Tag Archives: White House staff turnover

Won’t You Come Home, Bill Daley?

It’s official: the Daley show is ending at the West Wing.

In a move that reportedly surprised President Obama, chief of staff Bill Daley told the President last Tuesday that he would be stepping down, effective at the end of the month. His resignation was only announced today (and no, it’s not a coincidence that the announcement was slipped in during the day before the New Hampshire primary) after Obama reportedly failed to talk Daley out of his decision. (Do I believe this?  I do not.) Daley will be replaced by current OMB director Jake Lew.

Daley had been slated to leave his position after the 2012 election, and no reason was given, other than Daley’s desire to spend more time with his family, for the accelerated departure.  However, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, Daley’s tight management style had rubbed some of Obama’s junior White House aides the wrong way, and he was not very popular with the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill either.  Some press reports also indicated he clashed with members of Obama’s campaign team. More generally, as I argued here, highly visible chief of staffs who combined the traditional administrative coordinator’s role with control over the policy development and political outreach functions tend to have rather short tenures in the White House.  All told Daley will have served about a year as Obama’s chief of staff – far shorter than  predecessors’ average of roughly 2 ½  year in this high profile job. Here’s the list of the previous Chief of Staff’s dating back to Eisenhower’s administration.

Chief Years President
Sherman Adams 1953-1958 Eisenhower
Wilton Persons 1958-1961 Eisenhower
H. R. Haldeman 1969-1973 Nixon
Alexander Haig 1973-1974 Nixon
Donald Rumsfeld 1974-1975 Ford
Dick Cheney 1975-1977 Ford
Hamilton Jordan 1979-1980 Carter
Jack Watson 1980-1981 Carter
James Baker 1981-1985 Reagan
Donald Regan 1985-1987 Reagan
Howard Baker 1987-1988 Reagan
Kenneth Duberstein 1988-1989 Reagan
John H. Sununu 1989-1991 Bush I
Samuel K. Skinner 1991-1992 Bush I
James Baker 1992-1993 Bush I
Mack McLarty 1993-1994 Clinton
Leon Panetta 1994-1997 Clinton
Erskine Bowles 1997-1998 Clinton
John Podesta 1998-2001 Clinton
Andrew Card 2001-2006 Bush II
Joshua Bolten 2006-2009 Bush II
Rahm Emanuel 2009-2010 Obama
Pete Rouse (Interim) 2010-2011 Obama
William M. Daley 2011-2012 Obama
Jacob Lew 2012-present Obama

As you can see, no president has gone through as many chiefs of staff in their first term as Obama has to date.

The more immediate cause for Daley’s resignation, however, may have been the decision, reported in early November, to strip Daley of some of his internal management duties.  White House veterans know that the source of the chief of staff’s power is his control over the key daily administrative processes: the paper flow, scheduling, and personnel decisions.  Those duties had been delegated to Pete Rouse, who had served as interim chief of staff in the period between Rahm Emanuel’s departure and Daley’s appointment last January. Without control of those processes, and lacking strong connections to Congress, Daley’s influence was likely already on the wane.  Although no statement was made regarding whether Lew will regain control of these administrative processes, he does have stronger ties to Capitol Hill due in part to his experience as a senior policy adviser to former House Speaker Tip O’Neill. Lew also served in the State Department during Clinton’s presidency.

Coming on the heels of NY Times reporter Jodi Kantor’s book The Obamas that purportedly documents discord within the Obama White House, (see also here), Daley’s resignation will undoubtedly add more fuel to the speculative fire.  In fact, however, Daley’s resignation fits in with a long-term historical trend that sees much higher White House staff turnover rates in the post-1968 modern presidential selection process than in previous decades. The basic reason for the increase in turnover, as I’ve argued before, is that the skills needed to govern are not always the same ones that are required for campaigning in the modern era.  As presidents gear up for reelection, then, there tends to be significant staff turnover as aides are either replaced or moved out to join the campaign staff.  So far, the turnover in the Obama administration has closely followed this historical pattern.  Indeed, Daley is slated to become one of the co-chairs of Obama’s reelection campaign, although it is unclear just how much influence he will have in this position.

Media pundits tend to see every change in White House personnel as a reflection of personality differences, policy disagreements and clashing egos. In fact, the causes usually are rooted in more fundamental rhythms that affect all modern White House staffs. Among these, perhaps none is more important than the organizational transition from governing to campaigning – exactly the transition the Obama White House has been undergoing in recent months.  Rather than discord, then, Daley’s resignation seems entirely consistent with previous historical patterns.

It remains to be seen, however, if Obama will be singing a different tune after the November elections:

You remember that rainy evenin’
I threw you out….with nothin’ but a fine tooth comb
Ya, I know I’m to blame, now… ain’t it a shame
Bill Daley, won’t you please come home



It’s Time To Start A-Campaigning!

Matt D’Auria has updated the White House staff retention data beginning with Bill Clinton’s second term in 1997-1998 through the end the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2009.  Here’s a graph of his findings. Note that that these are based on White House staff listings in the U.S. Government Manual, and include only senior-level White House aides and their immediate assistants. The data do not include lower-level White House clerical staff.  Nor, in contrast to the data I posted yesterday, does it include any cabinet members.

As you can see, the results are consistent with the post-1970 reform era retention patterns I discussed in yesterday’s post. Most noticeably, we see the familiar reduction in retention rates in the period 2003-04, as Bush begins to gear up for his reelection bid.  I’ve not yet had the chance to integrate Matt’s data with the data compiled for the period 1929-1997 by Katie Dunn Tenpas and me, but here are the side by side averages for each year of the presidents’ terms during the three time periods: 1929-1970, 1971-1997, and the latest figures. (Keep in mind that the figures aren’t strictly comparable since the first two retention columns include cabinet members while the most recent one does not, in addition to differences in the number of years covered and electoral contexts.)

Term Year Pre-Reform 1929-70 Post-Reform 1971-97 1998-2009
Year 1 .42 .28 .43. (.645 if 2000-01 and 2008-09 periods of complete turnover are excluded)
Year 2 .86 .75 .72
Year 3 .82 .64 .72
Year 4 .83 .71 .52

Again, the important point is that retention rates within the White House staff continues to lag from the levels recorded prior to 1970-71, indicating a continuation of the higher rate of staff turnover characteristic of recent years.  We see less of a dip from year 2 to 3 in the post-1997 data, but keep in mind that this includes retention rates from both Clinton’s and Bush’s second term, when neither president was gearing up for reelection.  On the other hand, retention rates in year four of the presidents’ terms in this most recent dataset are lower than in the previous time periods.  Although this partly reflects the exodus of Clinton’s aides in 1999-2000 and Bush’s in 2007-08 in anticipation of the end of both presidencies, it is also the case that the highest turnover in Bush’s White House staff occurred during the transition from his 3rd to 4rth year, as he moved into full reelection mode. (Reminder: the data indicate the percent of aides in the year listed who also served in the White House during the previous year. Note that because there’s a time lag between when the staff listings are submitted to the Government Printing Office and when the Manual comes out, and because the Manual spans calendar years, the demarcation in the data between yearly listings isn’t as neat as one might like. So, for example, the retention rate for 2002 below actually measures those in Bush’s White House staff as of sometime in late summer, 2002 who were also in the White House a year previous). With those caveats in mind, here are the retention rates for years 1-4 of Bush’s first term.

2001 0
2002 0.86
2003 0.625
2004 0.48

We see, then, that almost 40% of Bush’s White House staff serving in the late summer, 2002, were gone by the following year, and more than half of those working in the White House during the late summer, 2003 had left by the time the campaign was in full gear in 2004.

Several of you have wondered whether the higher turnover simply reflects increased levels of staff “burnout” in the modern era due to more stressful working conditions, rather than impact of reforms affecting presidential campaigning. When Dunn Tenpas and I estimated the impact of the changing presidential selection process on retention rates for the period 1929-1997, we controlled for each aide’s/cabinet secretary’s previous length of service. Even when accounting for previous time served, we still found a pattern in which turnover increased as a function of the post-reform electoral changes. So burnout is unlikely to be the only factor at work here.

If I can, I’ll try to update our statistical analysis for the post-1997 period.  However, if the post-reform turnover pattern holds, by this time next year between 30%-40% of Obama’s current White House staff will be working elsewhere.  Why? Because (with apologies to the immortal Bob Dylan):  It’s time to start a-campaigning!