slate working podcast

Listened to a great edition of the Slate’s “Working” podcast–an interview with Ms. Fiona Reeves, who work for President Obama as his Director of Presidential Correspondence. I just love any inside-the-White-House content, and this lady’s job is fascinating. Some takeaways:

  • It takes three weeks for a paper letter to get to the Office of Presidential Correspondence. Reeves calculates a week in transit (assuming regular first class postage), then two weeks for the letter to be screened for threats in the envelope.
  • The Obama Administration is the first to process email, forward it to the President, and respond
  • The Obama Administration discontinued accepting faxes as Presidential correspondence
  • Reeves and her staff select ten letters and/or emails a night to include in POTUS’ evening briefing book

Ms. Fiona Reeves and President Obama

It’s fascinating to see Barack Obama through the eyes of someone who has worked for him since OFA set up shop in New Hampshire, for the 2008 campaign. In some ways, Reeves fits the “Donna Moss” archetype from The West Wing, working for the campaign since the beginning, then going to a position in the White House, and staying for two terms.

The discussion about accepting email started the wheels in my mind turning. In “Enemies Foreign and Domestic” (West Wing S3E18), Charlie Young receives a letter routed to the Oval Office directly, because it had a private code number in the address that presidents use to bypass correspondence processing for truly personal mail. In the story, Bartlet chose the same private code number that FDR used. A letter from a boy who’d seen FDR speak in 1932 was delayed for decades, and made it all the way to the Oval because of that code. I assume that POTUS still uses a similar system, but I also wonder if President Obama has a private email that goes straight to him, or someone close to him, the electronic equivalent of that mail code? Sometimes I wonder if the issues of “private mail servers” that go back to the Bush43 administration start out with just the notion of a place where POTUS, or SecState, can talk to folks about simple things without someone reading everything they do/say. The rest becomes unintended consequences.

One final observation, totally off the topic of the interview: POTUS didn’t re-model the Oval upon taking office in 2009. They’re standing on the rug from the Bush43 administration in that photo. President Clinton had a dark blue rug–the Bartlet Oval was modeled off of Clinton’s. It will be interesting to see what Hillary does with the room.

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