Working in the White House

by Brad Patterson

by Brad Patterson

Today, President-Elect Obama will largely wrap up his cabinet nominations.  He’ll likely start filling out his White House staff next.  This will number around 900 or so folks.  What do they do and how do they work together? 

There’s a great new book out by Brad Patterson, “To Serve the President: Continuity and Innovation in the White House Staff,” that should be the bible of every new White House staffer (and any Administration appointee who is trying to figure out how the White House works).  It should be part of every orientation given to new White House staffers.

Patterson’s book is full of facts and good advice.  He started working in the White House under President Eisenhower, so he brings a seasoned perspective.

Did you know there are 135 different offices in the White House that serve as the primary support units for the President?  Of these, 95 are policy units.  The newest, created by President Bush, include the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Office of the USA Freedom Corps, and the Office of Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.  The other 40 units are comprised of nonpolitical professionals and constitute three-quarters of the White House staff.  These include grounds-keepers, the visitors center, records management, photographers, military support, and the mail room.  In total, nearly 6,600 staff work for the White House.  By Patterson’s definition, this does not include staff in the seven statutory offices that are part of the overall Executive Office of the President, such as the Office of Management and Budget or the Office of the US Trade Representative. 

Patterson’s book details what each of the 135 different offices do and provides some historical context of how they evolved.

Patterson says his goals were to “provide the president-elect with an accurate picture of the contemporary White House,” and to “paint a factual, nonpartisan picture of the White House at work.”  He concludes: “Before launching any innovations, future White House managers need to know what it is they are reforming.”  His book serves as the definitive baseline of understanding.


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4 Responses to “Working in the White House”

  1. carol Says:

    I was wondering where office workers, who work at the White House eat lunch? Is there a cafeteria? I didn’t think there were that many restaurants near enough for a quick bite.
    Thank you –

    • John Kamensky Says:

      There are several cafeterias “on campus,” but not great eating. Only good food is in the White House Mess Room, but that requires an invitation from a high-ranking staffer. The good news is there are a number of restaurants in the neighborhood — from McDonald’s and Starbucks to fancy places like the Oval Room and the Bombay Club. Other places include Teaism, Cosi’s, and Au Bon Pain — all within a block of the White House. I’m sure there are more that have cropped up in recent years. My favorite is a sandwich place called The Bread Oven.

  2. Jason Paulger Says:

    How many Gardeners do they employ to look after the Gardens & vast amount of lawns at the White House? as I am a gardener myself.

  3. John Kamensky Says:

    Jason — I don’t know how many gardners the White House has, but Patterson’s book notes that the National Park Service maintains the grounds of the White House (about 18 acres) and the surrounding President’s Park (including the Ellipse and Lafayette Park, about 82 acres), as well as Camp David, the president’s retreat in Maryland. The Park Service also handles the White House Visitors Center. All together, the Park Service has about 93 staff assigned to the White House and associated grounds for these services.

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