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The White House Chief of Staff is the highest ranking member of the Executive Office of the President of the United States and a senior aide to the President. The office-holder has been dubbed "The Second-Most Powerful Man in Washingtonmarker" due to the nature of the job.

The current White Housemarker Chief of Staff is Rahm Emanuel, serving in this position since January 20, 2009, when President Barack Obama was inaugurated.


The duties of the White House Chief of Staff vary greatly from one administration to another. However, the Chief of Staff has been responsible for overseeing the actions of the White House staff, managing the president's schedule, and deciding who is allowed to meet with the president. Because of these duties, the Chief of Staff has at various times been labeled "The Gatekeeper" and "The Co-President".

Originally, the duties now performed by the Chief of Staff belonged to the President's private secretary and was fulfilled by crucial confidants and advisers like George B. Cortelyou, Joseph Tumulty, and Louis McHenry Howe. . This person served as the President's chief aide in a role that combined personal and professional assignments of highly delicate and demanding natures, requiring great skill and discretion . The job of gatekeeper and overseeing the President's schedule was separately delegated to the Appointments Secretary, as with FDR's aide Edwin "Pa" Watson.

From 1933 to 1939, as he greatly expanded the scope of the federal government's policies and powers in response to the Great Depression, Roosevelt relied on his "Brains Trust" of top advisers. Although working directly for the President, they were often appointed to vacant positions in agencies and departments, from whence they drew their salaries since the White House lacked statutory or budgetary authority to create new staff positions. It wasn't until 1939, during Franklin D. Roosevelt's second term in office, that the foundations of the modern White House staff were created using a formal structure. Roosevelt was able to get Congress to approve the creation of the Executive Office of the President reporting directly to the President which included the White House Office.

In 1946, in response to the rapid growth of the U.S. government's executive branch, the position of Assistant to the President of the United States was established. Charged with the affairs of the White House it was the immediate predecessor to the modern Chief of Staff. It was in 1961, under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that the president's pre-eminent assistant was designated the White House Chief of Staff.

Assistant to the President became a rank generally shared by the Chief of Staff with such senior aides as Deputy Chiefs of Staff, the White House Counsel, the White House Press Secretary, and others. This new system didn't catch on straight away. Democrats Kennedy and Johnson still relied on their Appointments Secretaries instead and it was not until the Nixon administration that the Chief of Staff become a permanent fixture in the White House.

The average term-of-service for a White House Chief of Staff is a little under 2.5 years. John R. Steelman, under Harry S. Truman, was the last Chief of Staff to serve for an entire presidential administration. Steelman also holds the record for longest-serving Chief of Staff (six years). Andrew Card and Sherman Adams tie for second-longest (five years each).

Most White House Chiefs of Staff are former politicians, and many continue their political careers in other senior roles. Richard Nixon's Chief of Staff Alexander Haig became Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan. Gerald Ford's Chief of Staff Dick Cheney became a U.S. Representative for Wyoming, Secretary of Defense under George H. W. Bush and vice president under George W. Bush (in which capacity Cheney served as Acting President on two occasions under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, when Bush was briefly incapacitated during medical procedures). Donald Rumsfeld was another Chief of Staff for the Ford administration and subsequently served as Secretary of Defense in the Ford administration and decades later in the George W. Bush administration.


The roles of the Chief of Staff are both managerial and advisory and can include the following
  • Select key White House staff and supervise them
  • Structure the White House staff system
  • Control the flow of people into the Oval Office
  • Manage the flow of information
  • Protect the interests of the President
  • Negotiate with Congress, other members of the executive branch, and extragovernmental political groups to implement the President's agenda

It is possible that a powerful Chief of Staff with a "hands-off" president (who decides not to become involved in the minutiae of government), can become a de facto Prime Minister. Such prime ministers exist in some governmental systems, such as Francemarker's and Russiamarker's: The prime minister runs the government (operations-wise), while the president remains somewhat aloof from the political process, but personally handling policy matters.Richard Nixon's first Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, garnered a reputation in Washington for the iron hand he wielded in the position — famously referring to himself as "the President's son-of-a-bitch," he was a rigid gatekeeper who would frequently meet with administration officials in place of the President, then report himself to Nixon on the officials' talking points. Journalist Bob Woodward, in his books All the President's Men and The Secret Man, wrote that many of his sources, including the famous Deep Throat, displayed a genuine fear of Haldeman.

By contrast, Andrew Card, President George W. Bush's first Chief of Staff, was not regarded as being as powerful. It has been speculated that this was due to Card being "overshadowed" by the influence of Karl Rove, the Senior Adviser and Deputy Chief of Staff who was "the architect" of Bush's political rise.

List of White House Chiefs of Staff

Deputy Chiefs of Staff

The Chief of Staff is assisted by one or more Deputy Chiefs of Staff. Under the Obama Administration, these roles are filled by Jim Messina and Mona Sutphen. During the George W. Bush Administration, Joel Kaplan held this title for Policy. Karl Rove preceded Kaplan in this role until April 19, 2006 when (then-new) Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten added his former Deputy Director of the OMB to the Deputies list. Rove left the White House officially on August 31, 2007. Joe Hagin is the former Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.

See also


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