Trump's Schedule and the Value of the President's Time

Back in my time as the battalion S2 (intelligence and security officer) of the 1st Battalion, 3rd Air Defense Regiment, Fort Carson, Colo., I needed to get an appointment on my battalion commander's schedule.  I got with the battalion S1 (personnel and administration officer, also known as the adjutant), the man who handled the commander's schedule.  I looked at the calendar, and I saw one day after another with hours free.  The adjutant looked at me and said, "No, Mike, he's not available."  I asked what's up, and he said, "Mike, on day one of me becoming the adjutant, he laid down a rule.  I cannot block his schedule for more than half of the day unless he approves it first.  And don't take this the wrong way, but you're not that important."

I got on the calendar in two weeks, and I learned a lesson about senior executives.  They husband their time more than any asset they have.  They need to.  I spoke with the commander about that some time later, and he said, "Mike, it's not personal, but if I let people fill up my schedule, they will fill up my schedule, and then some.  I need to read things, review, think, react to unforeseen events.  I can't do that if I don't have time."

Fast-forward a couple of years later.  I'm the acting aide-de-camp (the actual aide was gone for the weekend) for the commanding general of my reserve unit.  I looked at his schedule, and I saw "Chief of Staff meeting, 1500 hours," and I brought him in.  I didn't know that that was on his schedule only for his information; he didn't attend meetings like that.

Afterward, I apologized to both the commander and his chief of staff, and the general said, "It's OK.  Honest mistake."  We discussed something about a senior executive's time.  The general, in the "real world" (what reservists and national guardsmen call their civilian jobs), was a senior executive of the Louisiana Health Care Authority, which manages the state's public hospital system.  He oversaw a multi-billion-dollar budget and multiple hospitals over the state, meeting with the governor and several senior state legislators regularly.  He was a big fish in his profession.

"Mike, the higher you go, no matter the occupation, the less control you have over your schedule.  You didn't realize I don't go to that meeting.  My regular aide would have known not to bring me in.  You know for next time."

I bring up these two life experiences to put the most recent White House "crisis" into prospective.  Axios, an online "news" source, has obtained copies of President Trump's Oval Office schedule.  The site is "shocked! shocked, I tell you!" that he is not booked up from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.  No kidding, guys: Most president's schedules are not that filled.  I don't recall the Fourth Estate getting outraged by then-president Obama not getting into the Oval Office until after 9:00 A.M.  And if they have a competent staff, they should have less and less time taken.

In reading Chris Whipple's The Gatekeepers, you get an idea of how much a strong and effective chief of staff makes a president's job easier.  Ronald Reagan came into Washington, D.C. as an outsider, and he needed someone with the phone number of every power broker on his Rolodex.  Jim Baker, the ultimate insider, guided the Reagan agenda through a hostile House and RINO-dominated Senate.

Bill Clinton was notoriously undisciplined, always wanting to engage in debate, failing to make a decision, rescinding a decision after it was made.  His first chief of staff would not stop people from entering the Oval Office area and failed to keep a disciplined area for Clinton to work.  His successor, Leon Panetta, brought order to the president's inner office and instructed the president on the need for him to make the decision and then let his staff work.

I bring these examples up because the effectiveness of a president is determined not by the number of visitors he has in a day, but by how effectively he uses his time.  Eisenhower, soon after entering the White House, had an aide bring him an unopened envelope.  Ike corrected the man immediately: he was never to bring him something unopened again.  Eisenhower expected that by the time it reached him, his staff would have read through it and taken care of the immediate tasks it may require – and then, if it required presidential knowledge or decisions, then they would bring it to him.  It's not that Ike was lazy, but his attention was needed on higher items.

Jimmy Carter, initially upon entering the White House, decided not to have a chief of staff.  From the N.Y. Times:

The Carter transition team is now debating their [sic] remedies for these organizational ailments.  In deliberate contrast [to] the Nixon Presidency, Mr. Carter has declared he will have no White House chief of staff as a gatekeeper.  Instead, he wants a circle of advisers, all with direct access to him, like "spokes on a wheel."

This new form of organization led to Mr. Carter handling things he was not qualified for, such as reviewing the White House tennis court schedule.  Hamilton Jordan was brought in as chief of staff in 1979, but by then, the Carter presidency was on its last legs.  A belief among some intellectuals at the time was that the presidency is too big for one man, and the United States needed to look at adding a prime minister.  No, the presidency was not too large; the man in the office was too small.

Is Trump Reagan?  Hell, no.  Is he Clinton after Panetta rode in and shaped him up?  I can't say so.  But is he walking around listless, watching TV, eating hamburgers, and letting others make decisions for him?  No.  Trump was a senior executive a long time before he took a stair ride down and declared for the presidency, before Barrack Obama was a no-nothing state senator or U.S. senator, and before George W. Bush made and lost his fortune.  He is not going to sit out the last two years of his term, in spite of what propagandists like Axios, the NY Times, et al. say about him.

Michael A. Thiac is a police patrol sergeant and a retired Army intelligence officer.  When not patrolling the streets, he can be found on A Cop's Watch.