The Nerve Center: Lessons in Governing from the White House Chiefs of Staff

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In what James A. Baker III has called the “worst job in Washington,” the chief of staff orchestrates the president’s conduct of the U.S. government. He holds the unique responsibility to magnify the time, reach, and voice of the president of the United States. “You need a filter, a person that you have total confidence in who works so closely with you that in effect he is almost an alter ego,” Gerald Ford has said. In this volume, resulting from the Washington Forum on the Role of the White House Chief of Staff held in 2000 in Washington, D.C., twelve of the fifteen men who have held the office of chief of staff discuss among themselves and with a select group of participants the challenges, achievements, and failures of their time in that role. Their purpose is to find lessons in governing that will help future chiefs of staff prepare to assume the office and organize the staffs they will lead. These pages of frank and uncensored discussion present in straightforward question-and-answer format the voices of the chiefs of staff themselves concerning the transition from campaign to governance, with its reorganization and refocusing of the president’s team, the reelection drive four years later, and eventually, the closing out of an administration. The group also addresses the place of the White House chief of staff within the larger governing community of the Executive Branch, Congress, interest groups, and the press. The American White House sits at the nerve center of world history, and at the core of this nerve center, a massive bureaucratic operation exists to process the flow of information and policy. The White House chief of staff manages that operation. So important has that office become, that to ignore its requirements risks presidential fate itself and indeed, the fate of the republic.
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Editorial Reviews

Roman Popadiuk

“. . . a very well rounded and detailed analysis of the role of White House Chief of Staff. . . . A key strength of the book is the presentation of views by many former Chiefs of Staff, thereby presenting the reader with an inside and authoritative view of what the position entails. . . . Sullivan does an excellent job in meshing the views of the panelists into his analysis of the Bush transition. . . . offers valuable information to scholars as well as the general public.”--Roman Popadiuk, George Bush Library Foundation
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Terry Sullivan is an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina. On a two-year appointment to the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University, he initiated and helped to run the Washington Forum on the Role of the White House Chief of Staff. His numerous articles on the presidency have appeared in the American Political Science Review, The Journal of Politics, Congress and the Presidency, the Presidency Studies Quarterly, and the American Journal of Political Science. In addition, he is the co-editor of The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations, also published by Texas A&M University Press
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Read an Excerpt

From the foreword by James A. Baker III: "When you realize that even though the White House chief of staff has tremendous power, he or she, nevertheless, is not a principal but only a staffer face it, it's right there in the title then it is easy to understand why some people also characterize it not just as the second-toughest job in Washington but as the worst job in Washington. As the only person in history who was dumb enough to have taken the job twice in his life, I confess that I was sometimes inclined to agree with that characterization."

About the Editor:
Terry Sullivan, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was for two years the director of the Presidential Transition Project at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University, where as part of that effort, he coordinated the Washington Forum. In addition, he is the co-editor of The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations, also published by Texas A&M University Press.

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Table of Contents

Governing from the White House : a foreword
Two operational dilemmas : an introduction 3
Ch. 1 Members of the Forum 15
Ch. 2 Starting the White House 22
Ch. 3 Refocusing the White House 47
Ch. 4 Campaigning, routine, and closing out 77
Ch. 5 In the governing community 108
Assessing transition 2001 : an epilogue 125
Sponsors' acknowledgments 167
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