The Busy Life of Obama Scheduler Alyssa Mastromonaco

By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 22, 2008

A week before the election, Alyssa Mastromonaco was sitting at her desk at Chicago campaign headquarters, watching Barack Obama deliver a speech in Chester, Pa.

Uh-oh, she thought. It was pouring rain and the boss was shivering. As Obama hurried offstage, his trusty "Ms. Fix-It" started to count: Five, four, three, two . . . ring!

"Who thought this was a good idea?" Obama barked into Mastromonaco's ear. She tried to reassure him that at least the footage looked terrific, she recalled, "and then he hung up on me."

Mastromonaco can't control the weather, but she can handle just about anything else. Obama's campaign was a marvel of strategic logistics, with an upbeat former high school band president as its chief engineer. For two years, under every conceivable circumstance, Mastromonaco kept the planes, trains and luxury buses -- always ESPN-ready and stocked with organic tea -- running more or less on time.

The 32-year-old improvisational ace booked Obama's cherished gym sessions and organized the huge rallies that became the campaign's trademark. She compiled guest lists for backstage visits and determined whose phone calls would get returned. She kept Obama's secrets and took his grief.

And now Mastromonaco, who once studied French, Japanese and Bernie Sanders at the University of Vermont, is heading to the White House to be Obama's official gatekeeper there. Her title stays the same -- director of scheduling and advance -- but the job is infinitely more complex and more confining. Like other campaign aides who are making the transition, Mastromonaco is bracing for culture shock.

"We were so efficient," Mastromonaco said. "That's why the government feels a little weird right now."

Working in Chicago the past two years after decamping from Obama's Senate office, Mastromonaco, who's single, commanded a corps of savvy young people who made big things happen fast. She patched together flights and call lists via BlackBerry with a few hours' notice. Mastromonaco had weeks, not months, to plan Obama's overseas trip in July, an ordeal that involved eight advance teams and 15 events in five countries -- with no official U.S. government help.

If she thought Obama's delivery was flat, or that he was neglecting a certain constituency or issue, she told him so. Likewise, when the candidate started to slump, he could lean on Mastromonaco to make adjustments, so he could sleep more or stop by Chicago to see his family.

"When he thinks his life is out of control, or there's too much going on, he calls Alyssa," said Pete Rouse, Obama's Senate chief of staff and a senior campaign adviser, who also is White House-bound.

In her new role, Mastromonaco will execute elaborate protocols that have been in place for decades, and her immediate staff of about 35 will include a "diarist," responsible for recording every one of Obama's moves -- the telephone calls, the meals, the basketball games. Each step in the White House scheduling process, from request to approval, must be documented in writing. Decisions are made by committee -- a very large committee of administrative heavyweights from the national security and domestic policy offices, speechwriting, catering, the first lady's and vice president's shops, the Secret Service and so on. Advance teams involve casts of hundreds, swarming into each of the locales, here and abroad, that a president will visit.

The process is "very regimented, very bureaucratic," said former White House aide Bradley Patterson, author of "To Serve the President," about the machinery behind the man.

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