What Is the Role of the White House Chief of Staff?

The White House Chief of Staff is an Assistant to the President of the United States. The Chief of Staff oversees the Executive Office of the President (EOP) of the United States. This office was created in 1939 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and is responsible for a variety of critical functions in support of the president’s work and agenda.

Primary responsibilities of the White House Chief of Staff

The duties of the White House Chief of Staff vary greatly in each administration, according to the needs and desires of each president. The position typically plays both a managerial and advisory role that encompasses several important functions:

  • Select and supervise key White House staff

  • Control access to the Oval Office and the president

  • Manage communications and information flow

  • Negotiate with Congress, executive branch agencies, and external political groups to implement the president’s agenda.

In fulfilling these duties, the Chief of Staff oversees and coordinates the efforts of the following offices within the EOP and White House Office:

  • Council of Economic Advisers

  • Council on Environmental Quality

  • Executive Residence

  • National Security Staff

  • Office of Administration

  • Office of Management and Budget

  • Office of National Drug Control Policy

  • Office of Science and Technology Policy

  • Office of the United States Trade Representative

  • Office of the Vice President

  • Domestic Policy Council

  • National Security Advisor

  • National Economic Council

  • Office of Cabinet Affairs

  • Office of the Chief of Staff

  • Office of Communications

  • Office of Digital Strategy

  • Office of the First Lady

  • Office of Legislative Affairs

  • Office of Management and Administration

  • Oval Office Operations

  • Office of Presidential Personnel

  • Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs

  • Office of Scheduling and Advance

  • Office of the Staff Secretary

  • Office of the White House Counsel

The average term-of-service for a White House Chief of Staff is less than three years. Many White House Chiefs of Staff are former politicians and many continue their political careers in other senior roles.

History of the White House Chief of Staff

Beginning with George Washington, each president employed a private secretary, but it was not until President Buchanan’s administration in 1857 that Congress created an official office called the “Private Secretary at the White House” and funded the position. During President McKinley’s administration, the official Secretary to the President was designated.

The Secretary to the President was a respected government office held by highly talented men and considered worthy of cabinet rank and an oath of office. The role combined personal and professional assignments that were highly delicate and required great skill and discretion. In contrast, the Appointment’s Secretary served to control access to the president and manage the president’s schedule.

In 1939, during President Roosevelt’s second administration, the foundation of the modern White House office was created. Congress, at President Roosevelt’s request, approved the creation of the Executive Office of the President, which reported directly to the President of the United States.

In 1946, the position of Assistant to the President of the United States was established and charged to oversee the affairs of the White House. In 1953, President Eisenhower re-designated the position as the White House Chief of Staff. This new system was not fully adopted immediately, however, as President Kennedy and President Johnson retained Appointments Secretaries.

The Chief of Staff became a permanent fixture of White House administrations beginning with the Nixon administration in 1968. Every president since has designated a White House Chief of Staff.