White House staff has several family member pairs

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

WASHINGTON -- After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, White House aide Jeanie Figg made a pledge to see her grown daughter in person -- every day.

Turns out that wasn't too tough. Just a quick dash from East Wing to West Wing.

Figg, the White House deputy social secretary, and daughter Kara, deputy director of scheduling, are among a smattering of family duos who can put the world's most prestigious office address on their business cards.

For at least a dozen people on President Bush's staff -- husband-and-wife pairs, sibling combinations and parent-child teams -- the job of a lifetime takes on a pinch-yourself-twice dimension: dining in the White House mess together, taking your children to the president's Christmas party.

"It is really wild," says Jeanie Figg.

Can be downsides

Of course there can be downsides -- especially for couples. With both spouses vulnerable to long, stressful and unpredictable hours, home life can suffer.

Last Thanksgiving, relatives waited for turkey dinner while Nanette Everson, a lawyer in the White House counsel's office whose husband is a top official of the Office of Management and Budget, was suddenly called into the office.

While Nanette normally is the one to get home early for their two teenagers, the past few months have been busy with the president's installation of a new economic team and leaders of a Sept. 11 commission. Their 14-year-old daughter finally had had enough, and compiled a PowerPoint presentation on how much she needed her mom.

"You have to be attentive to it," said Nanette's husband, Mark.

All White Houses are populated with people with connections to big campaign donors, longtime friends or the president's previous political life. You usually have to know someone -- but sometimes it's the president who benefits with a two-for-one deal.

Scott and Mark McClellan are from a prominent Texas political family. Scott landed a plum West Wing job as a deputy press secretary from then-Texas Gov. Bush's press office and presidential campaign, which he joined after running three successful statewide campaigns for his mother, state Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn.

Bush's presidential transition team came calling for Mark -- a physician and economist at Stanford University -- and the ad hoc advice work turned into a full-time job as Bush's chief health care adviser.

Close relationship

The result: Previously intermittent professional contact "switched pretty abruptly to several times a day," recalled Mark, now chief of the Food and Drug Administration. The brothers, always close but also competitive in a family of four boys, found themselves jointly devising the rollout of presidential proposals -- even occasionally briefing the president together in the Oval Office.

"To share that experience with your older brother ... makes it even more of an amazing experience," Scott said.

For some White House couples, it was the job that brought them together.

The frenzied atmosphere of a presidential campaign and the more structured but still intense White House climate foster a bunker mentality. They draw people away from hometowns to a place where they know few.

"There are a certain number of romantic entanglements that form," said Mark Everson, laughing.

He and Nanette didn't meet in Bush's operation, however. They dated at Yale University and married while both were working in the Reagan administration. Now back on the federal payroll, their dual tenure at the White House complex will last only until the Senate approves Mark's nomination as Internal Revenue Service chief.

Sharing the experience also helps each understand the kind of gray-hair-producing pressure the other is under, Mark said. And they get to jointly pursue a common interest in public service, added Nanette.

Parents and children confront their own set of challenges.

For instance, Kara Figg's scheduling of White House events launches a flurry of activity in her mother's social secretary's office. "We have lots of fun joking about how we are thorns in each other's side," Jeanie Figg said.

Then there was Jeanie's worry when she got a White House job while her daughter, who toiled on the campaign, waited anxiously. In the end, her mom noted with pride, Kara landed the higher security clearance.

"It made for no strife in the Figg family," Jeanie said.

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