An uncommon background for chief of staff

Most chiefs of staff have White House experience.
Most chiefs of staff have White House experience.
Illustration: From a government photo.
On any one of a million websites, John Kelly, new chief of staff at the White House, is described as President Donald Trump’s last hope. Kelly is expected to bring order to the chaotic administration and somehow control the country's unpredictable and tempestuous commander in chief. No pressure.

     But for all the great expectations, Kelly’s background is unlike most others who have held the position, according to a Pew Research Center analysis published today. First, the background: 

What does the chief of staff do? A chief of staff is a gatekeeper and adviser. He determines who will have access to the president. The position is “a necessity in the modern White House,” and “now a permanent part of the institutional landscape,” concluded David B. Cohen, a University of Akron political science professor, in a 2002 academic study focusing on the administrations of presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
    Still, it is a relatively new job. The first person to take the position, John Steelman, worked for President Harry Truman. Kelly, 67, is the nation’s 32nd chief of staff, according to Pew.

About Kelly: Before becoming chief of staff, Kelly was secretary of Homeland Security. But most of his career was spent in the U.S. Marine Corps.
    He enlisted in 1970 and was discharged as a sergeant in 1972, according to his biography on the Homeland Security website. He went to college, graduating from the University of Massachusetts in 1976 and then became a commissioned officer in the Marines. Four decades later, he retired as a four-star general.

White House drama: Trump’s first chief of staff was Reince Priebus. Previously Priebus served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was also former chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, according to the PolitiFact Wisconsin website.
     In the months following Trump's inauguration, much of the president's agenda was not realized, and Priebus, 45, took the blame. He resigned in July.

Kelly to bring order: Trump asked Kelly to leave Homeland Security and take the chief of staff position. Kelly agreed.

The Pew analysis: In a review of the biographical information of chiefs of staff, most of Kelly’s predecessors had experience either in politics or in the White House. Among those who held the position, 19 had experience in other White House jobs. One example is Leon Panetta, who served as chief of staff to Bill Clinton. Before taking the job, Panetta was director of the Office of Management and Budget, according to a government biography on the U.S. Department of Defense website.

Military experience: Several chiefs had military experience. Even so, Kelly’s military background is uncommon for chiefs of staff. Before Kelly, the last high-ranking officer to take the job was Alexander Haig during Richard Nixon’s administration, according to Pew. 

     To know more:


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