Tuesday, October 01, 2013

At The White House, A 'Skeletal Staff' During The Government Shutdown

Hundreds of staffers will be furloughed, including the chefs...
UPDATE 2:  Executive Chef Cris Comerford is still on duty
UPDATE 1:  Senior Advisor Sam Kass is on furlough  
Washington, DC - "You don't get to extract a ransom for doing your job," President Barack Obama told the House GOP late on Monday afternoon as Republicans and Democrats battled over a deal to fund the government without eviscerating the Affordable Care Act.  

Except that the GOP did get to:  Hours later, as lawmakers remained deadlocked in the bitter battle, the federal government went into partial shutdown as the clock struck midnight.  

It is the first government shutdown in seventeen years, and could last for days...or drag on for weeks, depending on the next move by Congress.  

While most Americans won't feel the impact of the shutdown until it has continued for a while, at the White House it will be immediate.  President Obama will wake on Tuesday morning to what Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday called "an extremely lean operation."

Minutes before midnight on Monday, the Office of Management and Budget issued a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies, directing them to "execute their plans for an orderly shutdown of the Federal government."  Those plans are now in effect.

As of Tuesday, there will be major reductions in Executive Office staff and in Residence staff, including the chefs, butlers, and housekeepers.  All staff deemed non-essential will go on furlough after having four hours in the morning to wrap up business.

"We’ll have a skeletal staff," Carney said.

According to the official lapse in funding plan from the Office of Management and Budget, three quarters of the 1,701 employees in the Executive Office of the President (EOP) will go on furlough.  436 employees are designated as excepted or exempt, meaning they will remain on the job.  

The other 1,265 staffers will be on furlough, and must depart the campus after wrapping up business during the four-hour morning window.

In the White House Office--part of the EOP--the staff will be cut down to 129, which will include staff from the National Economic Council and the Domestic Policy Council.  The White House National Security Staff will be cut from 66 staffers to 42 whose work is "required to support the president and coordinate U.S. government policy and actions on national security, foreign policy and homeland security issues," the OMB said.

The Residence staff will also be furloughed.  The six-story, 132-room mansion filled with priceless art and antiques has 90 staffers, including the chefs.  The operation is led by Angella Reid, the Director of the President's Executive Residence and Chief Usher.  

The total number of Residence staff will be reduced to just 15, who "will be required to provide minimum maintenance and support," the OMB said.

During the 1996 shutdown when President Bill Clinton was in office, staff remaining on duty included one chef for the day and one for the evening, who left after serving dinner, the AP reported at the time.  One butler and one usher were kept on duty during the day and at night.  There were two housekeepers on duty in the day, and one at night.

As Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy, Assistant Chef, and Let's Move! Executive Director, Sam Kass holds a unique position:  He's both Office staff and Residence staff.  In addition to his policy duties, Kass still cooks dinner for the First Family five nights a week.  But he went on a one-day furlough last June when White House Office staff were subject to sequester-related furloughs.

Kass has long been scheduled to keynote a policy conference in Washington, DC, on Wednesday.  He has not yet cancelled his appearance, according to a spokesman for the organizer, United Fresh Produce Association.

With all of America's National Parks, monuments and historic sites closed as of midnight, it is unclear how the meticulously tended grounds of the 18-acre White House campus will be maintained (OMB did not respond to a query).  First Lady Michelle Obama's lush Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn is managed daily by groundskeepers who are Park Service employees, and it is now ripe with autumn crops.  The White House chefs also work in the garden.

Since first planting the garden in 2009, Mrs. Obama has annually hosted schoolchildren for autumn harvest events.  The date for this year's crop-plucking festival has not yet been announced by the East Wing.  But it is possible that Mrs. Obama will not host the event during the shutdown; events with a large number guests involve a large number of staff, including Secret Service.  Mrs. Obama last hosted a harvest event in May, when early summer crops were ready.

The President and Mrs. Obama have no major social events planned for the week ahead at the White House, and Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard, a member of the Office staff, could be on furlough.  The State Visit and State Dinner for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff planned for October 23rd was already "postponed"  due to her fury at allegations that the US government was spying on her.  

Vice President Joe Biden will also suffer shutdown woes with his office staff and residence staff.  He'll have 12 staffers supporting him "in the discharge of his constitutional duties," said OMB.  Biden's official residence, the Naval Observatory, is far smaller than the White House, and "the 1 staff person who is responsible for the Vice President's residence will be required," said the OMB.

Immediate impact on Monday at midnight...
The shutdown impact was immediate on Monday night, with several federal websites going dark just after midnight, including the website for the Department of Agriculture, the largest federal agency.  The White House website has remained online, as has the website for Mrs. Obama's childhood obesity campaign, LetsMove.gov.

President Obama took action to protect members of the Armed Forces on Monday night, signing H.R. 3210, the Pay Our Military Act.  The measure provides continuing appropriations for pay and allowances for members of the Armed Forces during the period when full-year appropriations for FY 2014 are not in effect.  (Above, signing in the Oval Office, in a photo released by the White House)
 
The shutdown week ahead...
On Tuesday morning, the President and Vice President will receive the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office.  

At noon, the subject that incited House Republicans to fury and led to the shutdown will be on full display at the White House: The President will "meet with Americans who will benefit from the opening of Health Insurance Marketplaces and being able to comparison shop for the health plans as a result of the Affordable Care Act," the White House said.

After, the President will deliver a statement from the Rose Garden, the White House announced on Tuesday, in an addition to his schedule.

President Obama is scheduled to depart Washington on Saturday for a week-long trip to Asia, with stops scheduled for Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and a few days in Bali for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.  The White House hasn’t yet announced any changes to the President’s schedule, and Carney said on Monday he wasn't sure how staffing for the trip would be affected by the shutdown.

"We have this trip scheduled and we intend to take it," Carney said.  "We’ll see, obviously, what happens as the week unfolds."

*Shutdown contingency plans for all federal agencies are posted on this webpage at WhiteHouse.gov.  The shutdown documents for all agencies in the USDA are posted here. 

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*Large photos by Pete Souza/White House; small photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama