In which "era" do you base your impression?
The real reason HURD has moved so slowly (besides managerial incompetence) is that HURD has ceased to be a product with a deadline. HURD is now an operating system research project, with the goal of tinkering with it long enough to publish a paper on their findings or dilettante OS topic.
HURD was originally designed with the presumption that microkernel architecture would be more desirable (operate more efficiently) than a monolithic kernel (that has been the basis for almost every commercial OS since UNIX). You can't really make a breathtaking, next generation OS if the basis that it operates upon either works like crap, or requires different paradigms to communicate from kernel to OS tasks. The lost decade of the 2000's has been spent finding a "suitable" microkernel replacement to MACH. (Which is decidedly unsuitable, since it was designed in the 1980's, and is better off replaced, than kludged.) You can compound the failure with the fact that it has to conform to GNU's operating charter (translation: there might have been a suitable commercially developed microkernel, but if it didn't license it GNU v2.0 (now v3.0), it was unacceptable. That's okay; I'm only speaking hypothetically about the existence of a suitable microkernel for HURD.)
The most striking irony is that HURD may be the empirical demonstration that microkernel architecture is a research dead end, and there aren't any that can even match monolithic kernel designs. The other irony is that hypervisors, which to me seem to be a form of microkernel, have long outdistanced traditional microkernel efforts, although I couldn't tell you why they would still be unsuitable for HURD (besides the license).
Nevertheless, I was pretty shocked that the "core" developers are still actually documenting their progress. They're actually pasting in snippets of their IRC conversations into the wiki documentation (from days ago!).
So, yeah, there's a reason why the "core" people involved are telling volunteers to fuck off. If you can't speak Microkernel Chinese, they don't even want you generating background noise. I'd say the definition of clueless newbies would be someone from 15+ years ago trying to participate in HURD today.