Reading Time: 6 minutes

Q: Is a chart claiming to show the “top 20 raises” to White House staffers accurate?

A: It’s misleading. The salary increases for 19 of the 21 employees listed resulted from promotions. Average pay for White House staff actually declined.


Please check date and accuracy of raises to executive staff. Thank you.

White House Raises . . . What!
Observe the raises given to Obama Administrative Staff below !


A larger version of the chart can be found here at Gawker — a gossip site that published the chart to accompany a July 6 article headlined “White House Staffers Got a Raise Last Year, And You Did Not.” The White House told Gawker that the new salaries were the result of promotions or increased work responsibilities. We reviewed the White House salary data and found that 19 of the 21 staffers listed in the chart received both salary increases and new job titles. (Yes, there were 21 staffers, not 20, in the chart.) The majority of those promoted — at least 11 — received the same or less pay than their predecessors. And overall, the average pay of White House staffers actually declined.

Since the story first appeared, this chart has gone viral. It has been picked up and circulated through emails — typically without the original story. The salary figures and percentage change are correct in the chart. They were taken from the 2010 and 2011 annual reports to Congress on White House staff. The data, which can be downloaded, lists the title and annual salary of every White House office employee.

At the top of the chart is Matthew Vogel, who received a $59,100 pay increase in 2011 — the largest dollar increase on the list. That was the result of a big promotion. Vogel served as the associate director of communications for economics in 2010. He was promoted to special assistant to the president for economic policy in 2011, with his annual salary increasing from $71,400 to $130,500. Vogel is now receiving the same salary as Peter P. Swire, who held that job in 2010 before leaving to become a law professor at the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University.

Salaries for other “special assistant to the president” titles showed that $130,500 per year has been the standard for the past three years — with no increases for those holding those jobs.

The largest percentage increase went to Kevin Lewis, who saw his salary rise from $42,000 to $78,000 — an 86 percent salary hike. He was promoted from press assistant to director of African-American media at a slightly lower salary than his predecessor. Lewis replaced Corey A. Ealons, who earned $79,560 as the White House director of African-American media in 2010. Ealons left the White House to become a senior vice president at VOX Global, a public affairs and communications firm.

As we said, 19 staffers on the list received promotions in 2011. Of those, 14 were promoted into existing job titles — including Vogel and Lewis — making it easy to compare their salaries with their predecessors. Of the 14, six received the same pay, five received less, and three received more.

What about the other five promotions? Well, it’s not possible to make direct salary comparisons in those cases because job titles changed. For example, Jessica Wright went from being deputy director of scheduling for the president in 2010 to deputy assistant to the president and director of scheduling in 2011 — a clear promotion from deputy director to director. But her current job title didn’t exist in 2010 exactly as it is now.

There were two notable exceptions: Heather Zichal and Andrea Turk, both of whom received big raises with no change in title.

Heather Zichal has served as the deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change since 2009. In 2009 and 2010, her annual salary was $100,000. In 2011, her salary jumped 40 percent to $140,000 per year. Andrea Turk served as the director of information services, starting in 2010. Her salary went up 40 percent from $50,000 to $70,000 per year in 2011, even though her title remained the same.

Upon taking office, Obama imposed a salary freeze — which is still in effect — for White House staffers earning more than $100,000. Turk was earning less than $100,000, and Zichal was at (not above) $100,000. So technically, even Zichal’s pay raise didn’t violate Obama’s promise.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz explained the White House salary increases this way to Gawker:

Schultz, July 6: Pay increases were given for a variety of reasons, ranging from promotions to additional work responsibilities.

We asked Schultz specifically about Zichal and Turk, and he did not go much beyond his response to Gawker. “In both instances, because of restructuring, both staffers assumed additional work responsibilities,” he told us.

Zichal’s job title did not change, but she took over the responsibilities of her former boss, Carol Browner, who had been the assistant to the president for energy and climate change. Browner was not replaced and Politico wrote a profile of Zichal in April that said she “took over the energy and climate portfolio this year from Carol Browner.” Browner earned $172,200 in 2010.

The bottom line, however, is that White House salaries — both overall and on average — decreased this year.

Our analysis of the White House data shows that 466 paid staffers received a total of $38.8 million in salaries in 2010, an average of $83,254. In 2011, 451 paid employees received a total of $37.1 million for an average of $82,309. (In both years, there were three unpaid staffers listed in the annual report to Congress.)

Below is our chart of the White House staffers who appeared in Gawker’s top 20 list. We included job titles along with their salary increases, so you can see that in nearly all cases the salary increase came with a new job title. The two staffers whose titles did not change are in bold.

Name2010 Title2011 TitleIncrease in Salary
Matthew VogelAssociate Director of Communications for Economics

Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy

Heather ZichalDeputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate ChangeDeputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change40.00%
Kevin LewisPress AssistantDirector of African-American Media85.71%
Elizabeth OlsonDeputy Director, Presidential CorrespondenceSpecial Assistant to the President and Director of Presidential Correspondence43.79%
Jessica WrightDeputy Director of Scheduling for the PresidentDeputy Assistant to the President and Director of Scheduling34.16%
Lauren PaigeDirector of Special Projects for CommunicationsSpecial Assistant to the President and Director of Message Planning53.23%
Elizabeth NelsonAssociate Director of SchedulingDeputy Director of Scheduling63.40%
Ashley Tate-GilmoreAssociate Director and Travel ManagerDirector of Travel Office63.40%
Carlos Monje Jr.Senior Policy Advisor for Social Innovation and Civic ParticipationSpecial Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff of the Domestic Policy Council30.72%
David CusackSpecial Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of AdvanceDeputy Assistant to the President and Director of Advance and Operations27.45%
Kimberley HarrisSpecial Assistant to the President and Associate Counsel to the PresidentDeputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Counsel to the President21.46%
Jonathan SamuelsSpecial Assistant to the President for Legislative AffairsDeputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs and House Liaison21.46%
Thomas VietorAssistant Press SecretarySenior Director and National Security Staff Spokesman34.62%
Frederico GardapheAssistant DirectorDeputy Director50.00%
Denis McDonoughDeputy Assistant to the President and National Security Council Chief of StaffAssistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor16.75%
Johanna MaskaSpecial Assistant and Press LeadDeputy Director of Advance and Director of Press Advance42.60%
Kwesi CobbinaStaff AssistantChief of Staff, Office of Legislative Affairs54.76%
Semonti StephensAssociate Director and Deputy Press Secretary to the First LadyDeputy Communications Director40.06%
Amanda AndersonSpecial Assistant to the Chief of StaffSenior Legislative Affairs Advisor33.33%
Stacy KooDeputy Associate DirectorDeputy Chief of Staff for Presidential Personnel36.36%
Andrea TurkDirector of Information ServicesDirector of Information Services40.00%

– Wendy Zhao and Eugene Kiely

Your support is crucial!

Our newsroom needs to raise $121,000 by end of the year so we can hold the power accountable and strengthen our democracy in 2024. Public Integrity doesn’t have paywalls and doesn’t accept advertising. We depend on individuals like you to sustain quality journalism.