Saturday, February 26, 2011
Barack Obama 2012: White House Staff. Mikhail Kryzhanovsky, KGB
Starting with President Franklin Roosevelt, the trend has been for Presidents to act through the Executive Office of the President or the National Security Council rather than through the Cabinet. This has created a situation n which the White House Chief of Staff, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Advisor are more powerful than some Cabinet members.
The Executive Office of the President is headed by the White House Chief of Staff and consists of the immediate staff of the President, as well as multiple levels of support staff reporting to the President, total of 1,800 full-time equivalent employees. Senior staff within the Office have the title “Assistant to the President”, second-level staff have the title “Deputy Assistant to the President” and third-level staff have the title “Special Assistant to the President”.
2.6.1 The White House staff serves to:
- protect your political interests
- act as principal political advisers
- distill information and provide a perspective from which the President can make an informed decision
- direct the implementation of your priorities by the bureaucracy
- process important political and economic information and process ideas coming from Congress, events and crisis situations, executive branch agencies, public opinion, party, interest groups, media and most important — from President and staff (ideas always have to be politically attractive)
- operate effectively inside the White House triangle: the President’s schedule — the flow of papers — the press. The most powerful figures in the White House are senior staff because they provide information for your decisions, evaluate policy proposals by Cabinet Secretaries, control activities of the executive branch, maintain liaison and lobby the Congress, interest groups, party leaders and media and control access (and information) to you — that’s what the Chief of Staff is doing (remember — there is no person # 2).
Chief of Staff
The Chief of Staff reviews most of the documents that go to you, gives his advice after intense information processing and consultations with other agencies and then — he’s telling others what President wants. A lot of people, including Congressmen and Senators, will try to reach you through him. He has to give good instructions to the Press Secretary on the White House message about current headlines and the President’s plans and actions (the Press Secretary works the same way with VP and First Lady press teams). He is responsible for your time and has to plan at least two months ahead your effective activity together with Communications, Scheduling and other policy offices’ Directors plus VP and First Lady Chiefs of Staff.
Besides, he has to do “dirty jobs” for the President like firing people or act as a “lighting rod” to draw criticism away from the President.
National Security Adviser The National Security Adviser controls all the documents concerning national security coming from Defense, State Departments and national security agencies, and coordinates these offices. His position is not subject to Senate confirmation, which, according to a long-standing Washington tradition, means that he can’t be compelled to testify before the Congress. He decides what papers the President should see and, what’s more, he gives his comments on any document. (National security is 100% the President’s business, so keep this figure at some distance and don’t let him think of himself as your Number Two — foreign leaders will try to work through him to get to you or to influence you.) He has to oversee the functioning of the National Security Council (NSC), which is your foreign policy making tool and a “government inside government.” This is something very special and convenient about the NSC — it’s responsible only to you and there’s not much Congress control over its budget. Of course, the National Security Adviser is involved in every meeting between you and any foreign leader and is responsible for the schedule.
The most powerful of executive offices after the National Security Council is the Office of Management and Budget (it’s authorized to make cuts in federal agencies’ budgets, to advise you on national fiscal and economic policies, supervise execution of the government budget, evaluate the performance of federal programs).
Staffers (and Secretaries) prefer stability and don’t like it if you’re “rocking the boat” — that’s why they often play reform-stoppers. They don’t like to work hard and prefer to send you on “very important visits” abroad as often as possible. They try to load you up with an extremely busy schedule and “feed” you hundreds of useless documents, create artificial problems and conflicts to show off their hyper-activity. They try to be your decision makers and they do influence you because, unlike Secretaries, they have daily contact with you; that’s why you don’t see Cabinet members as your principal aides. They try to set you up by interpreting your decisions and orders in their own way, as every Adviser is the “American President himself.” They know you won’t accept “complicated,” “expensive,” “risky” projects and they try to sell you “simple,” “cheap” and “popular” ones only.
Watch your senior staff and how they present ideas. If somebody wants to push his idea or a project, he will give you three options, making two of them unattractive. Naturally you pick the one he presented as least harmful.
The White House Staff secrets :
1. Fight for access (influence) to President or to people with direct access (aiming to get a better position if President is re-elected).
2. Isolate government from the President.
3. Influence = relationship with the President.
4. Get a table in the West Wing. You are nobody if you are stuck in the White House basement and see the President by appointment only.
5. Before you send a document to the President, have to look at it and ask yourself if it’s too immoral or too radical.
6. Never say “no” aloud to anybody.
7. Remain anonymous with conflicts.
8. Never bring bad news to the President - let it be some idiot, not you.
9. Never say “That’s impossible,” no matter what the President is asking you to do.
10. Disappear (and find an excuse later) if the President is in a bad mood.
11. Never ague with the President if there’s somebody else present.
12. Learn how the President likes to do business (talking, giving orders, writing the documents and taking notes, managing official and non-official meetings) and his habits (food, drinks, cigarettes, favorite sport, movies, show business stars, writers, politicians; attitude to women) and try to copy him — the President has to feel comfortable with you.
13. Fight anybody who’s trying to do your job to be closer to the President.
14. Avoid taking on risky tasks controlled by the President in person (if necessary, try to “delegate” it to somebody else).
15. Avoid being associated with any failures.
16. Don’t say anything President doesn’t want to hear.
17. Use “Smith’s Principle”: if it can be understood by Congress, it’s not finished yet.
18. Write memorandums not to inform the reader, but to protect the writer.
19. No matter what subject is under discussion, employ the language of sports and war: say “breakthrough” instead of “progress” , never speak of compromise, consider “adopting a fallback position.”
20. Every public appearance in with the President is an investment in your career after the White House.
21. Minimize the number of rivals.
22. Gain independence according to how much the President needs you.
23. Before asking the President for some personal favor, make him believe he’s going to get some (political) profit out of it.
24. Tell the President what he can do and help him try to do it, and never tell him what he shouldn’t do.
25. Avoid giving any personal gifts to the President if you are not Chief of Staff.
Every public appearance in with the President is an investment in your career after the White House.
There is an open power struggle between national security staff members and domestic policy staff and between those who develop new policies and initiatives versus budget staff.
How to Manage the Staff
Adopt a dominant management style:
1. Pyramidal, structured as hierarchy with you at the top, followed by the Chief of Staff and other key assistants — I strongly recommend this one — it insures a clear chain of command and provides precise channels of information going up and directives going down. It permits specialization at the lower levels and control at the top. Besides, those higher up in the system are able to provide you with more accurate information in a timely manner, while filtering out and eliminating unnecessary information. (The problem is — nobody wants to bring you important bad news).
2. Circular, when you are surrounded by advisers, all of whom have approximately equal access to the Oval Office. That usually means too much access and chaos, and overloading you with information — 99% of which should not appear on your table (per JFK).
All your assistants are political assistants and everyone will try to play a policy-maker. But a good thing is - all of them were not elected and are responsible to you only. Thus you can:
- reform your staff freely as there’s not even a word about it in the US Constitution
- interchange key figures if domestic crisis is approaching
- if you don’t agree with the staff on important issues, go to polls for back-up. (The best employee is the one you can blackmail. Besides, a very good “pusher” for your people is their deep understanding that they have to work together to help the President stay in office next term — if the President leaves, everybody leaves)
- use “the carrot and the stick”
- use “pulling by pushing” — give an important job without publicity to those who become too popular
- do as little reading as you can — you have staff for that
- do as little writing as you can — same reason
- involve yourself personally in your staff and Cabinet jobs as little as you can — same reason
- make no minor decisions — same reason
- send back any intelligence or other report if it’s more than one sheet of paper