officials and conservative think tanks are prepping policies and personnel files to be ready on day one if Trump takes the White House next year.

Mandy Gunasekara, who served as EPA’s chief of staff during the Trump administration, is keeping a list of names for a second Trump team, she said in a recent interview. Gunasekara is one of many ex-Trump officials who are drafting policies and envisioning personnel rosters for a Republican administration in 2025.

Mandy Gunasekara
Mandy Gunasekara reviews documents as she answers questions in Hinds County Circuit Court on March 22, 2023, in Jackson, Mississippi. | Rogelio V. Solis/AP

The names are recommendations, she stressed, but they’re “people who have worked well in the past and would likely be ready, willing and able to jump back in if given the opportunity.”

‘There’s angling going on’

Republicans hoping for administration gigs working on energy and the environment are chattering about which appointees will land top appointments, and they’re having informal conversations about how to position themselves for jobs in a second Trump administration, according to former Trump officials.

“There’s angling going on,” said one former Trump administration official who was granted anonymity to describe private personnel discussions. “That type of talk is happening with great frequency.”

Ebell has had some of those conversations, he said, with conservatives who want to contribute to another Trump administration. He expects a second Trump administration would draw from energy officials who served during the former president’s first term, from outside of Washington and from Capitol Hill offices including the staffs of Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee.

Maneuvering for administration jobs is standard practice among aspiring appointees in a presidential election year, but it’s happening earlier than usual this time around as Trump emerged as the presumptive nominee before candidates typically cement their party’s nominations.

Don’t expect everyone to want to return.

“There was too much chaos,” said the former Trump official. It was “easy to settle scores in the media and leaks were legion.”

Ebell said some Republicans might be deterred from working in a Trump administration due to a threat of “legal harassment” from future Democratic administrations. “It’s going to take a certain type of person to want to risk that if the Democrats regain control of the Department of Justice” under a future administration, he said.

Collecting résumés

A second Trump term is widely expected to be staffed by some of the same energy and environmental officials who served in the first administration and remained in the former president’s good graces.

Some of them, including Gunasekara and former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, are working with conservative think tanks that are drafting policy agendas and collecting names from job hopefuls.

Bernhardt is the chair of the Center for American Freedom at the America First Policy Institute, a nonprofit that was created after the Trump administration to continue the Trump team’s policy agenda. Former Trump Energy Secretary Rick Perry is chair of AFPI’s Center for Energy and Environment.

President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks
Then-President Donald Trump listens as then-Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt speaks July 8, 2019, during an event on the environment in the East Room of the White House in Washington. | Evan Vucci/AP

That organization has been laying the groundwork for a second “America First” conservative administration, drawing up 2025 action plans for agencies and drafting executive orders “to counter the radical progressive policies of the current administration,” AFPI’s website says.

The team is also “conducting robust personnel planning, including identifying critical positions in every department that need to be filled on day one,” according to the website.

The organization says it’s developing a training program for those interested in serving as political appointees and that it’s “identifying talent pipelines and networks that will assist the imperative work of staffing an incoming conservative administration.”

Another conservative playbook from the group Project 2025 and organized by the Heritage Foundation includes the work of dozens of policy experts viewed as potential candidates for a second Trump term.

Former Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Bernard McNamee penned the energy policy section of that report; Gunasekara wrote the EPA portions, and former Trump Bureau of Land Management official William Perry Pendley recommended policies for the Interior Department.

The playbook calls for a broad takedown of the Biden administration’s energy and climate agenda by repealing programs across agencies and shrinking the federal government.

Trump campaign officials late last year stressed that various conservative nonprofits’ efforts to draft policies are “appreciated and can be enormously helpful” but also that they’re “purely speculative and theoretical” and “merely suggestions,” The New York Times reported.

Project 2025 is building a presidential personnel file, according to its website. “Want to be considered for positions in a presidential administration? Submit your resume today to be included in the personnel database,” the site says, including a link to send in an application.

The project’s goal, Gunasekara said, is to ensure that “whoever is going to be in, that they know what the conservative playbook looks like from day one from a policy perspective” and that “they know who they can call on to help implement that from a personnel perspective.”

That, she said, will help “minimize any potential lost time.”