On 1 July 2009, the White House released their Annual Report to Congress on White House Office Staff, a report listing the names, position titles, and salaries of White House employees. Several days later, columnist Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times put together a blog post in which she used the White House report to identify 22 staffers working in the Office of First Lady. (Sixteen of the listed names were staffers who had the words “First Lady” in their position titles, five were staffers with the words “Social Office” or “Social Secretary” in their titles, and one was listed as a “Staff Assistant.”) Lynn Sweet’s list was posted to the Last Crusade web site (and the Canada Free Press web site) with the introductory paragraphs (reproduced above) claiming that First Lady Michelle Obama had hired “an unprecedented number of staffers to cater to her every whim,” and variants of that version have circulated via e-mail with the subject line “First Lady Requires More Than Twenty Attendants.”
So far as the original White House report was accurate, it was fair to say that First Lady Michelle Obama had about 22 staffers working for her, directly or indirectly, at the time (Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Michelle Obama’s press secretary, set the figure at 24). However, it’s grossly inaccurate to claim that the current First Lady has hired “an unprecedented number of staffers,” or to assert (as stated in the anonymously tacked-on final paragraph) that First Lady Laura Bush had but a single staffer working for her.
The 2008 White House Office Staff List, issued during the final year of President George W. Bush’s tenure in office, included sixteen different staffers with the words “First Lady” in their position titles — exactly the same number as that listed for Michelle Obama in 2009. If all staffers listed with “Social Secretary” in their titles are included as part of the First Lady’s retinue (as was done with the Michelle Obama example cited above), then Mrs. Bush had at least 18 people working for her in 2008 (not including any of the various personnel listed only as “Staff Assistants,” some of whom may also have worked for her directly or indirectly).
White House staffing is fluid, with people and positions coming and going, but according to Anita McBride, Laura Bush’s former Chief of Staff, Mrs. Bush had between 24 and 26 staffers working for her by the end of her husband’s second term in office. It’s therefore fair to say that the size of Michelle Obama’s staff is not “unprecedented,” but rather on a par with her immediate predecessor’s.
Moreover, according to the Associated Press, several other First Ladies had larger numbers of personnel working for them than Michelle Obama did:
A look at some first ladies and their staff sizes:
Laura Bush: Between 24 and 26 by end of President George W. Bush’s term in 2009, according to Anita McBride, Mrs. Bush’s chief of staff.
Lady Bird Johnson, whose signature issue was beautifying roadways, had a staff of 30, said Stacy A. Cordery, a history professor at Montmouth [sic] College in Illinois who studies first ladies.
Betty Ford had almost the same number.
Jacqueline Kennedy, who made renovating the White House her cause, had about 40 people on staff, Cordery said.
Dykes, Brett Michael. “Separating Fact from Fiction Regarding the Size of Michelle Obama’s Staff.”
Yahoo! News. 6 October 2009.
Fromkin, Dan. “White House Watch.”
The Washington Post. 24 July 2008.
Associated Press. “A Snapshot of Some First Ladies’ Staffs.”
6 October 2009.
Updated 21 July 2016
Published 16 August 2009