Tricky Job of Protocol Chief Gets Trickier?

Will the White House gets its own Protocol Chief in 63 years?

One office in the State Department is responsible for the planning, hosting, and officiating of ceremonial events for visiting chiefs of state and heads of government, as well as coordinating logistics for the visits; managing Blair House, the President’s guesthouse; and overseeing all protocol matters for Presidential or Vice Presidential travel abroad, working alongside the White House. That’s the Protocol Office.

The State Department first appointed a full-time protocol officer in 1916 and established the Office of the Chief of Protocol on February 4, 1928. In 1946, the President commissioned the State Department’s Chief of Protocol to also carry the title “Chief of Protocol of the White House.” Since 1961, the Chief of Protocol has been commissioned an Ambassador, requiring the President’s nominee to be confirmed by the Senate.

Yesterday, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Capricia Penavic Marshall as Chief of Protocol (S/CPR), with the rank of Ambassador during her tenure of service at the State Department.


Al Kamen
with some additional tidbit on this new announcement: “We’re hearing the White House may create a new position for someone who will direct all protocol matters for President Obama and will travel with him as well. The thinking apparently is that Obama would want someone he knows and who he is comfortable with to be with him on these trips.”

Well, now — if the White House gets its own Protocol Chief, it would not be unprecedented, but it would be a first in 63 years. Holy mooo! That’s more years than I’ve been on this planet!

In any case, since its creation, we have had exactly six career diplomats appointed as Chief of Protocol (the last one in the, oh, 1950’s). But from 1957 onward, that office has been the domain of non-career political appointees. So one might say that our dog on this fight has gone to sleep a long time ago.

It does not make a whole lot of sense to have two protocol chiefs – really, those two probably got into a tea-cup fight in the last century that’s why the jobs were merged into one Chief of Protocol in 1946. But who cares what I think — this is a biggy! In short order, this would allow a Clinton appointee to have a job at the State Department, and an Obama appointee to have a job at the White House. Keep everyone happy, the taxpayer foots the bill, helps the economy. Amen.

But do you know what this also means for Ms. Marshall? If confirmed, I bet she need not have to plan and execute detailed programs for Chiefs of State and Heads of Government meeting with the President and Vice President — only for the Secretary of State. She may not have to oversee Blair House even, guest place for foreign visitors and all that. She did not have to accompany the President on official visits abroad or even plan and execute Presidential Delegations abroad. Although she probably gets to rack up her miles with Hillary.

Most of all, she did not have to propose or purchase gifts to give to foreign leaders nor receive reciprocal gifts on behalf of the President, First Lady, Vice President, and the VP’s spouse. And if newly-elected South African prez , Jacob Zuma drops by for a state visit with his three wives, Ms. Marshall would not have the headache on what to do with the first lady, second lady or third lady of the visiting party, where to sit one or the other, who has precedence, what gifts to give them, who gets to pose with whom, etc. etc.

I hope whoever gets selected as WH Protocol Chief can do a better job than tacky DVDs next time; and has that creative imagination on what official titles to give to, say — multiple wives and 19 children.

Related Post:

Officially In: Capricia Marshall to Protocol (S/CPR)

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