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An example of White House calligraphy: a menu from a 2006 state dinner honoring the prime minister of Japan. An example of White House calligraphy: a menu from a 2006 state dinner honoring the prime minister of Japan.

An example of White House calligraphy: a menu from a 2006 state dinner honoring the prime minister of Japan.

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg July 30, 2012

Calligraphers make more than national security directors in Obama White House, says Mike Huckabee

Every year, the White House releases a list of its employees and their salaries. When the 2012 list came out, Mike Huckabee found fodder there to take a jab at the Obama administration.

Huckabee, a former presidential candidate and now a talk show host, wrote on on his Facebook page, "If you want a good job, you should’ve gone into government." He noted that the total White House payroll went up $700,000 from the year before; it now stands at $37.8 million. Then, commenting on the timing of the administration’s data dump -- late on a Friday afternoon -- he wrote, "Maybe they just didn’t want to explain their priorities, considering that we now know the White House has three staff calligraphers making between $86,000 and 97,000 dollars each, and just one National Security Director. She makes $55,000."

That seemed curious. For this fact check, we’re looking into whether the White House puts penmanship above managing foreign affairs. Huckabee’s post was recommended over 4,500 times and got over 5,100 Likes. On top of that, the same comparison showed up on a number of other blogs and Facebook pages.

We downloaded the salary spreadsheet from the White House website and found that Huckabee has his numbers right. There are three calligraphers and just one National Security Director, and they make what he said they make.

There is, however, an important issue about the job description for the National Security Director. Through Huckabee’s website we asked what he thought the National Security Director did. We did not get a response.

We did get a description from the White House. The National Security Director basically helps with human resources for the national security staff. The person in that job is Kinsey Casey. Casey makes sure that open positions are filled, which includes vetting and interviewing applicants. She helps new staffers transition and generally takes care of the details of personnel management. In short, she does administrative work.

Prior to this job, Casey had a mid-level position during the presidential inauguration managing credentials for participants and guests. During the 2008 primary, she was the Northeast Regional Political Director for the John Edwards campaign.

Huckabee might have confused the National Security Director with the National Security Adviser. This is a high-profile position currently held by Thomas Donilon, a lawyer who was once chief of staff to Secretary of State Warren Christopher in the Clinton administration. Donilon helps shape strategy on major international issues such as the civil war in Syria, Iran’s nuclear program, and North Korea. He is part of a trio of advisers, one of whom focuses on preventing violent extremism in the U.S., and the other who deals with international economics.

All three advisers make $172,200 a year, nearly twice the salaries of the calligraphers.

Before the Huckabee Facebook post, we hadn’t given much thought to the White House calligraphers. It turns out they’ve been part of the staff for decades. They design and handletter the menus, invitations, and ceremonial declarations for formal events. C-SPAN profiled them in 2008.

The Huckabee post notes that the staff payroll rose $700,000 since last year. That is accurate but it’s also true that it is $1.3 million less than 2009, Obama’s first year in office. For the record, the median salary around the White House is about $65,700.

Our ruling

Huckabee said that the National Security Director makes less than the three White House calligraphers. That’s accurate, but the statement would have us believe that this particular national security job has a lot to do with policy. That is wrong. It is an administrative position and to suggest otherwise is misleading.

Featured Fact-check

Also, Huckabee singles out the Obama administration for having misplaced priorities when the White House has employed calligraphers for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents. It doesn't mean the White House places penmanship above national security.

We rate this statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Mike Huckabee on Facebook, July 5, 2012

It’s a Wonderful Life, And Oh,By the Way, July 5, 2012

Dynamo_Politics, Report: 139 White House Staffers Making More Than 6 Figures, June 30, 2012

White House, 2012 Report on White House Staff

POLITICO, Friday night news dump: White House salaries edition, June 29, 2012

C-SPAN, Tour of the White House Calligraphy Office, December 1, 2008

New York Times, Jones Leaves White House, Donilon to Replace Him, October 8, 2010

ABC News, Tom Donilon’s Revolving Door, October 10, 2010

Washington Post, Profile of Donilon as National Security Adviser

White House Press Office, Remarks of Denis McDonough - Sterling, Va, March 6, 2011

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Calligraphers make more than national security directors in Obama White House, says Mike Huckabee

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