WASHINGTON (AP) — Now in its second week, the partial government shutdown has taken its toll on the White House, where about 3 of 4 staffers have been furloughed, barred even from checking the BlackBerrys they usually clutch like worry beads.
Of the 1,701 advisers, assistants, number-crunchers, butlers, chefs and landscapers who work at the White House on a normal day, fewer than 450 are on duty, according to President Barack Obama’s budget office. The rest fall under an unfortunate label that has kept hundreds of thousands of federal workers home: “non-essential.”
At one entrance to the West Wing, a wall that normally displays clippings from the day’s newspapers hasn’t been updated in over a week.
“Congress slips toward shutdown,” reads one outdated headline in a near-empty press office.
With a full array of official duties that must be carried out despite the impasse with Congress, Obama’s aides have strived to maintain normalcy. But the logistical gymnastics of running the federal government’s nerve center with a skeletal staff have created a sense of mild disarray at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
The staff of 90 that normally tends to the president’s residence has been cut to 15. In the West Wing, only a scaled-back menu is available at the White House mess. Trash cans are still being emptied and the bathrooms maintained, but the usual buzz of employees across the White House grounds has dipped to a quiet hum.
“The most evident impact is the lack of voices,” said Josh Earnest, Obama’s principle deputy press secretary. “There aren’t a bunch of people yammering on the phone.”
Vice President Joe Biden gets to keep the single staffer who works at his Naval Observatory residence, but his 24-person White House team has been cut in half.