Friday, September 23, 2016

Welcome to the White House or is it Animal House?

What happens when the support staff of a President vacates the Executive Offices and a new Presidential staff moves in? In 2001, there was an interesting transition when George Bush's staff took over the offices after the Clintons left. What they found was more startling than the $200,000 of furniture that mysteriously disappeared with their departure.

Between January 20th and the 22nd of an election year staff members vacate their offices and are replaced by members of the new President's administration. How much cleaning and refurbishing should be required? It has been suggested that a good vacuuming and dusting would be sufficient. But this was not the case in 2001 due to the extensive damages inflicted on the executive offices of the West Wing and the White House.

Imagine moving into a new job or resigning and leaving your office in a state where it is unusable. An official government report identified numerous examples of vandalism and damage to equipment like fax machines, computer keyboards, telephones, files, furniture, doorknobs missing and that six to eight 14-foot trucks were needed to recover new and usable supplies that had been thrown away.1  An investigation into who may have been responsible for any damage, vandalism, or pranks was not included.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report also states, We believe that sufficient, competent, and relevant evidence exists to support our conclusion that damage, vandalism, and pranks did occur during the 2001 presidential transition, and we have presented this evidence in our report...Regarding the specific contents of graffiti, messages, and signs, we did not believe that it was appropriate or necessary to report their specific contents, although they observed a total of about two dozen prank signs, printed materials, stickers, or written messages that were affixed to walls or desks, placed in copiers, desks, and cabinets, or placed on the floor.

There were signs comparing President Bush to a chimpanzee found “in a number of printers”; “laced” throughout the reams of paper. In locations where people “dumped” supplies, a sign read “Gifts for the New President.” Along with Writing in middle drawer of desk that reads “Hail to the Thief”

Even the offices of the First Lady showed signs of disrespect. A February 21, 2001, facility request form (Form No. 58369) shows a request to clean the carpet in the former First Lady’s suite (Rooms 100-104). At least four current staff members told the GAO that this office suite was trashed, including reports of pencil shavings, dirt, and trash covering the floor.

There were desk drawers that appeared to be intentionally kicked in, chairs with the backs broken off and upholstery slit on the seats. A number of the desks appeared to have been scratched with knives; multiple “big scratches with a sharp object”; other furniture had red pen marks and other stains. Glass in glass-fronted bookcase was broken with glass still sitting in cabinet." Even in the men's washrooms, messages were scribbled that read, “What W did to democracy, you are about to do in here” (observed by five persons).

The GAO report cites distinctions between the GAO's perception and the White House which seems to focus on the semantics of the report rather than the topic of their observations about the transitional damages, cost or accountability for the mess. Inside the real West Wing...

The new president’s first challenge, between election day and inauguration day, is to select some 30 people to serve in his cabinet and as his top White House staff. The cabinet includes the secretaries of the 14 executive departments plus an assortment of other top echelon jobs, such as the U.S. trade representative. The key White House staff includes the chief of staff, the national security adviser, counsel, press secretary, and the top economic and domestic policy aides. 2

Several veterans of tense transitions weighed in on the oft-told tale of the 2000-01 transition during which departing Clinton staffers were reported to have removed the “W” keys from the White House keyboards being inherited by employees of George W. Bush. When she moved in on Jan. 20, McBride said, she recalled no sabotaged keyboards but did encounter some messy offices and the empty hallways filled with trash and boxes from the departing employees. 3

In conclusion, The best way to avoid such partisan mischief, George Bush’s personnel director Clay Johnson once told Kumar, is to have adults there at the end.” Seriously?

  1. GAO-02 - 360 The White House
  2. First Impressions, A Look Back at Five Presidential Transitions, Stephen Hess, March 1, 2001
  3. Must Presidential Transitions End with ... sabotage?


  1. Great story, with excellent references. I'm happy to see someone putting this out there to the public. This was an act of grade school destruction by supposedly adult,intelligent people. And no one will ever convince me that the Clintons didn't know anything about it. They lived there, they worked there, it was their responsibility to see that the place was left usable by the next occupier. But the bitterness they felt was evidently too much for them. UGH!

    1. Thanks, Nancy. I wanted you to know this was inspired by your fb post this morning. Thanks so much for bringing this to light.

  2. And these are the people who are running our countries - the ones with their fingers on the nuclear button? Childish pique is no excuse for pointless vandalism by those who should know better.

    1. That is so true, Bill. It worries me that these high level employees were allowed to trash a solid symbol of our country.

  3. I wonder what the damage will be if Obama has to leave the White House to Trump?

    1. Good point, Barbara. It makes me wonder what kind of damage Obama inherited when he took office, if any.

  4. Taking all this into consideration I think that every new President and his family deserves to create their own special environment. Perhaps everything should be removed except say the furnishings in the Oval Office and then the new occupants decide how they want everything to be decorated and what furnishings they want. I know I would find it very distressing to sit in an armchair and discover unpleasant items or dirt found between the cushions. I dread to think what the Obama family will leave behind for the new occupant.

  5. Hi Rasma, I agree that finding soiled and vandalized seat cushions, broken glass, ground-in dirt and debris should not be part of taking on a new job in any office. In the White House, many of the furnishings are antiques that hold a 200+ year history including side chairs, desks, paintings. The actions described here seem to be an act of defiance and disrespect rather than ordinary wear and tear. Thanks for stopping by and taking time to comment.