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In the Wings of the West Wing: Danielle Crutchfield

Danielle Crutchfield Sky March 2010

Photo by Harold Daniels

Danielle Crutchfield, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Scheduling

While many of us show up to work in cubicles tucked within bland office buildings, a chosen group of talented men and women spend long hours toiling for a singularly high-profile boss: the president. They work to enact policy changes and strengthen the bond between the president and the people. They document the world in pictures and help the administration operate like a tightly run ship. They seem perpetually tied to their BlackBerries. And no matter whether they work for a Republican or Democrat, the people employed by the president of the United States share at least one thing in common: A serious commitment to serving the American people. Here, a small selection of some of the bright minds who are currently working for President Barack Obama—what brought them to the White House, their roles, their expectations and their experiences.

DANIELLE CRUTCHFIELD
DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT & DIRECTOR OF SCHEDULING

What led you to your current position?
I started scheduling for Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. Her office was two doors down from then-Senator Obama. I got to know Alyssa Mastromonaco through a mutual friend, Terry Krinvic, director of scheduling and advance for President Clinton in Harlem. After leaving Cantwell’s office, I worked as Democratic strategist Paul Begala’s assistant. In 2007, Alyssa took me out for coffee and asked me to move to Chicago and work for Senator Obama’s campaign. She said she didn’t want to do this without me. I said yes, and it was the smartest decision I have made.

How do you think the public’s perception of life in the White House differs from the reality?
I used to imagine the White House as a very stuffy, formal place, but it doesn’t feel that way at all. We are like a family.

What is your favorite spot in the White House?
I really like looking at the photos (“Jumbos”) on the walls in the West Wing. They get changed almost every two weeks and it’s always fun to see what photos they have up. It’s great to see all the things we have worked on for weeks or months actually take place.

How have you seen the culture in the White House evolve in the past year?
Because it was our first year, I feel like we have all settled into our positions well and now have a better sense of how to execute.

What has been your most interesting or compelling White House experience?
Traveling never gets old. I get to travel to many different countries. I never dreamed I would take a toboggan ride along the Great Wall or visit the pyramids. It really is an amazing experience.

What would you describe as a “normal day” in the White House?
There is no such thing as a normal day at the White House. But my day normally starts out with a regular 9:15 a.m. meeting with Alyssa, Emmett (director of advance), Jessica (deputy director of scheduling) and Dave (deputy director of advance). Then from there it’s different every day.

Who among the bosses, chiefs and managers is the most vocal or visible?
I think Rahm Emanuel, which is to be expected because he is the COS.

Who is the most interesting/memorable person you have encountered in the White House so far?
Although I have never met any of them, I’m always impacted by the Make a Wish kids that come to meet the president. Everything they have to go though puts life in perspective, and it’s a great feeling to be able to grant their number one wish and schedule time for them to meet the president.

Was The West Wing a good primer for working at the White House, or was it a source of gross misinformation?
I think some aspects of it are dead on. There have been a few shows when the senior staff are all dressed up to attend a formal event and end up doing a lot of work in their formal attire. Before the State Dinner, I thought of The West Wing watching my boss, Alyssa, work in her dress and a few others working in the West Wing in their tuxes. The fact that you never know what’s going to happen at any moment that can drastically change the course of the day is exactly the same.

How palpable is the sense of history for you when, say, you poke your head into the Oval Office or the Roosevelt Room?
It never gets old. I still remember the first time I saw the Oval during the transition. I stood in the door in awe and excitement for what was to come.

How many hours a day do you find yourself having to work?
It all depends on the day. Sometimes I’m done early, around 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., and other days when we may be working on a foreign travel I’m here very late or very early.

What do you do to try to achieve balance in your life?
I have some very close friends in D.C., some of them include my co-workers, and we make every effort to make sure work does not consume our lives. Alyssa also does a good job of making sure we take breaks when we need them.

What will be the biggest change in your life when you leave this job?
Having an abundance of time. I’m not sure I will know what to do with myself. I love being busy.

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