Working in the West Wing: Senior Staff

I promised I would write about what it’s like to work in the West Wing of the White House. After more than six years of working there, the process details seem less than fascinating to me, but conversations with friends suggest that even routine process explanations might be interesting to some readers.

I should qualify this by acknowledging that each White House is different, reflecting both the character and the management style of the particular President. I was tremendously privileged to work for one President (George W. Bush) under two Chiefs of Staff (Andy Card and Joshua Bolten), from August of 2002 through January of 2009. I do not argue that the Obama White House should do things the way that we did, or that our way was better. I am merely describing how we did it for those who might care.  So for all you CSPAN junkies and West Wing watchers, here is the first in a series of posts about some process mechanics of working in the West Wing of the (Bush 43) White House.

Commissioned Officers

White House staff can be divided into two groups: commissioned officers, and everyone else. As a technical matter, a commissioned officer works for the President, and everyone else in the White House works for a commissioned officer. There are three levels of commissioned officers. Starting with the most senior, they are:

  1. Assistant to the President (AP)
  2. Deputy Assistant to the President (DAP), aka “Deputies”
  3. Special Assistant to the President (SAP), aka “Specials” or “SAPs”

We had about 20 AP’s at any given time, with a little fluctuation. Here are some examples:

  • Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten
  • Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove
  • Assistant to the President and Counselor to the President Ed Gillespie
  • Assistant to the President and Press Secretary Dana Perino
  • Assistant to the President and Counsel to the President Fred Fielding
  • Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Dan Meyer
  • Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director, National Economic Council Keith Hennessey

Each of us was an assistant to the President. As a formal matter, he was our boss, and we 20 or so AP’s were his direct reports.Note that not all AP’s are equal. As a formal matter there’s a Chief of Staff who is senior to all other staff, and we had two Deputy Chiefs of Staff as well. In a few cases, there was an AP reporting […]