Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Administration of the White House

Consulting Editor: John P. Burke

University of Vermont

In 1939, during Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in office, the foundations of the modern White House staff were created. Based on the recommendations of a presidentially commissioned panel of political science and public administration experts -- the Brownlow Committee -- Roosevelt was able to get Congress to approve the creation of the Executive Office of the President [EOP] reporting directly to the President. The EOP, in turn, encompassed two subunits at its outset: the White House Office [WHO] and the Bureau of the Budget [today's Office of Management and Budget], which had been created in 1921 and originally located in the Treasury Department. Initially, the new staff system appeared more ambitious on paper than in practice; the increase in the size of the staff was quite modest at the start. But it laid the groundwork for the large and organizationally complex White House staff that would emerge during the presidencies of Roosevelt's successors.

Roosevelt's efforts are also notable in contrast to those of his predecessors in office. During the nineteenth century, Presidents had few staff resources. Thomas Jefferson had one messenger and one secretary at his disposal, both of whose salaries were paid by the President personally. It was not until 1857 that Congress appropriated money ($2,500) for the hiring of one clerk. By Ulysees S. Grant's presidency, the staff had grown to three. By 1900, the White House staff included one "secretary to the President" (then the title of the President's chief aide), two assistant secretaries, two executive clerks, a stenographer, and seven other office personnel. Under Warren G. Harding, the size of the staff expanded to thirty-one, although most were clerical positions. During Herbert Hoover's presidency, two additional secretaries to the President were added by Congress, one of whom Hoover designated as his press secretary. From 1933 to 1939, even as he greatly expanded the scope of the federal government's policies and powers in response to the Great Depression, Roosevelt muddled through: his "brains trust" of top advisers, although working directly for the President, often were appointed to vacant positions in agencies and departments, from whence they drew their salaries since the White House lacked statutory or budgetary authority to create new staff positions.

From 1939 through the present, the situation changed dramatically. New units within the EOP were created, some by statute, some by executive order of the President. Among the most important are the Council of Economic Advisers (1946), the National Security Council and its staff (1947), the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (1963), the Council on Environmental Quality (1970), the Office of Science and Technology Policy (1976), the Office of Administration (1977), and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (1989). Under President George W. Bush, additional units were added, such as the Office of Homeland Security (2001), which later became a cabinet department, and the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives (2001). Precise estimates as to the size and budget of the EOP are difficult to come by. Many people who work on the staff are "detailed" from other federal departments and agencies, and budgetary expenses are often charged elsewhere (e.g. Defense Department for the White House Military Office). Ballpark estimates indicate some 2,000 to 2,500 persons serve in EOP staff positions with policy-making responsibilities, with a budget of $300 to $400 million (President George W. Bush's budget request for Fiscal Year 2005 was for $341 million in support of 1,850 personnel). According to Bradley H. Patterson Jr., who factors in only the most central EOP units but also includes such things as White House maintenance, official entertainment, and Secret Service protection, the numbers may even be higher: 5,915 in personnel and a budget of $730,500,000 for FY 2001.*

Although still a subunit of the EOP, the White House Office remains the centerpiece of the presidential staff system. In many ways it is closest to the President both in physical proximity (its top aides occupy most of the offices in the West Wing) and in its impact on the day-to-day operations, deliberations, policy agendas, and public communications of a presidency. During the transition to office and continuing throughout an administration, the President enjoys a great deal of discretion in terms of how the White House Office is organized. For example, Presidents must decide whether they will have a chief of staff, an office created under President Dwight D. Eisenhower but absent from the John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and, for a time, Jimmy Carter staff systems.

Presidents are free to determine what suboffices and functions will be represented in the staff structure. Most White Houses have some set of staffs handling national security, domestic, and economic policy, but their organizations can vary significantly. Most recent White Houses have offices that deal with the cabinet, congressional affairs, political affairs, intergovernmental affairs, and liaison with the public and a variety of constituency groups. There are usually large operations devoted to the media: a press office, a communications office, other media liaison, and the speechwriting staff. There are offices handling scheduling and preparations for when the President physically leaves the White House (the Advance Office). The President also has a personal staff. As well, there is a large White House personnel office that oversees presidential appointments throughout the government.

Yet nothing is set in stone. Some units may be combined and new positions may be created, such as Karl Rove's role as "senior adviser" to President George W. Bush. Presidents are free to determine what staff titles will be assigned to the personnel of these units, how particular jobs are defined and responsibilities allocated, and how many staff and what budgetary resources will be allocated to each unit. The internal hierarchy of the staff and its chain of command are also subject to presidential determination. Above all, of course, it is up to each President individually to establish how the staff factors into their policy deliberations and decision making.

The stakes are enormous. Today's White House is a supercharged engine made up of superbly capable but quite diverse presidential instruments. The panoply of demanding assignments that reverberate throughout the various parts of the White House staff is immense. What steps should be taken to stimulate the economy? What terms to insist upon in trade negotiations with a foreign power? How to design a presidential trip to a troubled region of the world? How to persuade more senators to support a new domestic policy initiative? What invitations to public appearances should a President accept and what kind of public remarks should be given? The list is almost endless, reflecting the responsibilities -- and perceptions of responsibilities -- that have now devolved upon the American presidency.

Addressing such issues is not like trying to crack a single nut; it is more like yanking loose a many-rooted vine whose tendrils entwine the departments, advocacy groups, Congress, the courts, and other nations. Each week, the White House is engulfed by these and hundreds of other similar tasks; the following week brings scores more. The exigencies of substance as well as time crush in upon those who are laboring to do this work: deadlines are everywhere closing in. Yet, in the White House, nothing is acceptable but the very highest quality output; the President's -- and the nation's -- reputation is on the line.

The specialization and jurisdiction-mindedness of the various parts of the White House staff make for an atmosphere in which each unit is almost desperately preoccupied with staying on top of the tasks before it -- with serving the boss in its own expert way. But across the whole White House is a demand that overrides any and all individual preoccupations: the necessity for coordination. The units of the White House staff must be as precisely interlinked and sequenced as the pistons in an engine.

Successfully launching a presidential policy initiative, effectively staging a presidential event, planning and conducting a meeting of world leaders, or delivering a major address to the nation -- all require the collective contributions of different parts of the White House staff. Regardless of their jurisdictional jealousies, they must reach out to one another across their specialized turfs, lay out and follow a common course of action, spare no detail in exchanging information, and make their respective contributions to the presidential objective with minutely calculated, supportive timing. Will this happen automatically? Emphatically not. In the modern White House, there must be a few tough, strong offices exerting centripetal force and pulling the pieces together.

Presidents thus confront a monumental organizational and management task at the start of their administrations and throughout their terms of office simply in making sure that the White House is functioning effectively and serving their needs. But as the whole staff system has increased in size, budget, and, most importantly, in its responsibilities, so too have the resources available to Presidents (at least potentially) to make it work. Here is where the administration of the White House and its various components plays a role.

First and foremost is the Office of the Chief of Staff. The role and duties of a chief of staff vary from administration to administration and even within an administration as one chief of staff may differ from a predecessor or successor. While chiefs of staff may differ in the degree of policy advice they provide a President, they are at base the managers of the White House staff system. At least in theory, they are the coordinators bringing the pieces together; they are the tone-setters and disciplinarians making for good organizational order.

Second, and closely related, are White House units dealing with the content of policy deliberations: the White House Legal Counsel's Office, concerned with constitutional and statutory issues, and the Staff Secretary's Office, which deals with the internal flow of policy memoranda and paperwork, especially that which crosses the President's desk.

Third are units dealing with presidential trips and appearances (the Advance Office) and the President's schedule (the Scheduling Office). Both play an important role in determining the "public face" of a presidency.

Fourth are units dealing with a variety of day-to-day administrative operations: Office of Administration, Office of White House Management and Administration, Oval Office Operations, Presidential Correspondence, the White House Military Affairs Office, the Executive Clerk's Office, the White House Usher's Office, and the Office of the White House Curator.

Finally, there is the Office of First Lady: a job that has not only grown in importance over the years, but which has amassed a sizeable staff to match that importance.

* Bradley H. Patterson Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, D.C.: Brookings institution Press, 2000), pp. 342-48.

General Works

Burke, John P. The Institutional Presidency: Organizing and Managing the White House from FDR to Clinton, 2nd. ed., (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).

Burke, John P. Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000).

Campbell, Colin. Managing the Presidency: Carter, Reagan, and the Search for Executive Harmony (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986).

Haney, Patrick J. Organizing for Foreign Policy Crises: Presidents, Advisers, and the Management of Decision Making (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).

Hart, John. The Presidential Branch: From Washington to Clinton (Chatham, NJ: Chatham House, 1995).

Henderson, Phillip. Managing the Presidency: The Eisenhower Legacy from Kennedy to Reagan (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1988).

Hess, Stephen, with James P. Pfiffner, Organizing the Presidency, 3rd. ed., (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002).

Hult, Karen, "Strengthening Presidential Decision-Making Capacity," Presidential Studies Quarterly, 30 (March 2000), pp. 27-46.

Hult, Karen M., and Charles E. Walcott. Empowering the White House: Governance under Nixon, Ford, and Carter (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004).

Johnson, Richard Tanner. Managing the White House (New York: Harper and Row, 1974).

Kumar, Martha Joynt and Terry Sullivan, eds. The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003).

Moe, Terry M. "The Politicized Presidency," in The New Direction in American Politics, John E. Chubb and Paul E. Peterson, eds. (Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 1985).

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr. The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002).

Pfiffner, James P. The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running(Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1996).

Ponder, Daniel E. Good Advice: Information and Policy Making in the White House (College Sta., TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2000).

Preston, Thomas. The President and His Inner Circle: Leadership Style and the Advisory Process in Foreign Affairs. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

Rudalevige, Andrew. Managing the President's Program: Presidential Leadership and Legislative Policy Formulation. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002).

Walcott, Charles E., and Karen M. Hult. Governing the White House: From Hoover through LBJ. (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

Warshaw, Shirley Anne. The Domestic Presidency: Policy Making in the White House. ( Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997).

Warshaw, Shirley Anne. The Keys To Power: Managing the Presidency. (New York: Longman, 2000).

Chief of Staff

Anderson, Patrick, The President's Men, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1968).

Buchanan, Bruce, "Constrained Diversity: The Organizational Demands of the Presidency," Presidential Studies Quarterly, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 20 (Fall 1990), pp. 791-822. The article is also reprinted in James P. Pfiffner, ed., The Managerial Presidency, (Pacific Gove: Brooks/Cole. 1991), pp. 78-104.

Cohen, David B., "From the Fabulous Baker Boys to the Master of Disaster: The White House Chief of Staff in the Reagan and G.H.W. Bush Administrations," Presidential Studies Quarterly, 30 (September 2000), pp. 463-483.

Cohen, David B., Chris Dolan, and Jerel A. Rosati, "A Place at the Table: The Emerging Foreign Policy Roles of the White House Chief of Staff," Congress and the Presidency, 29 (Autumn 2002), pp. 119-149.

Cohen, David B., and George A. Krause, "Presidents, Chiefs of Staff, and the Structure of White House Organization, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 30 (September 2000), pp. 421-442.

Kernell, Samuel, and Richard L. Popkin, eds., Chief of Staff: Twenty-Five Years of Managing the Presidency, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

Medved, Michael, The Shadow Presidents: The Secret History of the Chief Executives and Their Top Aides, (New York: Random House, 1979).

Neustadt, Richard E., "Does the White House Need a Strong Chief of Staff?" in James P. Pfiffner, ed., The Managerial Presidency, (Pacific Gove: Brooks/Cole. 1991), pp. 29-32.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 348-356.

Pfiffner, James P., "The President's Chief of Staff: Lessons Learned," Presidential Studies Quarterly, 23 (Winter 1993), pp. 77-102.

Walcott, Charles E., Shirley Anne Warshaw, and Stephen J. Wayne, "The Office of Chief of Staff," in Martha Joynt Kumar and Terry Sullivan, eds., The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), pp. 111-139.

Memoirs by Chiefs of Staff

Haldeman, H.R., with Joseph DiMona, The Ends of Power, (New York: New York Times Books, 1978).

Haldeman, H.R., The Haldeman Diaries: Inside the Nixon White House, (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1994).

Regan, Donald T., For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington, (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988).

Staff Secretary

Darman, Richard, Who's In Control: Polar Politics and the Sensible Center, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), pp. 1-144. Darman served as staff secretary and deputy chief of staff during the first Reagan term.

Hult, Karen and Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, "The Office of Staff Secretary," in Martha Joynt Kumar and Terry Sullivan, eds., The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), pp. 140-164.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 339-341.

White House Counsel

Borrelli, Maryanne, Karen Hult, and Nancy Kassop, "The White House Counsel's Office," in Martha Joynt Kumar and Terry Sullivan, eds., The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), pp. 193-223.

Cutler, Lloyd N., "The Role of the Counsel to the President of the United States," New York City Bar Association Record, 35 (November 1980), pp. 470-480.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 96-113.

Rabkin, Jeremy, "White House Lawyering: Law, Ethics, and Political Judgments," in Cornell W. Clayton ed., Government Lawyers: The Federal Legal Bureaucracy and Presidential Politics, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

Strine, Michael, "Counsels to the President: The Rise of Organizational Competition," in Cornell W. Clayton ed., Government Lawyers: The Federal Legal Bureaucracy and Presidential Politics, (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995).

Advance Office

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 240-262.

Scheduling Office

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 184-192.

Oval Office Operations

Graff, Henry, "White House Secretaries," in Leonard W. Levy and Louis Fisher, eds., Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), Vol. 4, pp. 1638-1640.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 326-330.

Presidential Correspondence

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 383-391.

Smith, Ira R., "Dear Mr. President" The Story of Fifty Years in the White House Mail Room, (New York: Messner, 1949). Smith was a longtime employee in the White House mail room.

Management and Administration

Arnold, Peri E., Bradley H. Patterson Jr., and Charles E. Walcott, "The Office of Management and Administration," in Martha Joynt Kumar and Terry Sullivan, eds., The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), pp. 279-307.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 341-348.

White House Military Office

Arnold, Peri E., Bradley H. Patterson Jr., and Charles E. Walcott, "The Office of Management and Administration," in Martha Joynt Kumar and Terry Sullivan, eds., The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations, (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003), pp. 289-293.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 362-373.

Chief Usher's Office

Hoover, Irwin "Ike", Forty-Two Years in the White House, (London: Williams and Norgate, 1935). Hoover served as chief usher in the early part of the 20th Century.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 397-399.

Seale, William, "White House," in Leonard W. Levy and Louis Fisher, eds., Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), Vol. 4, pp. 1618-1622.

Office of the Executive Clerk

Graff, Henry, "White House Secretaries," in Leonard W. Levy and Louis Fisher, eds., Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), Vol. 4, pp. 1638-1640.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 360-362.

First Lady

Anthony, Carl Sferazza, First Ladies: The Saga of the Presidents' Wives and Their Power, 2 vols., (New York: Wm. Morrow, 1990-1991).

Caroli, Betty Boyd, "First Lady's Office," in Leonard W. Levy and Louis Fisher, eds., Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), Vol. 2, pp. 637-638.

Caroli, Betty Boyd, "The First Lady's Changing Role," in Frank Friedel and William Pencak, eds., The White House: The First Two Hundred Years, (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1994).

Caroli, Betty Boyd, First Ladies: From Martha Washington to Laura Bush, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

Gould, Lewis, "Modern First Ladies: An Institutional Perspective," in Nancy Kegan Smith and Mary C. Ryan, eds., Modern First Ladies: Their Documentary Legacy, (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989). This volume also contains articles on the archival materials available for research on modern First Ladies.

Gould, Lewis, "Modern First Ladies and the Presidency," Presidential Studies Quarterly, 20 (Fall 1990), pp. 677-683. This volume of Presidential Studies Quarterly also contains a number of other articles on First Ladies.

Graff, Henry, "White House Secretaries," in Leonard W. Levy and Louis Fisher, eds., Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), Vol. 4, pp. 1638-1640.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 281-299.

Watson, Robert P., The Presidents' Wives: Reassessing the Office of First Lady, (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2000).

Watson, Robert P., and Anthony Eksterowicz, eds., The Presidential Companion: Readings on the First Ladies, (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2003).

White House Curator

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 399-400.

Office of Administration

Bonafede, Dom, "Administering the EOP," National Journal, 30 (December 31, 1977), p. 2017.

Patterson, Bradley H. Jr., The White House Staff: Inside the West Wing and Beyond, (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2002), pp. 403-405.

Wyszomirski, Margaret Jane, "Office of Administration," in Leonard W. Levy and Louis Fisher, eds., Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), Vol. 3, pp. 1104-1105.