White House Travel Director Keeps Entourage Moving

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Tate-Gilmore has learned to be no-nonsense in her dealings with local officials, hotels and venues Obama will visit. In preparation for his trip to Africa earlier this year, members of the White House advance party suffered bug bites staying in the press hotel. Tate-Gilmore demanded the hotel hire an exterminator — and take along a photographer who could email her pictures back in Washington to prove all the rooms had been fumigated. When a radio reporter contracted food poisoning on the stop in Tanzania, Tate-Gilmore insisted on staying overnight in the hospital and worked with doctors to ensure she got proper care.

Reporters, photographers and others with the news media pay their share of expenses when they accompany the president. In recent years, the size of the media entourage has dropped as some outlets have determined that the tab is just too high. With media outlets feeling increasing financial pressure, controlling costs is a big part of Tate-Gilmore’s job as she weighs fees for rooms and travel.

“The kind of glitz and glamour that people think we bring with the White House — they will roll us if they can,” Tate-Gilmore said.

But costs are not the only consideration — the White House has to deal with security and access issues as well for its press corps. If reporters were left to travel commercially on their own, they would never be able to keep up with Air Force One flying around the globe and get in and out of the president’s security bubble.

The press charters a plane that mimics Air Force One’s route. Reporters and news crews stay in hotels accessible to presidential events. And they ride in buses that often have police or military escorts to whisk them through security checkpoints. All the costs are covered by the traveling media, but the arrangements are coordinated by the White House Travel Office as under previous presidents.

Tate-Gilmore volunteered on Obama’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2003 while home in Chicago from a break as a psychology student at Howard University. Soon she was hired for a paid position managing other volunteers. After Obama’s election, she was one of the first hires in his Senate office and eventually worked as his executive assistant.

When Obama moved to the White House, Tate-Gilmore came along as an associate manager in the Travel Office under director Peter Newell, who said he recommend her to take over when he left in September 2010. He said her experience with the president, her knowledge of press travel and her relationships throughout the White House made her up to the task even though she was 26 at the time.

“What the job required, Ashley had,” Newell said. “You need to be a people person and be able to be friendly. Ashley is good at engaging people, and she has a great sense of humor. But she also has a firm backbone, and she can be tough.”

(Photo: AP)

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