White House Staff Size: Explanations and Implications

By Walcott, Charles E.; Hult, Karen M. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 1999 | Go to article overview

White House Staff Size: Explanations and Implications


Walcott, Charles E., Hult, Karen M., Presidential Studies Quarterly


Questioning the size of White House staffs dates back at least to Herbert Hoover's introduction of a noncareer, professional staff of four: "In bygone days, the President had one secretary ... now there is a whole machine-gun squad to handle the work" (A Washington correspondent 1929,385). His successors, from FDR through Johnson, confronted similar criticisms. Even so, complaints mounted in volume and intensity with the presidency of Richard Nixon (e.g., Bonafede 1973; Cronin 1980), often hypothesizing a direct link between staff growth and involvement in mischief. Although John Hart (1995a, 1995b) and others have effectively challenged many such claims, concern about size persists. Members of Congress and journalists monitor and criticize allegedly bloated White Houses, while presidential candidates routinely pledge, and presidents typically fail, to slash their staffs (see, e.g., Bedard 1998; Robertson 1997).

Academics also continue to weigh in with their concerns. Looking at the national executive branch, for example, Paul Light (1995) contends that the increased size of any agency often signals "thickening," which in turn exacerbates the diffusion of governmental accountability. Matthew Dickinson (1997) focuses more specifically on the impact of the growth and thickening of the White House staff on the presidency, arguing that larger staffs hinder the bargaining president by increasing management costs and tying the president too closely to the interests of others. Both scholars suggest remedies that are quite similar to Cronin's (1980): downsize and "thin" the White House and turn to "spot contracting" for those functions that cannot simply be shed.

Provocative as such analyses are, they are not fully convincing, at least for so unusual an organization as the White House Office (WHO). Frequently missing in much of the debate over the size of the White House staff are systematic empirical analyses both of exactly what is being counted and of how and why the numbers of aides have changed. Nor has the normative assertion that bigger and thicker are always worse than smaller and thinner often been subjected to much careful scrutiny.(1)

In what follows, we seek to further explore issues related to the size of the White House staff.(2) First, we establish the context for the discussion by examining overall staff numbers from the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt through Jimmy Carter (when the size of the WHO mostly stabilized and strictly comparable data ceased being collected).(3) This examination also underscores the difficulty of developing generic accounts of the growth of the staff: there has been neither constant expansion nor stable trends. After advancing some possible explanations for the uneven growth (and decline) of the WHO, we stress the need for more disaggregated analysis. Deserving particular attention when looking at changes in size are the component units of the WHO. Below, three offices in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter White Houses (congressional relations, speechwriting, and public liaison) serve as illustrations. We conclude by briefly revisiting the normative arguments over size, contending that efforts to restrict the size of the WHO on occasion may undermine presidential capacity and accountability.

Overall Size of the WHO

Estimating the size of the White House staff long has bedeviled observers. Yet, the first systematic study of the subject seems not to have been done until Richard Nixon's first term.(4) The numbers reported in the Nixon administration analysis were repeated in documents in the Ford and Carter White Houses, with appropriate updates but without the full set of comparisons. Table 1 and Figure 1 include the Nixon data as well as the numbers used in the Carter White House, which incorporated the Ford staff's calculations.(5)

[Figure 1 ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

TABLE 1
Numbers of White House Office Employees, 1934 to 1980

     1            2                3                 4
             White House      White House    Special Projects
   Year       Detailees        Full Time         Detailees

1934(a)          120              45                --
1935             127              45                --
1936             115              45                --
1937             112              45                --
1938             119              45                --
1939             112              45                --
1940             114              63                --
1941             117              62                --
1942             137              47                --
1943             148              46                --
1944             145              47                --
1945             167              48                --
1946             162              51                --
1947              27             190                --
1948              23             245                --
1949              26             220                --
1950              25             223                --
1951              40             257                --
1952              31             252                --
1953              28             262                --
1954              23             250                --
1955              28             272                --
1956              41             273                --
1957              59             271                --
1958              48             272                3
1959              29             275                2
1960              29             275                4
1961             112             270               22
1962              91             253               32
1963              88             249               23
1964             104             236               21
1965             131             235               23
1966             167             219               52
1967             179             209               67
1968             171             203               35
1969             232             217               --
1970             287             250               --
1971              17             547               --
1972              34             522               --
1973              24             483               --
1974              47             506               --
1975              27             533               --
1976              27             500               --
1977              17             446               --
1978              11             351               --
4/79              16             351               --
1/80              70             351               --

     1            5                6                 7
                Special          Total
               Projects          Special           Total
   Year       Full Time         Projects        White House

1934(a)           --              --                165
1935              --              --                172
1936              --              --                160
1937              --              --                157
1938              --              --                164
1939              --              --                157
1940              --              --                177
1941              --              --                179
1942              --              --                184
1943              --              --                194
1944              --              --                192
1945              --              --                215
1946              --              --                213
1947              --              --                217
1948              --              --                268
1949              --              --                246
1950              --              --                248
1951              --              --                297
1952              --              --                283
1953              --              --                290
1954              --              --                273
1955              --              --                300
1956              78              78                392
1957              93              93                423
1958              80              83                403
1959              79              81                385
1960              80              84                388
1961              72              94                476
1962              56              88                432
1963              69              92                429
1964              70              91                431
1965              59              82                448
1966              37              89                475
1967              42             109                497
1968              47              82                456
1969              --              97                546
1970              --              95                632
1971              --               8                572
1972              --              28                584
1973              --              13                520
1974              --              --                553
1975              --              --                560
1976              --              --                527
1977              --              --                463
1978              --              --                362
4/79              --              --                367
1/80              --              --                421

Note: Figures for 1934 through 1968 were taken from Attachment, Noble Melencamp to Jon Huntsman, July 9, 1971, Nixon Presidential Materials Project. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

White House Staff Size: Explanations and Implications
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.