Dr. David Cohen

Research Spotlight: White House Chiefs of Staff: Make or Break the Presidency?

Professor Dave Cohen has been studying White House organization and staffing, and the White House chief of staff position in particular, since his doctoral student days at the University of South Carolina. He is driven by the question: what makes some chiefs of staff successful while others fail? The implications of the question are great: successful chiefs of staff have a positive influence on a president and his administration; those that fail, harm the president and the administration they serve.

As part of his dissertation project, and later as part of the Chief of Staff Project, Cohen has created a unique database by surveying former White House and administration personnel from the Reagan through Clinton administrations about their experiences in the executive branch and their observations of the performance of the president and chief of staff. This dataset has provided the basis for several published articles about the office. As part of a book project about the chief of staff, Cohen has made several trips to Washington and the White House to interview current and former staffers including chiefs and deputy chiefs from the Clinton and Bush 43 years. The project is ongoing and Cohen looks forward to interviewing members of the Obama administration and previous administrations as work on the book continues.