News this week of the first departure of a Cabinet secretary from the Obama administration comes amid a wide-ranging effort under the new chief of staff, William M. Daley, to repair badly frayed relations between the White House and the Cabinet.
During the first two years of President Obama’s term, the administration fully embraced just a few of his superstar picks – people such as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Education Secretary Arne Duncan. But many more agency chiefs conducted their business in relative anonymity, sometimes after running afoul of White House officials.
Both sides were deeply disgruntled. Agency heads privately complained that the White House was a “fortress” that was unwilling to accept input and that micromanaged their departments. Senior administration advisers rolled their eyes in staff meetings at the mention of certain Cabinet members, participants said.
Obama himself said his advisers were relying on him too frequently as a messenger, rather than letting his appointees carry important themes to the country, senior administration officials said. And the president felt isolated. “One of the first things he said to me was, ‘I want to see these people more often,'” Daley said in an interview.
Cabinet members also registered their grievances with Daley shortly after he arrived in January. “You hear the same thing: ‘I don’t think we’re used well. I don’t think we’re consulted enough,’ ” Daley said. “Whether it’s true or not, perception becomes reality, and I think there’s a desire to feel more part of a team.”