School & District Management Federal File

A Short Leash?

By Michelle R. Davis — April 12, 2005 2 min read
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Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings knows her way around the White House. She spent four years there as President Bush’s domestic- policy adviser before moving over to lead the Department of Education.

But President Bush is now requiring all Cabinet members to hold weekly office hours at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the massive granite structure just west of the Executive Mansion. The goal is to provide a greater opportunity for Cabinet secretaries to meet with White House staff members and be more involved in policy decisions, said Maria P. Tamburri, a White House spokeswoman.

In a story reported by The Washington Post late last month, Ms. Spellings endorsed the idea and called mandated time at the White House “a very efficient way to work” that gives her regular face time with key officials and Mr. Bush.

“I just think it keeps us connected to each other,” she told the Post. “It also helps guard against the us-against-them mentality that can develop between agencies and the White House.”

But Paul C. Light, a professor of public service at New York University, said the requirement is particularly “silly” for someone such as Ms. Spellings who already has the ear of the president through her long working relationship with him. In addition to her time working in the White House, Ms. Spellings was Mr. Bush’s top education aide when he was the governor of Texas.

“She has a permanent pass to the White House, I’m sure,” Mr. Light wrote in an e-mail last week. “Any Cabinet member who would actually spend four empty hours a week in the [Eisenhower Building] ought to take a good hard look at how they can spend more productive time back at their real office.”

Ms. Spellings holds regular office hours in the Eisenhower building once a week in a suite set up for the Cabinet members, said Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education.

“She is able to meet with several key White House aides on a regular basis during her time over there and also meet with outside groups as needed,” Ms. Aspey wrote in an e-mail, “and given the very busy life of a Cabinet secretary, this one-stop shop makes for an efficient use of her time.”

But Mr. Light argues that the mandated time in a building close to the center of power is especially unnecessary for someone like Ms. Spellings. “It’s time at the White House that matters most,” Mr. Light wrote, “and Spellings has a standing invitation to stop by any time she needs to talk.”

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