25 jobs in the White House and what they do

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January 14, 2021
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25 jobs in the White House and what they do

As the administrations change in the White House, the jobs inside the executive mansion attract the public’s attention more than usual. Their moves make headlines, as new names are put forward, departing advisors might kiss and tell, and even the executive chef will be getting new marching orders.

White House jobs in the Trump administration, perhaps more than others in recent history, have made news—especially for the astounding turnover rate that topped 92% by the waning days of the term. The first resignation had come within a month of Trump’s inauguration with the forced departure of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and, with four chiefs of staff, turnover in just 32 months outpaced that of the five preceding presidents’ first full terms.

Looking back, other White House jobs became household words during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Caught up in the political treachery were Chuck Colson, special advisor to the president; John Ehrlichman, advisor for domestic affairs; White House counsel John Dean; chief of staff H.R. Haldeman; and communications adviser Jeb Magruder—all of whom went to prison.

On a gentler, albeit fictional note, many people know, and love, White House staffers from the popular television drama “The West Wing,” from heartthrob speechwriter Sam Seaborn played by Rob Lowe and gruff communications director Toby Ziegler played by Richard Schiff to the workaholic chief of staff Leo McGarry played by John Spencer and the brilliant press secretary C.J. Cregg portrayed by Allison Janney.

In real life, Stacker compiled a list of 25 jobs in the White House, taking a look at their responsibilities and history, by consulting official White House and government websites, news reports and interviews, historical accounts, and academic sources.

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White House chief of staff

The chief of staff position is enormously influential and involves supervising staff, controlling access to the president, and coordinating with other White House offices such as the Council of Economic Advisors, the national security staff, and the vice president. The job was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his second administration in 1939. Ron Klain will serve as President-elect Joe Biden’s chief of staff.

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White House press secretary

The press secretary is the spokesperson for the president and is responsible for relations with the media. The press secretary typically holds briefings with the White House press corps. Those holding the job in the Trump administration such as Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders became well known for their handling of the president’s communications and the media.

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Director of the Office of Management and Budget

The Office of Management and Budget, known as OMB, formulates budgets, manages procurement, coordinates regulatory policy, and reviews executive orders. President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Neera Tanden, who held positions in the Clinton and Obama administrations, as his head of the OMB.

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Director of the White House Military Office

The Military Office handles presidential transportation, food service, and medical services at the White House. It also is responsible for the Marine helicopters that transport the president to and from the White House grounds, on board Air Force One, and at Camp David.

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U.S. trade representative

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative oversees and coordinates policies on international trade, investments, and commodities, and it negotiates agreements around the world. The trade representative acts as the president’s advisor and spokesperson. The office was created by President John Kennedy in 1963, and its responsibilities were expanded by Congress in the 1970s.

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White House photographer

The White House photographer is tasked with capturing images of the presidency. Among the most notable was Pete Souza, who enjoyed extensive access to President Barack Obama in the White House. Many of his pictures of the president with his wife Michelle and visiting with children played a major role in creating and maintaining Obama’s public image.

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White House chief usher

The chief usher manages about 90 staff such as florists and butlers, oversees the building and grounds of the White House, and works on events with the first family. The job typically does not change with administrations, and just 10 people have held the position in more than 130 years.

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National security advisor

The national security adviser, formally the assistant to the president for national security affairs, reports directly to the president and acts as liaison to other top security officials. The adviser typically briefs the president on security issues, plans foreign travel, helps draft policy speeches, and prepares background for the president’s meetings and calls with world leaders.

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Director of presidential correspondence

Running the Office of Presidential Correspondence entails handling and responding to the letters, emails, and gifts sent to the president and first family from the public. It also deals with calls made to the White House Comment Line and requests for presidential proclamations and presidential greetings. While in office, President Barack Obama asked to see a sample 10 letters each day from members of the public.

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Chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers

The Council of Economic Advisers is responsible for giving the president research and guidance to set domestic and international economic policy. Comprising three presidential appointees, typically highly respected professors of economics, the council is supposed to make economic forecasts and provide unbiased advice. The acting chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, Tyler Goodspeed, was one of the top officials in the Trump administration who resigned the day after the violent rioting on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol.

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White House social secretary

Traditionally, the social secretary works with the first lady to arrange and plan all of the White House official and personal social events, deciding on guest lists, menus, seating arrangements, and entertainment. The position requires close cooperation with the U.S. Secret Service, the White House chief usher, the State Department, the White House Military Office, and the White House press secretary.

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Director of the White House Office of Speechwriting

The White House Office of Speechwriting researches and writes presidential speeches. The chief speechwriter in the Trump administration was Stephen Miller, known for his hardline views on immigration and border policies.

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Deputy assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

The Homeland Security Council was set up by President George W. Bush following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Its purpose was to coordinate homeland security issues among government agencies and departments. Members of the council include the secretaries of Homeland Security, the Treasury, and Defense, the Attorney General, director of National Intelligence, and director of the FBI.

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Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board

The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board is responsible for giving the chief executive objective views and advice on U.S. intelligence activities. The secretive PIAB, which traditionally has consisted of non-government intelligence experts and has access to the most classified information, was established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 as an independent monitor of the U.S. intelligence community.

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President’s personal secretary

The job of personal secretary to the president is one of the oldest in the White House, and the first to hold the position were family members such as the sons of President Martin Van Buren and President Millard Fillmore. The job requires coordinating calls and visitors, overseeing appointments, and traveling with the president. The character of Mrs. Landingham, secretary to fictional President Josiah Bartlet, was a sentimental favorite on television’s “The West Wing.”

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White House decorator

Decorators employed in the White House have belonged to the Committee for the Preservation of The White House, such as interior designer Kaki Hockersmith who oversaw renovation of the Oval Office, Treaty Room, Solarium, Music Room, Family Dining Room, the Blue Room, the Grand Entry Hall, and parts of Camp David for the Clintons. For President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, Kenneth Blasingame redesigned the Green Drawing Room, Roosevelt Room, Family Theater, and Vermeil Room in the presidential residence.

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White House chief counsel

The job of White House counsel is described as the lawyer to the presidency, watching for legal and ethical issues that may arise in the office. The counsel vets presidential appointments, interprets law for members of the executive branch, makes legal recommendations, and acts as a command center to handle scandals or crises. John Dean, White House counsel to President Richard Nixon, testified before the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 about his boss’s role in the scandal, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and served four months in federal prison.

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Chief of Staff, Office of the First Lady

Headed by a chief of staff, the Office of the First Lady has traditionally served the president’s wife in areas of policy, communications, scheduling, and events planning. Most first ladies have had offices in the present-day East Wing that was built in 1942.

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White House curator

The White House curator watches over the historic pieces of art, decorative objects, and furniture in the White House, balancing its roles as an office, family residence, and national symbol. The job was created when first lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the White House declared a museum in 1961. Curator William Allman, who retired in 2017 after 40 years, worked with first lady Laura Bush to restore the Lincoln Bedroom and with first lady Michelle Obama to modernize the Family Dining Room.

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Director of the White House Visitors Office

The director of the Visitors Office oversees events and tours inside the White House. Responsibilities also include coordinating state arrival ceremonies, holiday open houses, spring and fall garden tours, and the annual Easter Egg Roll.

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White House chief floral designer

The chief floral designer and staff fill the White House with flowers, from table and mantelpiece arrangements on a daily basis to elaborate centerpieces for formal state dinners. The administration of President James Buchanan in the mid-1800s was the first to have fresh flowers in the White House, and a conservatory was built on the grounds to provide a supply of blooms. First lady Jacqueline Kennedy established the Office of the White House Florist.

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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Marianique Santos // Wikimedia Commons

White House military social aides

Since 1902, when President Theodore Roosevelt started entertaining at the White House, military social aides in dress uniforms have assisted party guests, from dancing to making introductions to dignitaries. The unpaid positions are filled by young volunteers from the military who help out during social entrances, receiving lines, meal seating, and after-dinner entertainment.

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White House chief calligrapher

The first White House calligrapher worked in the 1860s for first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, who gave the chore of writing invitations to a staff member, and the job was formally established in 1977 by first lady Rosalynn Carter. It entails creating the handwritten invitations, envelopes, place cards, and menus needed for state dinners. The former chief calligrapher in the administrations of President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush has estimated that in one month of December, his office addressed 19,000 envelopes by hand.

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White House executive pastry chef

The White House employs an executive pastry chef who not only feeds the first family's and guests’ appetite for baked goods and sweets, but designs and builds the traditional White House gingerbread house displayed each holiday season in the State Dining Room. Longtime executive pastry chef Roland Mesnier, who served in five administrations, has said President Bill Clinton’s favorite dessert was peach and blackberry cobbler, President George H. W. Bush had a fondness for crème brûlée, and that he would sneak chocolate to President Ronald Reagan after first lady Nancy Reagan forbade her husband from eating it.

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White House executive chef

The White House executive chef handles meals from the first family’s breakfasts to elaborate functions for foriegn dignitaries. The White House kitchen staff brewed beer for President Barack Obama and hard-boils more than 14,000 eggs for the annual Egg Roll. The position is appointed by the first lady.

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