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Inside the Working White House: Early 21st Century

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Perhaps the most significant change for the White House and its workers during the past several decades has been that heightened security concerns have made the House an increasingly more enclosed environment, which the president leaves less frequently for offsite events.

The result, according to former chief usher Gary Walters, is that “we transferred from a house where we only occasionally did parties to a major catering facility. Now we are doing three or four events a day sometimes.”

In addition to visitors on official business, the White House also hosts approximately 7,000 tourists each week. From Tuesday through Saturday, the White House staff must prepare the public rooms starting at 6 a.m. As Walters explains, we “have to roll up the carpets, put down the mats on the floor, put out the ropes and stanchions, and get ready for tours each day.”

One of the maintenance headaches for White House workers is the wear and tear on the wood floors. “When people stopped wearing dress shoes and went to soft-soled shoes we all cheered because we thought this would be great for the floors,” Walters recalled. “We couldn’t have been more wrong. What happens with soft-soled shoes is that pebbles get embedded in them, so now you’ve got 1,500 people walking through with sandpaper on their feet. It was exactly the opposite of what we expected.”