Working

The “How Does the President’s Assistant for Management and Administration Work?” Edition

Maju Varghese oversees teams responsible for the day-to-day operations of the White House.

President Barack Obama talks with Lead Advance Maju Varghese following a press conference at the G20 Summit at the Espace Riviera in Cannes, France, Nov. 4, 2011.
President Barack Obama talks with Maju Varghese in Cannes, France, in 2011.

Pete Souza/White House

Listen to this episode of Working with guest Maju Varghese:

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For Maju Varghese, doing your job at the White House can still feel like work. “Sometimes you can lose yourself in the fact that you’ve got to meet a deadline, you’ve got to get this meeting in,” he tells us in this episode of Working at the White House. That’s fitting, because as assistant to the president for management and administration, he’s largely responsible for ensuring that the executive branch’s huge campus runs smoothly. It’s his job, in other words, to guarantee that the hundreds of other employees in the facility can do theirs without a hitch.

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As Varghese explains, his portfolio varies widely: He oversees teams looking after everything from maintenance and payroll to the calligraphy shop and the visitor’s office. “Imagine your typical administrative or office manager component at your company and multiply that by a lot. That’s us,” he says. Doing his job well means carefully balancing a range of needs and expectations: If, for example one gate is going to shut down to the public for security reasons, his team needs to make sure that staffers who normally drive through it have somewhere to park. And if something in the West Wing needs repairs, his team may have to wait until the president’s out of town to schedule them.

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Resolving those issues often requires working in concert with a variety of other segments of the White House—the events team, the Secret Service, and so on. More often than not, getting all those parties to work together efficiently means ensuring that they talk to one another. Accordingly, he convenes a lot of meetings, bringing people into his spacious office to sit around a table and hash out timing. But he also spends some of his time exploring the facility itself. “That has made me happiest,” he says in this episode, “being able to walk these halls and count friends everywhere.”

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In this episode, Varghese leads us through both regular meetings and more occasional encounters, describing how he and his team keep the campus operational. But he also discusses the joys of working at the White House itself. Even if he sometimes gets lost in the tasks at hand, he says that it’s “easier to snap out of it here” than it might be at another workplace, partly because he just has to look out a window to realize where he is.

And in a Slate Plus extra, Varghese describes how he ended up in his current role, from working on Al Gore’s campaign in 2000 to earning a law degree and serving on the president’s advance team. If you’re a member, enjoy bonus segments and interview transcripts from Working, plus other great podcast exclusives. Start your two-week free trial at slate.com/workingplus.

Email: working@slate.com
Twitter: @Jacob_Brogan

Podcast production by Mickey Capper.