A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Top 20 White House Raises


Q: Is a chart claiming to show the "top 20 raises" to White House staffers accurate?

A: It's misleading. The salary increases for 19 of the 21 employees listed resulted from promotions. Average pay for White House staff actually declined.

FULL QUESTION

Please check date and accuracy of raises to executive staff. Thank you.

White House Raises . . . What!
Observe the raises given to Obama Administrative Staff below !
[EET ]

Here are the raises given to the Obama staff.  The rest of the country is in a mess of hurt and people are lucky to have a job let alone be getting raises.

Obama's conclusion "We all have to tighten our belts", but obviously this doesn't apply to government employees !
 

And the D.C. professional politicians don't understand why we're all mad as hell! 
[/EET]

FULL ANSWER

A larger version of the chart can be found here at Gawker — a gossip site that published the chart to accompany a July 6 article headlined "White House Staffers Got a Raise Last Year, And You Did Not." The White House told Gawker that the new salaries were the result of promotions or increased work responsibilities. We reviewed the White House salary data and found that 19 of the 21 staffers listed in the chart received both salary increases and new job titles. (Yes, there were 21 staffers, not 20, in the chart.) The majority of those promoted — at least 11 — received the same or less pay than their predecessors. And overall, the average pay of White House staffers actually declined.

Since the story first appeared, this chart has gone viral. It has been picked up and circulated through emails — typically without the original story. The salary figures and percentage change are correct in the chart. They were taken from the 2010 and 2011 annual reports to Congress on White House staff. The data, which can be downloaded, lists the title and annual salary of every White House office employee.

At the top of the chart is Matthew Vogel, who received a $59,100 pay increase in 2011 — the largest dollar increase on the list. That was the result of a big promotion. Vogel served as the associate director of communications for economics in 2010. He was promoted to special assistant to the president for economic policy in 2011, with his annual salary increasing from $71,400 to $130,500. Vogel is now receiving the same salary as Peter P. Swire, who held that job in 2010 before leaving to become a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

Salaries for other "special assistant to the president" titles showed that $130,500 per year has been the standard for the past three years — with no increases for those holding those jobs.

The largest percentage increase went to Kevin Lewis, who saw his salary rise from $42,000 to $78,000 — an 86 percent salary hike. He was promoted from press assistant to director of African-American media at a slightly lower salary than his predecessor. Lewis replaced Corey A. Ealons, who earned $79,560 as the White House director of African-American media in 2010. Ealons left the White House to become a senior vice president at VOX Global, a public affairs and communications firm.

As we said, 19 staffers on the list received promotions in 2011. Of those, 14 were promoted into existing job titles — including Vogel and Lewis — making it easy to compare their salaries with their predecessors. Of the 14, six received the same pay, five received less, and three received more.

What about the other five promotions? Well, it's not possible to make direct salary comparisons in those cases because job titles changed. For example, Jessica Wright went from being deputy director of scheduling for the president in 2010 to deputy assistant to the president and director of scheduling in 2011 — a clear promotion from deputy director to director. But her current job title didn't exist in 2010 exactly as it is now. 

There were two notable exceptions: Heather Zichal and Andrea Turk, both of whom received big raises with no change in title.

Heather Zichal has served as the deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change since 2009. In 2009 and 2010, her annual salary was $100,000. In 2011, her salary jumped 40 percent to $140,000 per year. Andrea Turk served as the director of information services, starting in 2010. Her salary went up 40 percent from $50,000 to $70,000 per year in 2011, even though her title remained the same.

Upon taking office, Obama imposed a salary freeze — which is still in effect — for White House staffers earning more than $100,000. Turk was earning less than $100,000, and Zichal was at (not above) $100,000. So technically, even Zichal's pay raise didn't violate Obama's promise.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz explained the White House salary increases this way to Gawker:

Schultz, July 6: Pay increases were given for a variety of reasons, ranging from promotions to additional work responsibilities.

We asked Schultz specifically about Zichal and Turk, and he did not go much beyond his response to Gawker. "In both instances, because of restructuring, both staffers assumed additional work responsibilities," he told us.

Zichal's job title did not change, but she took over the responsibilities of her former boss, Carol Browner, who had been the assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Browner was not replaced and Politico wrote a profile of Zichal in April that said she "took over the energy and climate portfolio this year from Carol Browner." Browner earned $172,200 in 2010.

The bottom line, however, is that White House salaries — both overall and on average — decreased this year.

Our analysis of the White House data shows that 466 paid staffers received a total of $38.8 million in salaries in 2010, an average of $83,254. In 2011, 451 paid employees received a total of $37.1 million for an average of $82,309. (In both years, there were three unpaid staffers listed in the annual report to Congress.)

Below is our chart of the White House staffers who appeared in Gawker's top 20 list. We included job titles along with their salary increases, so you can see that in nearly all cases the salary increase came with a new job title. The two staffers whose titles did not change are in bold.

Name 2010 Title 2011 Title Increase in Salary
Matthew Vogel Associate Director of Communications for Economics

Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy

82.77%
Heather Zichal Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change 40.00%
Kevin Lewis Press Assistant Director of African-American Media 85.71%
Elizabeth Olson Deputy Director, Presidential Correspondence Special Assistant to the President and Director of Presidential Correspondence 43.79%
Jessica Wright Deputy Director of Scheduling for the President Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Scheduling 34.16%
Lauren Paige Director of Special Projects for Communications Special Assistant to the President and Director of Message Planning 53.23%
Elizabeth Nelson Associate Director of Scheduling Deputy Director of Scheduling 63.40%
Ashley Tate-Gilmore Associate Director and Travel Manager Director of Travel Office 63.40%
Carlos Monje Jr. Senior Policy Advisor for Social Innovation and Civic Participation Special Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff of the Domestic Policy Council 30.72%
David Cusack Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Advance Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Advance and Operations 27.45%
Kimberley Harris Special Assistant to the President and Associate Counsel to the President Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President 21.46%
Jonathan Samuels Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs and House Liaison 21.46%
Thomas Vietor Assistant Press Secretary Senior Director and National Security Staff Spokesman 34.62%
Frederico Gardaphe Assistant Director Deputy Director 50.00%
Denis McDonough Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Council Chief of Staff Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor 16.75%
Johanna Maska Special Assistant and Press Lead Deputy Director of Advance and Director of Press Advance 42.60%
Kwesi Cobbina Staff Assistant Chief of Staff, Office of Legislative Affairs 54.76%
Semonti Stephens Associate Director and Deputy Press Secretary to the First Lady Deputy Communications Director 40.06%
Amanda Anderson Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff Senior Legislative Affairs Advisor 33.33%
Stacy Koo Deputy Associate Director Deputy Chief of Staff for Presidential Personnel 36.36%
Andrea Turk Director of Information Services Director of Information Services 40.00%

 

— Wendy Zhao and Eugene Kiely

Sources

"White House Staffers Got a Raise Last Year, And You Did Not." Gawker. 6 Jul 2011.

White House. "2010 Annual Report to Congress on White House Staff." Undated, accessed 3 Aug 2011.

White House. "2011 Annual Report to Congress on White House Staff." Undated, accessed 3 Aug 2011.

White House. "Annual Report to Congress on White House Staff." 1 Jul 2009.

Carnevale, Mary Lu. "Obama Freezes Pay for Top White House Officials." Wall Street Journal. 21 Jan 2009.