Press Briefing by Chief of Staff Leon Panetta
The Briefing Room
2:41 P.M. EDT
MR. PANETTA: Good afternoon. Today I am announcing a restructuring of the White House Staff. These changes, combined with the other recent procedural changes at the White House, are aimed at establishing clear lines of authority here at the White House, improving our efficiency and our effectiveness, and making sure that the abilities and the extraordinary commitment and the energy of the staff are put to their best possible use for both the President and the American people. The President concurs in these decisions.
The White House and this staff, I think, share a lot of credit for every one of the achievements that this administration has accomplished, whether it's the budget deficit or the economic recovery or the foreign policy successes or NAFTA, or GATT, or the crime bill or the other many achievements of the administration. And they deserve, I think, tremendous credit for those achievements. We have made important progress in addressing the fundamental issues affecting the lives and the futures of average Americans.
But it was also clear at the time that I took this job that additional steps needed to be taken to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of the White House.
With that in mind, what I did over the last two months was to engage in a thorough review of the White House operations. And that's what I've done. Over the last several weeks, I have sat down with all of the senior staff to get their views, to observe how they do operate, what responsibilities they have, and how the operations here basically serve the President. Some directly assisted me in this process.
During that time, as I've mentioned to many of you, there are really three fundamental goals that I have sought to achieve in this process. The first is to establish greater discipline within the White House. There were incidents that occurred that should not have occurred. Good judgment has not always been exercised. And while those situations were responded to swiftly, they should not have occurred. And so one of the goals here is to develop better discipline within the White House operation.
Secondly, there's a need for greater focus and for greater long-term planning. The President obviously has an ambitious agenda for the American people, much of it has been accomplished over these last two years. The White House needed to do a better job in terms of focusing on those key priorities and maintaining our focus, and we have begun to do that.
And, finally, there is a need for clear lines of authority for those who operate within the White House so that there is no question as to who is responsible for particular projects and particular responsibilities. That's something that we have sought to remedy already. The changes that I'm announcing today, I think, are aimed in particular at that problem.
I've implemented, as again, many of you know, a number of procedural changes within the White House to begin the process of addressing the achievement of the goals I've just mentioned.
For example, all of the decisions on personnel and pay, as well as official travel, must be approved by the Chief of Staff. In addition to that, presidential decision memos, policy briefings for the President, are now cleared through the Chief of Staff.
Today I want to describe to you the structural changes that we are making here in the White House staff, again in order to provide clear lines of responsibility, clear lines of authority, and try to improve the efficiency of the staff itself.
The changes, most of which will take effect on October 3rd -- there are some that will be longer, depending on the need for transition between individuals in those jobs -- I think these changes, again, are going to clarify the lines of authority that exist here.
Let me briefly summarize, if I can, the structural changes. First of all, there will remain, as there are now, two Deputy Chiefs of Staff. But what I'm doing is providing them with specific responsibilities. That was not always clear that each of the Deputies had specific areas of responsibility that they were assigned to. They did have specific jobs, but they did not have specific areas that they were responsible for in terms of policy.
So there will be two Deputies. The first will be a Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Political Affairs, and that individual will be responsible for, again, both policy and political issues affecting the White House.
The following offices within the White House will report to this Deputy: The Office of Political Affairs, Public Liaison, Intergovernmental Affairs, Cabinet Affairs and the Staff Secretary.
The second Deputy will be a Deputy Chief of Staff for White House Operations, so that the second Deputy will be specifically responsible for overseeing White House operations in particular. While Phil Lader now does do some work on the personnel side, he does not encompass authority over all of the White House operations.
That individual will oversee the following: He'll be responsible, obviously, for the day-to-day activities of the President, he will oversee access to the Oval Office, and those reporting to this Deputy will be the Office of Scheduling and Advance, Management and Administration, which also includes the Military Office here, Presidential Personnel; and I will establish a Director of Oval Office Operations.
Some key offices now will report directly to the Chief of Staff. Those offices are the offices of the Press Secretary, a Strategic Planning and Communications operation that we are going to be establishing, Legislative Affairs, and the Counsel's Office. In addition to that, there will be an Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff for Policy.
Reporting to the Chief of Staff as well as to the President of the United States are the policy councils -- the National Security Council, National Economic Council, Domestic Council. And then in addition to that are obviously the offices of the National Drug Control Policy, Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Environmental Quality.
Counselors to the President will also be reporting both to the President as well as myself -- the two Counselors, one is Counselor on Foreign Affairs, the other is the Counselor on Business Affairs.
Let me explain what we have done on the restructuring of the Office of Communications. Daily press responsibilities will be handled now by the Office of the Press Secretary. We are essentially establishing the Press Secretary's Office as a separate office in and to itself. The Press Secretary will do the regular briefings of the press, will be responsible for the day-to-day contact with the press. And serving with the Press Secretary will be a Deputy Press Secretary for Operations -- basically for management of the Press Secretary's Office.
There will be the new office that I mentioned, headed by a coordinator for strategic planning and communications. That office will be responsible for long-term communications, for strategy, for planning, for looking to the future, and trying to establish better direction in terms of policy for the future. The office will include some elements which are now operated under the Office of Communications, including planning and speechwriting as well as research.
Let me go down the names that will be occupying the positions I just described. The Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Political Affairs will be Harold Ickes. Harold is currently a Deputy but will have the title now of Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Political Affairs. Reporting to him will be Joan Baggett, who is Director of Political Affairs; Marcia Hale, who continues as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs; Alexis Herman, as Director of Public Liaison; Christine Varney, who is Cabinet Secretary; and John Podesta, who is Staff Secretary.
The Deputy Chief of Staff for White House Operations will be Erskine Bowles. Erskine, as you know, is currently Administrator for the Small Business Administration. He's done an excellent job with that agency. It is an agency that in the past has been seriously neglected. The President takes the mission very seriously and the work that Erskine has done has really represented, we think, a wonderful job in terms of managing and directing that agency.
The President has asked Erskine to come to the White House to assume that role. He will be here. And I will mention that Phil Lader will be nominated to head the Small Business Administration.
Reporting to Erskine will be the following: The Deputy Assistant to the President for Management and Administration, that's Jodie Torkelson, who I appointed a few weeks ago; Veronica Biggins, who will continue as Director of the Office of Presidential Personnel. The Director of Scheduling and Advance will be Billy Webster. Billy is currently the Chief of Staff at the Department of Education. He's extremely capable, was recommended highly by Secretary Riley and we look forward to having him here. He is already in the process of beginning to work with Ricki Seidman in that transition.
Ricki, as many of you know, has already informed the President that she is leaving the White House. She will become the Executive Director of Rock the Vote, which is a national voter registration campaign. She has, let me just say, worked very hard in what I think is one of the most difficult and consuming positions in the White House. And she's done an excellent job. And we'll miss her. But we're glad that she has this other opportunity and will continue her commitment to service as well as to democracy.
Nancy Hernreich will become Director of Oval Office Operations. She currently works near the Oval Office. She will assume larger responsibility of controlling not only working with the President in terms of his work within the Oval Office, but controlling access as well.
And, finally, reporting to the Chief of Staff are the following: George Stephanopoulos will be Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff for Policy. George will be working with me in that capacity. He's, in fact, been doing that ever since I've come here from the Office of Management and Budget.
Tony Lake, Bob Rubin, Carol Rasco continue in their current roles as head of the National Security Council, the National Economic Council, and the Domestic Policy Council.
And also continuing their present roles are, obviously, Lee Brown, who's head of the Office of Drug Control Policy, and Jack Gibbons, who's head of the Office of Science and Technology.
On the Council of Environmental Quality, we are announcing a reorganization of the environmental operations within the Executive Office of the President. And the Office of Environmental POlicy will be merged into the Council of Environmental Quality. The CEQ: was a council that at one point we were trying to see if we could reorganize out of existence. Congress did not go along with us on that, and under law we are required, then, to maintain the Council; and as a result it will be subsuming the responsibilities of the Office of Environmental Policy.
We will be nominating -- the President will be nominating -- Katie McGinty, who is now Director of the Office of Environmental Policy, as Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
Press Secretary to the Press Secretary will Dee Myers. And both the President and I have full confidence in her ability to handle that role. She will be an Assistant to the President, she will have direct access to the Oval Office, and we have full confidence that she has the ability to fulfill that responsibility.
Evelyn Lieberman, who is currently Maggie Williams' assistant in the Office of the First Lady, will become Deputy Press Secretary for Operations. Evelyn, as some of you may know, was Senator Joe Biden's Press Secretary before she came to the White House. She has a tremendous amount of press experience and a tremendous amount, more importantly, of management experience. And we are looking forward to her taking that responsibility.
Mark Gearan will serve as Coordinator of the Strategic Planning operation that will operate under the Chief of Staff. This is going to be a very important role because that's an area that, as I said, has not been that strong in the past. We have had this, what I think, is a confused role between the Director of Communications and the Press Secretary, and we have not had clear direction with regards to the strategic planning that ought to be done on the communications side, vis a vis the day-to-day responsibilities of the Press Secretary. And the effort here of the restructuring is aimed at more clearly defining those responsibilities.
Mark has made a tremendous contribution in this area. He's basically been working on these issues. And what we basically want to focus on, again, is not just the day-to-day; we want to focus on the long-term. That is one of the areas that we think demands important attention for the future.
Pat Griffin will continue as Director of Legislative Affairs. Ab Mikva was, as you know, announced by the President as the new Counsel, White House Counsel. He will be coming aboard on October 1 when Lloyd Cutler leaves office.
Mack McLarty, Dave Gergen are the Counsellors. David Gergen, Counsellor on Foreign Affairs, and Mack was announced at the time I took this job, will be Counsellor particularly focusing on business affairs.
Let me make the following additional announcements. Phil Lader, as I said, who has served as Deputy Chief of Staff, will be -- and before that, incidentally, was Deputy to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget -- and a damn good one, I might say -- will be nominated to be the Administrator of the Small Business Administration.
Phil has done a great job in government. He's first and foremost a businessman. He knows the problems facing small businesses in this country. And he knows how to run a large operation. And so for that reason the President believes that he is the individual who can carry on the work of Erskine Bowles.
In addition the President is elevating the SBA Administrator to his Cabinet so that Phil will sit as a member of the Cabinet, similar to the way other members, such as Lee Brown and others, participate in Cabinet affairs.
Bruce Lindsey, who is now a Senior Adviser to the President, will serve as Deputy Counsel, a Deputy Counsel for Special Projects.
In addition I'm announcing the appointment of Marine Colonel Alan P. Sullivan as Director of the White House Military Office, effective November 1. Colonel Sullivan is currently the Military Assistant to the Director of Defense Research and Engineering. The Defense Department's Chief Technology Executive -- that's the role he currently serves in -- he will be taking over that office. The office will continue to report to the Office of Management and Administration. Al Maldon, who has been in that position, will return to the Office of Legislative Affairs, where he served previously.
Let me conclude by saying this: Obviously reorganization, sometimes there is a very heavy emphasis on looking at reorganization and moving boxes around and lines of authority. The real test of any restructuring still rests with the quality of people that hold these responsibilities, their commitment and their dedication to doing a good job. The members of the White House staff, as I've said, are capable, incredibly hard-working, and dedicated -- perhaps the most dedicated of any staff I've worked with in terms of serving this President and the Office of the Presidency, but most importantly, the American people.
These individuals, like the President they serve want nothing more than to do whatever they can to improve the lives of citizens in this country. That's why they came to Washington and that's why work for President Bill Clinton. This is an honor and a privilege to serve in the White House. Let me repeat that: It is an honor and a privilege to serve in the White House. But we all serve at the pleasure of the President.
It is without doubt, I think, the most challenging work that I've every engaged in. The long hours, the hard work, the pressures all can take there toll. And the personal and family lives of these members sometime suffer the consequences. And perhaps the White House Press Corps, better than many others, understands what I'm talking about and have experienced it yourselves. These are tough jobs.
The President of the United States appreciates the hard work and the commitment, the long hours that people put into these jobs. He wants the work to pay off. We all do. And it's my hope that the changes that I have announced today, combining with those that we have already begun to implement, will enable the staff to be much more effective on behalf of the President, but more importantly, on behalf of the American people.
Q: Can you tell us honestly whether or not you did believe that Ms. Myers should be replaced and whether, as sources are telling us, the President intervened at the last minute to ask that she be allowed to stay?
MR. PANETTA: No. I saw some of those stories and they are not true. What I've done is basically review all offices. I've reviewed the Press Office. I've reviewed all of the offices within the White House, and have made recommendations obviously here with regards to restructuring with regards of the White House.
The President made the decision, along with myself, yesterday that Dee Myers ought to be our Press Secretary under this restructured approach to the Press Secretary's job. We have full confidence in her. We've given her now full access; she will be an assistant to the President. We will have a separate office for the Press Secretary. That, I think, is the way a Press Secretary should operate in terms of the job. Dee, we think, can to an excellent and outstanding job in that capacity.
Q: Some of her close associates say that, in fact, she was told that her job would be given to someone else and that she came back and fought for her job and that this was a last minute reprieve.
MR. PANETTA: The job was never offered to anybody else except Dee.
Q: What about the reports, Mr. Panetta, that Mike McCurry had basically been told that he was going to come over here; that is wasn't a final deal, but that Dee would have some sort of other job involving a travelling White House press secretary type of job.
MR. PANETTA: I've talked with Mike McCurry. I've talked with a lot of people who probably carry a biography that could fit that job. The reason I've talked to a lot of people is to understand that job, the nature of the job, the work that it needs to do; and it was based on a lot of conversations that I recommended the restructuring of that job, along with taking with Dee incidentally -- that the job itself had to be restructured, that there was confusion between the Director of Communications and the Press Secretary as to who, in fact, was responsible for the day-to-day press briefings. And as a consequence of focusing on that restructuring, it was our view that if we restructured the job, provided the kind of status, access that job ought to have, that Dee could perform that role.
Q: After two months, you've come up with this restructuring, but it's the fourth time that Bill Clinton's White House has gone through this kind of upheaval and change. What makes you think this will be any different in terms of getting things done and accomplishing the President's goals? Could the problem be in the Oval Office?
MR. PANETTA: Look, I think it's pretty clear that any operation, any president, any White House has to ultimately be judged by the record that we achieve on behalf of the American people. And I guess what I would ask is that the American people and all of you need to look at that record of accomplishment. You know, we can spend a lot of time on the day-to-day news stories and rumors that break out in this place about who is here and who is there.
Q: Clearly, you're not satisfied or you wouldn't be doing this.
MR. PANETTA: But the bottom line -- look, the bottom line is the record that we have achieved. And the record that we have achieved, whether it's on the economy, whether it's on the issues that I mentioned with regards to crime, whether it's in getting the crime bill through, whether it's the issues related to education or foreign affairs, we're getting the job done.
Q: Then why are you making changes?
MR. PANETTA: Well, what I'm trying to do and what was clear at the beginning was to try to improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of how the staff does its job. There were problems; there's no question about it. Every operation has its problems, and the White House had its problems. And what I'm trying to do in this reorganization is address those problems so that we can become a more effective and efficient operation; that's the purpose.
Q: Mr. Panetta, you made quite a point when you took this job of saying that the President had given you full authority to do whatever you wanted to. A lot of people inside the White House say that he overruled you last night on the Myers-McCurry scenario. I mean, do you feel like you have the full authority to do what you want?
MR. PANETTA: The President gave me full authority. It was the same authority I received at the time from the First Lady and from the Vice President, and I have exercised that authority. There was no difference here; the President and I both made the recommendation with regards to Dee, and that decision was made, and Dee took that job.
Q: late-night meeting all about then?
MR. PANETTA: There wasn't a late-night meeting. That's why I'm --
Q: Never happened?
Q: Evening meeting -- early evening meeting.
MR. PANETTA: I did not have a late-night meeting with her. The recommendation was made --
Q: Ms. Myers and the President's evening meeting.
MR. PANETTA: The President and I made the decision with regards to Dee, and Dee accepted that decision, and we have full confidence in her ability to do the job.
Q: Mr. Panetta, you say that you've now given Dee Myers full access to the Oval Office, and that's the way a Press Secretary should operate. Why didn't she have it before? What's changed in your thinking --
MR. PANETTA: I think part of the problem related to the structure of that office. You had a Director of Communications, and that individual was supposed to be the person that Dee reported to. And so there was a confusion about who had total responsibility for the day-to-day press operations there and there was a confusion, whether it should -- is it Mark, is it Dee; who is responsible for dealing with press contacts during the day. And so the real question was to provide a separate Press Secretary's Office, divide the responsibility, the access and the status that job needs. And I think in doing that, we assure that Dee has a better chance to fully fulfill her responsibilities.
Q: Is there any expectation that this a short-term move for Dee and that she will be moving on to something else at the end of the year, or is this a permanent commitment, a long-term commitment?
MR. PANETTA: It's permanent as far as the President and I are concerned.
Q: Didn't you go to Dee yesterday and offer her and describe to her a job that is different from the job that she now is being given today? And didn't you tell Mike McCurry that if there was a vacancy in the White House Press Secretary's job, that job would be his? Because I have to tell you that many of us are sitting here, listening to your explanation, and it is completely at odds with what we're being told by many, many other people in the White House.
MR. PANETTA: I'd just have to tell you in this town, there are rumors, there are stories that I read every day that have no factual basis to them.
Now, you're asking me a question based on the stories that you hear. I'm just telling you what we decided, and what we decided -- the President and I decided -- was not only in the restructuring of the office, but the fact that Dee would assume that role.
Q: What about the specific question that she just asked you?
Q: Could we follow up back here --
MR. PANETTA: -- the first question --
Q: The first question was, didn't you go to Dee and offer, describe to her a job that was not the Press Secretary's job that you wanted her to take, and that she rejected? And didn't you go to Mike McCurry and say if there was a vacancy in the Press Secretary's job that you wanted him to have it?
MR. PANETTA: There is only one job that I offered Dee and the President offered Dee, and that was the job of being Press Secretary.
Q: May I follow up on two things, please? Are you denying that she had a meeting with the President last night?
MR. PANETTA: I'm not aware of -- to be truthful, I am not aware whether she did or did not have a meeting with the President. I was not there.
Q: On the foreign policy staff, is this a firm decision, or might there be changes down the line?
MR. PANETTA: We all serve at the White House at the pleasure of the presidency. But the President has full confidence in his foreign policy team, and he's got full confidence in the changes that I've made here. And this is the team that will work with the President in terms of serving him in the White House.
Q: How does he feel about the report today about conflict between the State Department and the NSC?
MR. PANETTA: Again, I really think at this time when we're facing the issues that we've got to face in Haiti, it doesn't serve anybody's purpose to engage in commenting on those kinds of stories.
Q: Does the President have full -- does he have full confidence in the Secretary of Agriculture? And is he troubled by the fact that the Secretary of Agriculture has had to pay back a whole lot of money, essentially for using government facilities for personal reasons?
MR. PANETTA: The President has confidence in the Secretary of Agriculture. Obviously the matters that are involved in this case are currently being reviewed -- reviewed by the Office of Ethics, reviewed by our Counsel's office, and the same thing is true, obviously, with regards to Secretary Cisneros.
Q: Why is it after 20 months in office, the President had to decide who he wanted as his Press Secretary?
MR. PANETTA: The President has decided who he wants for his Press Secretary, and that's Dee Myers.
Q: Why did he have to redecide?
MR. PANETTA: He didn't have to redecide. He decided, and we got it done.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:10 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Chief of Staff Leon Panetta Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269550