How exactly does the president-elect get all his stuff into the White House?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Jan. 9 2009 5:36 PM

First Movers

How exactly will Obama get all his stuff into the White House?

See all of Slate's inauguration coverage.

Moving. Click image to expand.
A moving van is parked outside the White House

After Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20, he and his family will move into the White House. But how exactly will the president-elect get all his belongings into his new home? Will he hire movers?

Yes. The president-elect is responsible for arranging transportation for his furniture, clothes, and personal effects from Chicago to a White House storage facility in Maryland (where they also keep antiques, Easter decorations, paintings, etc.). The Secret Service oversees the whole process, which usually happens the week before the inauguration. It provides an escort for the moving vehicles and screens all items—books, desks, chairs—before they enter the facility. But Obama has to cover the transportation costs, either with personal funds or money raised for his campaign or transition.

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Once the incoming president's stuff is on White House grounds, the residence staff takes custody of his possessions. The chief usher, who coordinates move-in day, provides the staff with White House floor plans and photos that indicate where each item goes. * (The first time Obama visited the White House post-election, he and the chief usher discussed furniture arrangements, food preferences, and other logistical issues.)

The Inauguration Day move-in takes about six hours. It starts at 10:30 a.m., when the sitting president and the first lady have a traditional tea with the president-elect before heading over to Capitol Hill for the swearing-in. Once they leave, the 93-person staff shifts into high gear. (They don't hire outside help for security reasons as well as privacy.) The operations personnel does the heavy lifting while a housekeeping detail helps prepare the bedrooms, curators make sure the furnishings and décor are just so, florists worry about bouquet arrangements, and the chefs prepare the post-inauguration dinner. At the same time, the staff moves the ex-president out. Items get loaded into boxes, which get loaded into vans and then military cargo planes that carry everything to the former president's new residence. With only two elevators, it's organized chaos.

Who pays for all this? Congress draws up an annual executive residence budget, which gets a little extra funding every four years to cover move-in costs, such as packing equipment and overtime for staff members. The first family also gets a redecoration fund to cover draperies, carpets, paintings, and other costs.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Maria Downs of the White House Historical Association, former White House Curator Betty C. Monkman, and former White House Chief Usher Gary Walters. And thanks to reader Maiko Hara for asking the question.

* Correction, Jan. 9, 2009: This article originally stated that the White House staff handles the president-elect's possessions when they arrive at the White House storage facility. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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