Organization of the Executive Office
Personal Staff. In discharging the functions of the office, the president is assisted by a large staff. Closest to the president is the personal staff, which works in the White House Office. It includes a score of top assistants - such as the chief of staff, the press secretary, the appointments secretary, the special counsel, the assistant for national security affairs, the cabinet secretary, the assistant for congressional liaison, the assistant for public liaison, and various administrative assistants - aided by a sizable junior staff. The White House staff totals several hundred; many employees are clerks handling the large inflow of mail and papers.
The staff of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his early successors remained largely anonymous. But as White House staff members gained power, many of them became public figures. Henry Kissinger, for example, began as assistant for national security affairs under President Nixon, but his influence grew until it surpassed that of the secretary of state in many areas of foreign policy. In presidencies following Carter's the assistant's role became less powerful and less publicity driven.
Institutional Staff. In addition to personal staff, the president commands a large institutional staff concerned with managing the executive branch and with policy development. The principal managerial arm is the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Subject to the president's direction and approval, the OMB prepares the budget of the executive branch.
Prominent among the president's policy advisory organs is the National Security Council (NSC). It is concerned with the whole gamut of foreign policy, including military strategy. The assistant for national security affairs organizes the council's agenda and oversees its staff. Truman and Eisenhower used the NSC extensively; Kennedy and Johnson consulted it more erratically; and their successors have relied on the NSC more consistently on major policy issues.
From the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) the president secures professional economic advice, tempered by awareness of the president's political needs. Although the Council competes with other sources of economic advice, such as the Treasury Department and the OMB, it is usually a top participant in the president's economic policymaking.
The Office of Policy Development (OPD) was redesignated in 1981 to replace the Domestic Policy Staff. Its origins go back to 1970, when Nixon created a Domestic Council. Today the OPD assists in formulating and evaluating long-range economic and domestic policy. (Presidents may also utilize outside task forces, as Clinton did with the group, headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton, that prepared the administration's ill-starred health-reform proposal of 1993.) Other Executive Office units are the Council on Environmental Quality, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Office of Administration.
The Cabinet. The most historic source of presidential advice, the cabinet, is not part of the Executive Office but exists independently. Consisting of the heads of government departments, the cabinet traces its beginnings to George Washington's assembling of his department heads in 1793 to discuss U.S. neutrality in the French Revolutionary Wars. Presidents have used the cabinet irregularly, largely because cabinet members' administrative duties and loyalties to their own departments often preclude a close working relationship with the president.
Occasionally, the vice-president becomes important in an administration, although the Constitution does not allot the vice-president any responsibilities other than to "preside over the Senate," and traditionally the vice-president has been remote from the center of power. In the Clinton administration, Vice President Al Gore headed a task force to "reinvent government," with a sweeping reexamination of the executive branch. A close associate of President Clinton, but untainted by personal scandal (except for some allegations of questionable campaign-finance practices), Gore appeared to be in a strong position for the presidential race in the year 2000 - the benefits of incumbency enhanced by a strong economy. He ran an uneven race, however, and lost in the end to the Republican candidate, Texas governor George W. Bush, who was perceived by many voters to be more personable.
Presidential Transitions. When a new president is elected, a delicate and often cumbersome ten-week process of transition begins. The president-elect appoints teams of academic, business, and political people to gather information, prepare reports, and make recommendations on policies and appointments. Outgoing staff members brief the newcomers. The Senate begins confirmation hearings to advise and consent on cabinet-level appointees well in advance of inauguration day, so that the new administration can take power smoothly.
Presidential Remuneration. The president receives $400,000 a year in salary and $50,000 for expenses, an additional $100,000 for travel expenses, and handsome retirement benefits.