Obama started off at Bush’s pace, holding six Cabinet meetings in each of his first two years, according to stats compiled by the incomparable Mark Knoller of CBS News. But the pace has decreased, and so far this year he’s held only two, the last on July 1.
We were reminded of this when we got an e-mail the other day from the White House Cabinet affairs office, run since January by Broderick Johnson, a former lobbyist.
“As we move into the fall,” the e-mail said, “Cabinet Affairs will be making two important scheduling changes . . . to increase productive engagement. First, the bi-weekly Chief of Staff lunches will transition to smaller, Chief of Staff group breakfasts that will focus on different Presidential priorities.”
“Additionally, we will no longer hold regular morning Chief of Staff calls on Mondays and Thursdays,” the Aug. 29 e-mail said, “but will hold subject specific calls as needed.”
And so ends a tradition — at least since the Clinton administration — of agency chiefs of staff being regularly briefed by — and briefing — a senior White House official about the day’s happenings, and coordinating messages.
The morning conference calls, usually about a half-hour or so, were held daily during the Clinton administration and either daily or two or three times a week during the Bush administration. Until this month, they were held twice a week this year and more frequently in Obama’s first term.
The general rationale for the calls, as well as the regular lunches with all the chiefs of staff, a former White House official explained, was that “we wanted to know what (the agencies) were doing and tell them the message of the day, give them their marching orders, effectively to police them and make sure the political appointees got the message.”
Granted, “some issues don’t involve every agency, but many do,” that official said, noting for example the most recent Ebola crisis in Africa, where domestic and international agencies would be involved. “You need cross-sectorialism,” that official said.
The Obama White House held these calls every morning (Monday to Friday) during the first term, along with biweekly meetings, an administration official said, and that “helped ensure that everyone was on the same page.”
In response to our inquiry, a White House official, issued a statement on background (of course) that they “continuously engage” the Cabinet and agency staff on policy, events and so on. And the smaller breakfast meetings are part of “an effort to better accommodate the schedules and demands of agency chiefs of staff. . .”
Ah, okay. So maybe some agency chiefs of staff were just too busy to talk to the White House.