||07-02-2009 07:45 PM
Politics Takes Chunk out of White House Payroll
I'd say considering the job, the amounts are fair, but, are they earning it?
Politics Takes Chunk Out of White House Payroll
Mike Memoli Mike Memoli – Thu Jul 2, 1:00 am ET
During his two months on the campaign trail as Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden was fond of sharing his father's witticisms with audiences to illustrate a point. One of the more common ones went something like this: "Don't tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value."
Barack Obama promised voters he would change the way Washington does business and turn the page the tired politics of the past. But newly-released documentation of White House employee salaries suggests that his administration has placed a premium on political counsel.
Among the 22 staffers earning the top salary of $172,200 is White House director of political affairs Patrick Gaspard. His deputy, Michael Dillon, earns $113,000 a year. And four regional directors in the Office of Political Affairs are paid a more modest $75,000 a year.
Each administration since President Reagan has had an Office of Political Affairs as part of the Executive Office of the President. President Bush employed as many as nine political aides in the White House during the election year of 2004. In 2005, the first year of his second term, that number shrunk to one.
But President Obama's decision to keep an Office of Political Affairs under the White House umbrella was a disappointment to lawmakers in both parties and good government advocates who see no benefit to the public in having a partisan operation in the West Wing financed at taxpayer expense. John McCain actually vowed to eliminate it if elected. And already, Obama's campaign organization (Organizing for America) is now embedded in the Democratic National Committee, separate from the White House.
That six employees account for more than a half million of the White House payroll further shows how politics is inseparable from policy. Not included but equally involved in political considerations, senior advisers David Axelrod and Peter Rouse are among the $172,200 salary club. So is Rahm Emanuel, now President Obama's Chief of Staff, but also a renowned partisan animal who once served as President Clinton's in-house political adviser and whose take no prisoners attitude as Chair of the DCCC helped Democrats recapture the House in 2006.
The upper echelon of earners in the Obama White House also includes a host of top advisers in legislative affairs, legal issues, and specific policy areas like health care and the environment. More than two dozen staffers at the "special assistant level" earn $130,000 for their roles in shaping Obama's busy agenda. Not far behind at more than $100,000 though is Reggie Love, the president's so-called "body man" who attends to the commander-in-chief's routine personal requests.
The annual disclosure of salary information of White House employees is a highlight for reporters looking for just this kind of information. But it's an unwelcome tradition for those working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, one that the young crop of new staffers may not have considered even as they agreed to work in an administration that promised greater transparency.
To that end, the fact that the White House itself disclosed the information this year is notable. Typically, the figures are only made public after the required report to Congress each administration must make each year is leaked to the media. Instead, this year it was posted the White House blog Wednesday by Macon Phillips, director of New Media, "consistent with President Obama's commitment to transparency." Incidentally, Phillips is among the 123 staffers making six figures, at a salary $115,000.
In tough economic times, the information is likely to face additional scrutiny, particularly since the overall White House payroll would increase from 2008 if all staffers accrue their annual wage. All told, 455 White House employees earn on average $77,320, up four percent from 2008. The median salary is $62,000, which means that as many employees earn more than that as earn less; last year the figure was $55,400. Unlike past years, however, the top salary has remained the same, a result of a freeze Obama ordered immediately upon taking office.
The 22 most senior officials who earn that top wage also includes staff secretary Elizabeth Brown, press secretary Robert Gibbs and chief speechwriter John Favreau. Meanwhile, 51 junior staffers earn the minimum salary of $36,000, including West Wing receptionist Darienne Page, press assistant Kevin Lewis and assistant speechwriter Kyle O'Connor.
But for the sizable number of employees who transitioned from the campaign to the White House, even those at the lowest levels are enjoying a stimulus plan of sorts - higher pay in addition to a much more prestigious address.