Presidential Office FAQ

Presidential Office FAQ

Presidential Office FAQ

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 21 2001 5:58 PM

Presidential Office FAQ

How much do taxpayers spend on office and staff for former presidents?

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Last year, a little more than $2 million for the four former presidents: Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Bush. The budget for each was: Ford $509,000; Carter $398,000; Reagan $600,000; Bush $554,000. Since we have a new former president, the tab will go up considerably. For the first 30 months after leaving the White House, a president is entitled to $150,000 with which to pay staff, with no one getting more than $141,300. After that 30 months, he has $96,000 a year to spend on staff. (The president himself gets $157,000 a year in a pension, equivalent to a Cabinet officer's salary.) There is no statutory limit on the amount a president can spend on rent for his office--hence the flap over Clinton's initial choice of Midtown Manhattan digs that would have cost around $800,000 a year in rent. His office uptown in Harlem will rent for $210,000 a year.

Can a former president have an office anywhere he likes?

Yes, as long as it's in the United States. (Note to Republicans: It would be illegal to force Clinton to have an office on Elba.) There is also no necessary connection between a president's office and his library. Carter's office and library are both in Atlanta, but Ford's office is in Rancho Mirage, Calif., and his library in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Reagan's office is in Los Angeles and his library is in Simi Valley, Calif.; Bush's office is in Houston, and his library is in College Station, Texas; and Clinton's office will be in New York and his library in Little Rock, Ark. After an ex-president chooses digs he likes, the General Services Administration, the federal agency that has jurisdiction over the offices of the former presidents, negotiates a lease. A former POTUS can choose the fanciest neighborhood around, just not the priciest office--the GSA is required to pay what is a fair market rate in an area.

Where is Clinton's office now?

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In his home in Chappaqua, N.Y. (Note to Clinton from an Explainer who works at home, too: Never turn on Oprah, and never have Häagen-Dazs in the house.)

Since Ronald Reagan is stricken with Alzheimer's, how come he is running the most expensive former presidential office?

The 1958 act that authorized staff and office space for former presidents has no provision for closing an office due to incapacity. The cost is because Reagan is in an expensive city and has the greatest amount of space of all the formers--6,799 square feet. Ford has 4,039; Carter has 4,951; and Bush has 5,198. As for what kind of work goes on in a former president's office when there is no former president there, well, Reagan's chief of staff said she was too busy to explain.

Richard Nixon resigned from office; does that mean he didn't get a publicly funded office and staff?

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No. A president has to be removed from office in order to have that perk taken away. (For the reason why Nixon has no official presidential library, however, see this Explainer.)

Is there any effort to limit the size of presidential offices?

Yes. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., chairman of the subcommittee that oversees GSA's funding, has been inspired by Clinton's search for office space to consider legislation to create standards for presidential offices. In the 1980s some members of Congress proposed limiting the amount of time a president could have a government-funded office, but nothing happened.

With the $96,000 to spread around, how many staffers does each former president hire?

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Ford has four publicly paid employees, one volunteer, and one intern; Carter has one publicly paid employee and 11 volunteers; Reagan has four publicly paid employees, 10 volunteers, and two interns; Bush has eight publicly paid employees and four volunteers.

Does the government furnish and equip the former president's offices?

Yes. The statute calls for an "appropriately" furnished office, which the GSA translates into Cabinet officer style. The formers also get everything from computers to paper clips.

What happens to a former president's office when he dies?

His staff is given several months to close it out, doing things such as finishing correspondence and sending papers to the presidential library. Government-paid-for furniture and equipment goes back to the GSA. All leases for formers negotiated by the GSA have clauses that terminate the lease upon the president's death.

Explainer thanks Viki Reath of the GSA and Micah Swafford of Rep. Istook's office.