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Adding Up the White House Pay Freeze

POSTED: 12:06 PM ET, 01/22/2009 by Derek Kravitz

President Barack Obama has pledged to freeze the salaries of about 120 staffers in his administration who make more than $100,000 per year, saving the government about $443,000 next year, a data analysis shows.

"During this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington," Obama said at a press conference to announce the freeze, along with new lobbying and transparency rules.

(Ironically, the $443,000 amount is the same figure executives from bailed-out American International Group Inc. spent on a lavish, week-long get-away to the St. Regis resort in southern California in late September.)

Thanks to Dan Froomkin's handy annual list of White House salaries, we can add up how much the White House might be saving.

Since 2003, when the maximum salary of the White House's upper echelon was $151,000, the top pay has gone up between 1.7 and 4 percent per year. Last year's increase was 2.5 percent, bringing the maximum pay to $172,200.

There are 18 White House staffers who make the top salary under the president and vice president, according to figures made available last year under former President George W. Bush.

(Update: The White House says legislative affairs assistant Jonathan Samuels will not make more than $100,000 under President Barack Obama.)

Some of those positions are now held by chief of staff Rahm Emanuel; press secretary Robert Gibbs; National Security Adviser James Jones Jr.; legislative affairs assistant Jonathan Samuels; speechwriter Jon Favreau; communications chief Ellen Moran; White House counsel Greg Craig; the first lady's chief of staff, Jackie Norris; and staff secretary Lisa Brown.

Based on a 2.8 percent annual cost-of-living and merit increase (the average by the White House over the past five years, according to Froomkin's numbers), staffers making $172,200 will miss out on a raise of about $4,822 next year. Those earning $102,000 will miss out on about $2,856 extra.

By Derek Kravitz |  January 22, 2009; 12:06 PM ET
Previous: Battle Over Bailout Rules, Banks Skirt Supervision, New Era of Openness? | Next: GAO Pegs Top Government Challenges of '09


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Unfortunately the author did not mention that Bush raised the pay via Executive Order 13483 a month ago (December 18th 2008). Here is a link to the order on the National Archives website:

So this is nothing more than lip service from Obama. This is very poor investigative reporting.

Posted by: ericstratton | January 22, 2009 12:54 PM

Washington Post reporter or Obama and his staff, there is no integrity there. Just more phony political plays. Really contemptible...all of them.

Posted by: LarryG62 | January 22, 2009 3:07 PM

While I respect his decision, I respectfully disagree. The president should raise the salaries of his top staff and generally those in government. This would send a powerful signal of the value of government service, and would attract much needed talent to their pool.

Posted by: AgentG | January 22, 2009 3:11 PM

I disagree with the salary freeze on two counts:

The sacrifice appears to be only one-sided

Posted by: MylesSchulberg | January 22, 2009 3:35 PM

"While I respect his decision, I respectfully disagree. The president should raise the salaries of his top staff and generally those in government. This would send a powerful signal of the value of government service, and would attract much needed talent to their pool"

Ok time to put down the crack pipe and back away from the keyboard.

Laughing so hard at this person's post it hurts.........

Posted by: onefranklin | January 22, 2009 3:35 PM

I disagree with the salary freeze on two counts:

- The sacrifice appears to be only one-
sided, on the part of employees but
not on the part of the employer;

- A pay freeze on White House
staffers help will not help those
others who are economically hit?

Posted by: MylesSchulberg | January 22, 2009 3:40 PM

Hey Eric Stratton...

Have you seen Obama's new Order...before you claim that Obama's Order is just lip service? If Bush raised salaries for next year...but Obama froze them from that point on (until further notice, or whatever his Order says)...what's the issue?

Posted by: juraski | January 22, 2009 3:43 PM

If our Elected Representatives and their toadies had to be accountable, and compete in the Real American Work Environment, they would have been downsized, Out-sourced, given Pay-Reductions;

and we'd have Vincente Fox slipped in as President-W/ no bennies! ;~)

Posted by: SAINT---The | January 22, 2009 3:44 PM

Please continue to list all of the bad reasons a NU President had for cutting $443, 000 from a budget that includes 875 billion? It's called 'setting the example'. Duh.

Posted by: Mitchavery7 | January 22, 2009 3:59 PM

When the administration gives bailouts and stimulus to some, yet asks others to sacrifice, what kind of example is that?

Posted by: MylesSchulberg | January 22, 2009 4:12 PM

Making $100,000 - while great money in many parts of the country - is not going to put anyone in the lap of luxury in DC. Those of you who live here know the cost of living is among the highest in the nation. I suspect many of the people coming to work in the new Administration are taking pay cuts to begin with.

You can't buy a home in this area (average price in DC is probably at least 350K) with an income of $100,000. I think freezing salaries sends a good message - even if it seems the amount is trivial, he didn't have to do it but he still is (and you know there aren't any members of Congress who will follow suit).

Posted by: TessDC | January 22, 2009 4:14 PM

I think it's a great decision! Government jobs are about being in SERVICE not about getting rich. This move has integrity, is thoughtful, and says "We in government do not deserve more than anyone else."

I see a lot of sour grapes coming from the right in commentaries, in Congress...hey you folks, it's time to put aside your ideology and get with doing what's right for the people. Bush had 8 years during which he wreaked havoc on the world, on our economy, on the Constitution. You all had your turn and you screwed things up royally. Now bow your heads, have some humility, and do the right thing for a change.


Posted by: mtnmanvt | January 22, 2009 4:18 PM

Are u guys serious....

If he dosen't do anything people start talking and saying the President isn't doing anything.

Now he does something good and people are questioning it.

Think about it for 2 seconds....
These people are making $100....or more
and for 1 year. 1 little year they wont get a raise. Yet people are questioning that. lol

But if Obama does nothing people talk. If he does something to help the economy poeple talk. Its not enough....or he should have raised the

That f....g stupid. y the fu.k would you raise salary in this economy. It may not help that much but it helps a little.

Just think about what youre writing before you write it.

The overall thing is the economy is bad and Obama did something to help.

Posted by: 1skinfan | January 22, 2009 4:24 PM

Mitchavery7, MylesSchulberg has a point. But, I agree that it's a token decision in all ways. If salary freezes were to continue for years, then it would be a concern.

Honestly, I'm much more interested in Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposal that all state legislators stop drawing any salary should they fail to meet the state mandated deadline for a budget. Again.

Posted by: Kili | January 22, 2009 4:29 PM

Symbolism doesn't pay the bills. All Obama did was ensure that the talent on his staff will leave for better-paying jobs.

Posted by: InTheMiddle | January 22, 2009 4:35 PM

Obama is setting the example for the rest of government as well as the private sector. He did this on DAY ONE! It isn't the total savings to government that is relevant in this action by Obama, but that he doesn't expect America to do anything he isn't willing to do himself. Bravo President Obama.

Posted by: fishingriver | January 22, 2009 4:48 PM

Note on previous executive orders regarding government pay:

Michael Orenstein, a spokesman for the federal government's Office of Personnel Management, said an executive order signed by former President George W. Bush last month increasing the salaries of white-collar employees, including GS and SES-level workers, would not apply to President Obama's staff. Their salaries are set at the discretion of the president.

Posted by: kravitzd | January 22, 2009 5:02 PM

It's a great idea. As budgets are cut by executive staff making salaries much higher than those of the positions being cut sends a message that people at the top are taking the budget constraints seriously...and taking a portion of the hits themselves.

Posted by: las100 | January 22, 2009 5:13 PM

Today the reporters were asking how much of a pay cut the President will take to live up to his part of the deal. Of course it makes no sense at all to ask that. But it seemed to fit. No deal. No cut. Just trying to get a headline.

Posted by: gary4books | January 22, 2009 5:15 PM

LOL! Ahnold the Governator, and Mittster WORK FOR FREE!-At least when in Elected Office!

O'Bomba-Nation is a "Poser" when it comes to setting anything like an example!

But wait, he can't be a "Poser". That is not Machiavellian at all!

Posted by: SAINT---The | January 22, 2009 5:31 PM

This freeze is like Warren Buffet saving a dime. It is ridiculously absurd but it will play well with the average Obama supporter who has not got a clue. How about freezing the entire Federal budget like McCain suggested?

Posted by: hz9604 | January 22, 2009 6:09 PM

What the article SAYS is that Obama is freezing the salaries of people in HIS administration THAT MAKE OVER $100K/yr. That's about 120 people (according to the article). THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE THE REST OF THE FEDERAL GOV'T. Bush's order 13483, mentioned in one of the posts here, simpy establishes minimum and maximum pay amounts.
It does NOT mean those people would automatically get raises. That is misleading (by the article). It is only a guideline for min/maximum pay.

Posted by: erykah32 | January 22, 2009 6:18 PM

"...the average Obama supporter has not got a clue?" *LOL!!!*

Well, I guess Bush supporters do have a clue and certainly know it all.


Posted by: erykah32 | January 22, 2009 6:22 PM

Obviously, freezing salaries for White House staff is not going to help our economy. It's a statement from the President intended to send a message that the government will try to set an example. I do wish that folks who post don't automatically label people as "from the right" or "liberals" if they post a critical comment. The days of "Bushies" or "right wingers" is over. Continuing to blame everything on "the right" or "the left" doesn't solve our current problems.

Posted by: logan303 | January 22, 2009 7:01 PM

Hey Eric Stratton...

Have you seen Obama's new Order...before you claim that Obama's Order is just lip service? If Bush raised salaries for next year...but Obama froze them from that point on (until further notice, or whatever his Order says)...what's the issue?

i think his point is that no one with any sense of good taste is going to raise white house salaries twice in one year. so obama is trying to sell a normal move (not raising salaries that have already just been raised) as something unusual that he should get special credit for.

its just fun to point out that obama is, above all else, a brillantly cynical politican.

and its fun to watch so many self-styled smart people fall for it.

Posted by: dummypants | January 22, 2009 7:37 PM

Just because Obama is doing something that Bush would never do, all of a sudden he's cynical? LMFAO! So sorry it burns so much - this is exactly what we've had to endure for the last 8 years as our government has disintegrated into a warped facimilie of those who we seek to destroy. Suck it up guys, you have 8 more years of tears. Boo hoo!

Posted by: pricetheo | January 22, 2009 7:51 PM

our marvelous mayor here in NYC accepts only$1.00 as a salary--shouldnt everyone in the present administration do the same? We need to attract more people willing to do this so, we get the best minds--also there is no way that our President can say your salary is frozen--imagine someone saying get someone else. Power corrupts and absolute power....
I find having a captive audience and saying your salary is frozen, offensive.

Posted by: plener | January 22, 2009 8:25 PM

As symbology, this was OK. But none of these people would be due a raise until a year from now anyway, and some are topped out --- won't get a raise no matter what.

I'll be impressed if a year from now we find that no raises are given. From other things he and supporters have said, we should be able to learn this via the all singing, all dancing, fully "transparent" White House web site.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | January 22, 2009 8:40 PM

You better believe that once WH staffers leave for another job they will be making five to ten times more. So if I were in their shoes I would say, fine. It's a small price to pay now for a big payout later.

EXAMPLE: Does anyone know how much Stephanopolous(sp?) is pulling in a year??? A LOT.

Posted by: PGirl | January 22, 2009 9:47 PM

So many who comment about the pay freeze announced by President Obama, seem to be those why still have an Agenda, simple, that he won the election.

It is right for Government to set an example that in the next 12 months there will be no pay increases for senior staff at the White House.

But taking this salary subject serious, it is disgusting the salary that these top people such as the President who runs the country are paid and senior staff, when you take into consideration the salaries the top execs in the Banks received and it is those who have got us into this problem in the first place.

Posted by: jaybs1 | January 23, 2009 3:27 AM

Barack is going to freeze his staffer's pay at 100, how come he doesn't follow suit and do the same? He's going to sit back with 400 a year and make all these remarks about sacrifice and public service but won't even hold himself to the same standard? The amount Barack will make in a year is almost equal to the amount he has proposed to save by enacting the freeze. What a phony!

Posted by: mcallisw | January 23, 2009 4:27 PM

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