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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Blake L. Gottesman
Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations

November 14, 2008

Blake L. Gottesman

Good afternoon, thanks for joining me today to discuss the Presidential Transition!

The peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of American democracy. With our nation at war, the homeland under threat of attack and with the economy facing serious challenges, a smooth presidential transition is more critical than ever before, and that’s a big reason why the President is committed to making this the most effective transition ever.

To accomplish this goal, Agencies and Departments have been working for many months now, and in some cases more than a year. In October, The President signed an Executive Order creating the Transition Coordinating Council (TCC) to help coordinate the Administration's robust preparation for the transition. The Council has met three times, most recently this week, and will do so again soon.

Since the election, we have been working closely with the President-elect's transition team to make sure that they have everything that they need to be ready to govern effectively on January 20, 2009.

Now, I am happy to answer some of your questions!

Courtney, from Dallas writes:
Does the new First family have the authority to change the private living quarters of the White House; ie, paint rooms, change furniture, etc?

Blake L. Gottesman
Thanks, Courtney. I’m always glad to hear from a fellow Texan. As your question suggests, the White House has several parts, including the West and East Wings, State Floor, and the Private Residence. The First Family of course spends most of their personal time in the Private Residence, and this is the area where they can change the décor to suit their own tastes and styles. I’m sure that the Obama family will have a great time making the private quarters feel like their own home.

Randall, from Washington writes:
Blake,Great job you and the PTC have been doing and will continue to do to ensure the stability of the government during the transition. Can you tell us about the logistics of when and how the current President actually has to "move-out" of the White House and when the president-elect "moves-in"? It seems like this too has to be a well coordinated effort.


Blake L. Gottesman
Great question. In many ways very much like any family’s move, except it all happens in a few hours. The Bush and Obama families will both be ready for the move on the morning of January 20, 2009, and the moving trucks will be ready and waiting. On that day, the incoming First Family will arrive at the White House to greet the current First Family; then they travel to the Capitol for the Inauguration festivities. While they’re at the Capitol, President and Mrs. Bush’s personal items will be moved out of the Private Residence, and President-elect and Mrs. Obama’s boxes will be brought in. When the Obama family returns from the Capitol to their new home, they’ll be welcomed by a gracious and lovely staff at the White House, who have already unpacked their boxes.

Making all of this happen smoothly requires a lot of planning by the superb career staff here at the White House, the staff who stay from Administration to Administration, and by the current and next First Families.

Nathan, from Milton Union High School writes:
Where is the Vice President's house located?

Blake L. Gottesman
Since 1977, the Vice President and family have lived in a beautiful home at the Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. For more information about the Vice President’s Residence, visit: /history/life/vpresidence.html

Jon, from San Diego writes:
I can't seem to find a definitive answer to this question: does the president pay for meals in the White House. There is the story of Nancy Reagan being surprised to get a bill, but then there are other, conflicting reports. What's the real story?Thanks

Blake L. Gottesman
The First Family pays for their meals at the White House.

Brian, from Shanghai, China writes:
Who started the tradition of leaving a note on the Oval Office desk for the incoming President?

Blake L. Gottesman
I’m not sure who started the tradition. I know it dates back at least several decades, and I think it’s a wonderful tradition. In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, the President talked about how much he appreciated the graciousness with which President Clinton welcomed him in 2000; that of course includes the note President Clinton left for President Bush on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office on January 20, 2001. President and Mrs. Bush enjoyed welcoming the President-elect and Mrs. Obama to the White House this week. If you want to see photos from that visit, visit: /news/releases/2008/11/images/20081110_p111008cg-0373-515h.html

Daniel, from Jacksonville, Fl writes:
What would be the best way to say thank you to President Bush and Mrs. Bush for their service to our country?

Blake L. Gottesman
That’s very kind of you, Daniel. I know that the President and Mrs. Bush would love hearing from you. Fortunately, their address is easy to remember:

The Honorable and Mrs. George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

shannon, from east peoria, IL writes:
When did you start becoming interested in politics?

Blake L. Gottesman
Thanks for your question, Shannon. My first experience with public service came in the form of a high school internship in the Texas Governor’s Office. Working on a presidential campaign and then at the White House has been an incredible honor.

Glynis, from Nocona, Texas writes:
When a new President takes office, does the butlers, maids, chefs, and personal staff lose their jobs?

Blake L. Gottesman
There is a terrific staff of chefs, butlers, electricians, plumbers, gardeners, housekeepers, and ushers in the Executive Residence of the White House. Many have served for several Administrations, including some who have served at the White House for more than 30 years. This wonderful group of people has come to know and love many First Families. I’m certain that the Obama Family will be welcomed with the same warm hospitality and affection.

Sergei, from Philadelphia, PA writes:
As a White House tradition, the incoming President and First Lady will will be given $100,000 to spend for White House renovations. Do you know what theme or color of carpet of the Oval Office Mr. and Mrs. Obama have chosen?

Blake L. Gottesman
Great question. I don’t know how President-elect and Mrs. Obama will choose to decorate the Oval Office or the Private Residence. I look forward to reading about it when they do!

Steven, from Coachella, Ca writes:
Hi Blake, Thanks in advance for taking my question. I am about your age. How did you get your start and where can i apply for the new administration?

Blake L. Gottesman
Thanks for asking, Steven. If you’re interested in working in the Obama Administration, visit, where you can find links to an application.

As I told Shannon, I began with a high school internship in the Texas Governor’s Office. After spending a year at Claremont McKenna College (a great place, by the way), I joined the Bush for President campaign in 1999. After spending almost 18 months on the campaign, I was fortunate to be asked by then President-elect Bush and then-Chief of Staff-designate Andy Card to join them at the White House. After spending the first five-and-a-half years at the White House, I left to pursue my MBA. This summer, I was asked to come back to the White House as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. I’m excited to be back and looking forward to a busy and interesting 66 days.

Cliff, from Brimfield, Ohio writes:
Mr.Gottesman:I have read in the past that some pranks or worse have been done durning the transition period. I all so read that the President has promised a smooth transition. When does the first transition meetings get underway? And does that mean the coming in's get to work or watch the going out's? Or just how are things transfered? P.S. Will you be moving on or maybe get an offer to stay in some capacity? Thank You

Blake L. Gottesman
Thanks for the good question, Cliff. When the President spoke to the Executive Office of the President staff on the South Lawn just two days after the election (/news/releases/2008/11/20081106-1.html), he made clear to all of us his commitment to effect a seamless transition. He also told us: "As we carry out this transition I know that you will continue to conduct yourselves with the decency and professionalism you have shown throughout my time in office."

The federal government began preparing for the transition many months ago, and in the case of some agencies, more than a year ago. Starting this summer, we began meeting with transition representatives of the major-party candidates. Since President-elect Obama won the election, we have continued to work closely with his team to help make this the best and most effective transition ever. I communicate several times a day with senior members of the President-elect's Transition Team. His transition staff are also in contact with agencies across the Executive Branch, and transition team members will begin visiting some of those agencies for briefings and meetings next week.

P.S. After my service at the White House is complete on January 20, 2009, I will get a lot of sleep -- and then return to the private sector.

Blake L. Gottesman
Thanks for your questions. I’ve got to get back to the transition. We only have 66 days left. Now I know what the President meant about “sprinting to the finish”.

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