Chief of Staff: I’m gonna need a right-hand man!

Introduction

Imagine you win a school raffle and get to be “principal for the day.” You are so excited, but after an hour, you realize there’s too much to do on your own. You have to visit all the classrooms, meet with teachers, reprimand the overly chatty student, take calls from parents, etc. So, you decide you are going to ask your best friend Dylan to help. Dylan will be your assistant for the day and help you with your tasks and decisions. Now, the job feels much more manageable! 

Explanation

The Chief of Staff serves a similar role to the president of the United States that Dylan serves to you when you are “principal for the day.” They help to alleviate some of the president’s many duties and responsibilities, but they also oversee other positions and check in on the members of the Executive Office. They are the highest-ranking position within the Executive Office of the President, and they have other Deputy Chiefs of Staff below them. 

Chief of Staff

The White House Chief of Staff is essentially the president’s right-hand-person who assists the president by making their agenda become a reality. Though specific tasks vary based on the administration, the Chief of Staff generally oversees the White House staff, manages who comes in contact with the president, controls White House communication, and advises the president on various issues. 

The History

Though George Washington had a private secretary who assisted him in certain tasks, it wasn’t until 1857 under president Buchanan that there was an official office of the Private Secretary at the White House. This role consisted of both personal and professional tasks that required skill, caution, and loyalty. 

It wasn’t until nearly 80 years later, in 1939, under president Franklin D. Roosevelt, that the White House Executive Office of the President (EOP) was created. These individuals serve under the president, assisting the executive head in their daily tasks and decision-making. As part of the Reorganization Act of 1939, Congress approved this new organization. The EOP is made up of the presidents’ close advisors and is overseen by the Chief of Staff. In addition to delivering the president’s message to the American people, the EOP deals with domestic and foreign issues such as trade and security.

While there is no requirement that the president has a Chief of Staff, this role has become a permanent position in the White House since president Nixon’s administration in 1968. Since then, every president has chosen to appoint a Chief of Staff.

Why Care?

The Chief of Staff is an incredibly powerful position that is often overlooked and is not well understood. However, the Chief of Staff has been called  “The Gatekeeper,” “The Power Behind the Throne,” and “The Co-President.” The Chief of Staff’s office is down the hall from the Oval Office, which allows them to manage the presidents’ assistants and advisors who work in the West Wing and Eisenhower Executive Office. 

Therefore, it is critical that we understand the role of the Chief of Staff and the way that they serve the president. Since the Chief of Staff is a senior aid to the president, they often have a significant impact on the decisions of the president, and the information the president receives. Though we do not get to vote for the Chief of Staff, they should still be held accountable for their actions within the White House. After all, a president is only as good as their staff is!

Think Further

  1. What kinds of decisions do you think the Chief of Staff helps the president make?
  2. Since the Chief of Staff has so much power within the White House, should we have to vote for them?
  3. What other qualities do you think are important for a Chief of Staff to have?

Teacher Resources

Sign up for our educators newsletter to learn about new content!

Educators Newsletter

Get updated about new videos!

Newsletter

Infographic

Learn More

  1. “The Executive Branch.” The White House, The United States Government, www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/the-executive-branch/.
  2. Whipple, Chris. “What It’s like to Have the Second Most Powerful Job in the White House.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 9 June 2018, www.businessinsider.com/what-the-white-house-chief-of-staff-does-2018-5.
  3. “What Is the Role of the White House Chief of Staff?” Dummies, www.dummies.com/education/politics-government/what-is-the-role-of-the-white-house-chief-of-staff/.
  4. Boundless. “Boundless Political Science.” Lumen, courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-politicalscience/chapter/the-organization-and-institution-of-the-presidency/.
  5. “Chief of Staff’s Office.” Chief of Staff’s Office – White House Museum, www.whitehousemuseum.org/west-wing/chief-of-staff.htm.