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The Contemporary Presidency: The Bush White House: First Appraisals. (Features)

By Tenpas, Kathryn Dunn; Hess, Stephen | Presidential Studies Quarterly, September 2002 | Go to article overview

The Contemporary Presidency: The Bush White House: First Appraisals. (Features)


Tenpas, Kathryn Dunn, Hess, Stephen, Presidential Studies Quarterly


When the disputed election of 2000 ended with the Supreme Court's decision on December 12, it effectively shortened the presidential transition to less than fifty days and complicated the incoming administration's personnel problems. Chief among George W. Bush's immediate hiring decisions was the choice of senior White House staff, those advisers with whom he would have the most day-to-day contact. Selecting an ideal White House staff is confounded by a host of factors: satisfying the president-elect's personal preferences, honoring political obligations, finding experts with the appropriate ideological hue, and achieving diversity goals. While these were Bush's initial goals, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, required instant adjustments that resulted in structural, procedural, and staff changes.

This article examines Bush's first crack at assembling his White House and assesses its early performance as well as the staff and structural changes made in the wake of the terrorist attacks. In an effort to gain perspective on the Bush record, we compare his staff to the initial staffs of his three immediate predecessors--Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. More specifically, we examine appointments to the Executive Office of the President (EOP), including such senior staff members as the national security adviser and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

The conventional wisdom was that President Bush hired an older, wiser set of advisers than President Clinton, who had rewarded "the kids"--hard-working, youthful campaign staffers (Stephanopoulos 1999, 148; Houston 1993, 22). Furthermore, while Clinton worked hard to assemble a team that "looked like America," Bush hired establishment Republicans, particularly those with a conservative bent. However, staff biographies published in the National Journal reveal remarkable similarity between the two administrations. (1) Adding Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan into the comparison provides a long-term look at presidents' initial staffing, revealing additional similarities as well as important differences.

This article identifies the unique features of President Bush's staffing organization as well as recent additions. Part two will discuss presidents' first attempts to staff the White House from 1981 through 2001 and demonstrates key demographic characteristics and concludes with an evaluative discussion of the Bush operation.

Inaugural Innovations

Although President Bush's staff possessed qualities similar to those of his predecessors, he imposed his own ideas about running a White House by making structural changes within the EOP, reflecting his administration's priorities, goals, and general approach to governing. He began his term by adding two new units: the Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI) and the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI). He bolstered the Office of the Vice President, and his cabinet was given both standard and untraditional functions (Nakashima and Milbank 2001, A1). The events of September 11, 2001, additionally imposed various structural and procedural changes that affected cabinet and White House staff Each innovation represented a break with the Clinton presidency, although in some cases, there were roots in prior administrations.

The OSI, led by Bush confidant Karl Rove, was designed to think ahead and devise long-term political strategy. "It is an effort to solve the problem that consistently dogs White House staffs: the pressure to respond to unexpected events and to react to daily news cycles, which causes presidential advisers to lose sight of the big picture" (Milbank 2001a, A1). The equivalent during the Reagan administration could have been the Office of Planning and Evaluation, led by Richard Beal, a colleague of pollster Richard Wirthlin. It is hardly unusual for presidents to create offices designed to ensure their political longevity.

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