The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008


For Some WH Aides, Public Service Has Its (Six-Figure) Rewards

By Michael D. Shear
The magic number in the Obama White House appears to be 172,000.

Dollars, that is. Per year.

Twenty-two of the president's top aides -- most with the title "assistant to the president" -- make exactly that much in exchange for their service to the country, the White House reported to Congress today. The Obama administration also published the information on the White House blog.

Those making the magic number include 28-year-old Jonathan Favreau, the president's wordsmith (director of speechwriting), and 66-year-old James L. Jones, the national security adviser.

One person in the White House -- other than the president himself ($400,000) -- is listed as making more than $172,000: David E. Marcozzi, the president's director of public health policy, is described as a "detailee" from the Department of Health and Human Services and receives $192,934 for his work. (Vice President Biden and his staff are not included in the White House report.)

On the other end of the scale are Michael J. Warren, a senior adviser for the department of personnel, and Patricia G. McGinnis, who is listed simply as "adviser" to the president. Both make nothing, according to the official salary list.

In between are 462 other employees who make from a low of $36,000 to a high of $163,940. For the utterly curious, the report -- which has been provided to Congress every year since 1995 -- is searchable and sortable on the White House Web site.

There are a few gems in there. Deputy Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer makes a bit more ($150,000) than his wife, Sarah Feinberg, who earns $120,000 as the top staffer to Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

But the gender tables are turned in the case of assistant press secretary Tommy Vietor, who recently proposed to Michelle Obama's press secretary, Katie Lelyveld. At $84,000 a year, she makes significantly more than her soon-to-be-husband ($57,500).

The vast bulk of the employees appear to earn between $40,000 and $55,000 per year, making the White House quite a modestly paid enterprise for most of the workaholics who spend time there.

The list of the $172,000-a-year men and women of the White House:

David Axelrod, Melody Barnes, John Brennan, Elizabeth Brown, Carol Browner, Gregory Craig, Thomas Donilon, Anita Dunn, Rahm Emanuel, Jonathan Favreau, Patrick Gaspard, Robert Gibbs, Valerie Jarrett, James Jones, Christopher Lu, Alyssa Mastromonaco, James Messina, Peter Rouse, Philip Schiliro, Susan her, Lawrence Summers and Mona Sutphen.

Posted at 6:30 PM ET on Jul 1, 2009
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Those complaining that these administrative people do not deserve a six figure salary are people who do not have one themselves and would not be capable of doing the job that it would take to get one.

Posted by: Gator-ron | July 2, 2009 3:01 PM

The interesting thing about competence is requires competence to recognize it. Good Ol' Boys are attracted to Good Ol' Boys and competent people are attracted to competent ones. Paul O'Niel was gotten rid of because he did not fit in with the Bush cabinet and Powell was let go when he was no longer politically necessary.

I always chuckle when someone uses bozo to define Obama when the president's voters were more educated than his opponent's. After eight years of the most incompetent government, be it FDA, SEC, Justice, Interior or foreign policy, we never had government that was as poor as now and that includes during the time of my least favorite president, Nixon.

Posted by: Gator-ron | July 2, 2009 2:57 PM

And, of course, we have the "private jet" priveleges, the type that the CEO's have been told is inappropriate, considering the state of the economy.

Posted by: Spiritquest1 | July 2, 2009 2:48 PM

To Larry G62:

You're a few months late complaining about the incompetence of the president who ruined the economy. You can go back to sleep, now.

Posted by: bflorhodes | July 2, 2009 2:40 PM

I think its quite telling that the same people who think private sector folks are "greedy" and "overpaid" also think these politicians and enablers to politicians (who are supposed to be public servants) should be earning more.

Posted by: Q_ball | July 2, 2009 10:32 AM

They may have the same top salaries as Bush staffers but different caliber. There is a related post at

Posted by: carlyt | July 2, 2009 10:10 AM

This article was in this week’s Federal Computer Week . The implications are enormous. I You just thought the Bushes and Chenies had left town. In this case this would mean ALL FEDERAL faculties. The way the current Federal laws are written boys and girls that also means ANY and all Federally covered facilities which means believe or not your phone, mail box, the public library, the Post Office, the National Parks and in short ANY places that the Federal Government would have jurisdiction. Sharing means the already existing law enforcement intelligence centers located in ALL 50 states and in many cases includes your local cops. It also would allow law enforcement the ability to tap into that little computer on the dash board of the cop car.

DHS to sweep up more data on employees, contractors New data elements include financial history and mother's maiden name

o By Alice Lipowicz

o Jul 01, 2009

The Homeland Security Department is updating and expanding its record collection to include new categories of personal information on all employees, contractors and volunteers who regularly need access to DHS facilities. The new categories of information include maiden name, mother's maiden name, clearance level, identifying physical information, financial history, duty date and weapons-bearer designation, states a Federal Register notice on June 25 .

Other information to be collected includes date of birth, Social Security Number, organizational and employee affiliations, fingerprints, digital color photograph, digital signature and telephone phone numbers.

The Personal Identity Verification Management System is being updated to support implementation of the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 that covers physical and logical access to federal facilities. Public comment will be taken until July 27.

The system covers all DHS employees, contractors and their employees, consultants and volunteers who require long-term access to DHS facilities and computer systems, the department said. The system also has been expanded to cover federal emergency responders, foreign nationals on assignment and other federal employees detailed to DHS.

Personal information that is provided to DHS may be shared in DHS, as well as with appropriate federal, state, local and tribal agencies on a need-to-know basis, the notice states.

Posted by: KBlit | July 2, 2009 10:00 AM


Please do something about THIS:


• Bush-legacy extrajudicial targeting/punishment network makes a mockery of the rule of law at the grassroots-- violating civil and human rights.

• Is Team Obama unaware, naive -- or purposely misled by Bush holdovers?

President Obama is being co-opted into becoming the enabler of a federally-funded and overseen "multi-agency coordinated action" program of nationwide extrajudicial targeting and punishment...

...a vigilante Gestapo that is misusing federally-funded volunteer programs to subvert the rule of law -- deploying a civilian vigilante army that covertly implants GPS tracking devices to stalk, persecute, vandalize and harass unjustly targeted citizens and their families.

This secretive multi-agency "program" also misuses government surveillance operations to censor, and maliciously tamper with, the telecommunications of many thousands of the unjustly targeted -- and funnels surveillance data to citizen "gang stalker" harassers.

An array of "programs of personal financial destruction" decimates the finances of "target" families -- contributing to economic distress. And microwave "directed energy weapons" are being used to degrade their very lives -- a gross violation of human rights, government-enabled crimes against humanity.

And no authorities will investigate -- invoking the "Gulag" tactic of dismissing those who seek justice as "delusional."

Please, Team Obama: Wake up and smell the police state that is co-opting your administration and making POTUS a pitchman and enabler for an American Gestapo.

OR (if link is corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | July 2, 2009 8:06 AM

Martial |
At $400k, we're paying way too much to the incompetent who is destroying our economy, taking over private companies, and pandering to the perverse.
This leftist bozo spends taxpayer money like it's his, and he really needs to be fired.
Of course by the time that occurs, we'll be up to our ears in his debt, our security will be weakened, and inflation will be out of control.
Most CEOs do have at least a bit of knowledge about their job, unlike this dolt.

Posted by: LarryG62 | July 1, 2009 10:16 PM

As a guy that makes that kind of money ... so what. I presume the staff making that salary are in important roles and I would hope that the President would try to recruit and retain the best possible staff for those positions. Guess what ... smart capable people make real money, and they are just the kinds of folks we need in those positions.

Now, if it's a political spoils issue and the all-so-rans are getting put in these top spots, that's a problem. But until an issue like that is revealed, I say spend what you need to attract the best talent and let's solve some problems ... we do have a few you know.

Posted by: facts-please | July 1, 2009 10:12 PM

Last I checked this was the Washington Post..right... which means people who live in the DC metro are the primary readers...right. To people in that region is 172,000 to advise the head of the largest enterprise on earth sound like to much money??

I know IT personnel of mid size companies in the DC area and other places who make that kind of money some years. All of these people ,particularly Emanuel and Axelrod, could be make millions in the private sector. This article is silly.

Posted by: case3 | July 1, 2009 10:10 PM

Tread carefully, losthorizon10. Anyone who criticizes a newspaper for publicizing the release of a government report (strictly on the basis that it might provoke a reaction from somebody) runs the risk of sounding like a ... wingnut?

Posted by: bobsewell | July 1, 2009 9:57 PM

jbritt3 - There are two things wrong with your comment, as an example of rational commentary. One is that you've completely ignored the fact that this was not a piece of investigative reporting, it was merely passing along the release of a report by the White House, as you and I and any other reader should expect from any decent "newspaper of record". The other is that you seem to give no consideration to the fact that it's only been a few hours since the information was released, and any particularly deep examination of the figures (what was or wasn't included, how it compares to other administrations' numbers) will probably take a little time. Sheesh! A fair commenter would note these things.

Posted by: bobsewell | July 1, 2009 9:44 PM

Big deal. They deserve more. Can't the Post find anything better to do than try to stir up the wingnuts?

Posted by: losthorizon10 | July 1, 2009 9:40 PM

Not only are the salaries not excessive, they are underpayments. The President, at $400k, is an incredible bargain compared with most CEO's. The real shockers are salaries in the $40-60k range. Try living in the DC area on that amount. Do they at least provide housing for these folks?

Posted by: Martial | July 1, 2009 9:38 PM

There are two things wrong with this post, as a matter of reporting. One is that it makes no comparison with salaries in the Bush White House, so that readers can't tell if President Obama's top-dollar staffers are any more numerous than those in the last admininstration. The other is that it merely notes without comment that Vice President Biden's staff is not included on the White House salary list. Why is this practice of the last administration being continued in Obama's? A reporter would ask.

Posted by: jbritt3 | July 1, 2009 9:32 PM

To be fair, those jobs probably entail a lot of work -- 99% of which is finding ways to keep Biden's foot out of his mouth.

Posted by: BO_Stinks | July 1, 2009 9:25 PM

catmomtx - Did you actually read the article and/or the comments? Very few negative comments about the size of the salaries, actually.

Posted by: bobsewell | July 1, 2009 9:24 PM

I don't understand the negative comments here. No one seems to mind when CEOs of companies , athletes and actors make mega dollars but let someone actually working for WE THE PEOPLE and there are complainers. There are a lot of people working in a variety of government positions who don't get paid what they should because people whine about their pay and benefits. Police, Fire, Social Workers even garbage collectors. Bottom line, we get the country we pay for. To bad so many of you want a great country but are to selfish to pay for it.

Posted by: catmomtx | July 1, 2009 9:22 PM

These people don't make much more than I do, and I don't have near their pressure. I don't begrudge them their hard-earned salaries (though they'll cash in when they re-enter the private sector, don't forget that).

Posted by: gbooksdc | July 1, 2009 9:14 PM

I wouldn't criticize these 172k a year folks working closely with Obama. I am sure they earn their money with the hours they put in. Plus think about the risk. I read that some of the Bush inner-circle weren't having an easy time finding work. They were just a bit too toxic unless the prospective employer was the Heritage Foundation or Carlisle Group.

If you really want to see who is fleecing the public trough, look at the 1,000s of SES-level employees at every agency whose contribution to anything is questionable. They might make 150k instead of 172, but probably work half as much and produce even less.

Posted by: BurtReynolds | July 1, 2009 9:11 PM

arlowe - I completely agree with your political judgment that $4 million bucks or so seems fairly reasonable for the senior staff of the CEO of the entire freakin' US. But I question you (along with several others who've commented here) on your journalistic judgment when you claim that, because you and I don't find these numbers out of line, that the reporting staff should not pass the information along to us.

Ummm... isn't that kinda what we pay newspapers to do for us?

Posted by: bobsewell | July 1, 2009 9:11 PM

These people probably work 80 plus hours a week and are on call the rest of the time. If any of these people worked in the private sector they would make considerably more than they make at the White House. These are not unreasonable salaries for high level executives. You report this as though these people are gouging the American Public. I don't know if a 28 year old deserves $172K but whether you like them or not Obama's speeches are effective so he probably does. It is very likely that people in these positions in the Bush Administration made comparable salaries. If they made considerably less then this is a story. If not, then this is nothing more than making a mountain out of a mole hill. Is Michael Shear a reporter or a pundit? If he's a reporter he ought to be shot for writing an "article" or even a blog that clearly shows his bias. If he's a pundit then why is he writing anything for the Washington Post?

Posted by: arlowe | July 1, 2009 9:03 PM

This is not a function of Democrats or Republicans. This is like any other organization - some are appropriately compensated, some are undervalued (even when you factor in "perks"), some are grossly overpaid. I know of at least two people named or listed in the piece who could command much higher salaries in the private sector (pretty sure both have), and who are putting in well in excess of a 5 day, 40 hour week. I'm sure there are some relative freeloaders in there too. And I'm pretty confident you'd find a similar distribution in the staffs of most - if not all - prior administrations.

Posted by: noybizz | July 1, 2009 9:01 PM

People who work for the government know they are just stealing from the American people. Just wait and see what taxes obozo is about to lay on the lower and middle classes. It's funny actually because they all voted him into office.


As one of those obozos I'd gladly give up some money to make my progeny's lives better than mine.

The unpatriotic, selfish greed of the right is a shame on this country. They are only willing to give up some one elses blood for dumb wars.

What this country needs right now is a whole lot of sacrifice. And I'd happily live bread and water to insure a brighter future for my kids and as well as yours.

Posted by: AverageJane | July 1, 2009 8:54 PM

@ maphound - Could you point me to this government, because it sure pays a lot better than the one I work for! The full salary line is utter BS as you know. In reality, FERS is 1% of salary per year worked. So, I guess that works out to about 8% for these folks if Obama gets re-elected.

Free housing? Hah! Free car? Double-hah! The "gold plated" medical care is an HMO. Not necessarily a bad one, just no better than others out there. So, I'll return you to your fantasy land.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | July 1, 2009 8:46 PM

Is this before or after the tuition reimbursement, annual bonuses, and other "transparent" largesse?

Posted by: JoeTH | July 1, 2009 8:41 PM

benminer aker asks, "What is the point of reporting this?"

I guess I'm just old-fashioned, but I actually kinda LIKE it when newspapers report stuff like this, so I can decide whether I think it's important. Do you honestly think that the newspaper staff should be making those decisions for you?

Posted by: bobsewell | July 1, 2009 8:41 PM

How many of these people are czars who circumvented any vetting by the American people (ie the Congress who arguably really don't represent the American people anymore) and who shouldn't exist because we already pay cabinet secretaries to oversee these areas?

Posted by: bandmom22 | July 1, 2009 8:33 PM

What I would ask is how do these numbers compare to Bush?

Or any other recent president?

Posted by: mcgrafto | July 1, 2009 8:30 PM

But how many hours do they work a week or month or year for these salaries? Are these the people who meet for a committe once a month for a couple of hours?

And what aboiut all of their perks? You know, the free car and insurance, free meals and free housing, etc., etc.

On top of that, are they going to get a full retirement pension with the same salary when they finish serving their term for Oboma?

This is how our government operates. Crime may not pay, but "working" for the government is more lucrative and even legal!

Posted by: maphound | July 1, 2009 8:29 PM

Considering how much many of his top campaign workers could be out making much more money in the private sector, I'd say the price I'm paying for their talents in helping to run the country is a real bargain.

Posted by: AverageJane | July 1, 2009 8:22 PM

There is nothing at all improper or unusual for a successful professional in the Washington region to earn this salary. What is the point of reporting this?

Posted by: benminer | July 1, 2009 8:19 PM

People who work for the government know they are just stealing from the American people. Just wait and see what taxes obozo is about to lay on the lower and middle classes. It's funny actually because they all voted him into office.

Posted by: charlietuna666 | July 1, 2009 8:18 PM

If there is nothing illegal about these amounts, why are you writing this story in such a way as to raise questions about the salaries? If it is illegal to pay these people the amount of money you state, then the White House should be held accountable and charged with whatever law is being broken.

Did you bother to write this information, Mr. Shear, about previous administrations? Or is this just another WaPo pick on the Obama administration article or blog or whatever you want to call it?

Posted by: marmac5 | July 1, 2009 8:12 PM

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