Melania Trump is embracing a more active and public schedule as first lady — but she still runs one of the leanest East Wing operations in recent history.
According to a Fox News analysis of White House personnel reports, Melania Trump has significantly reduced the number of aides on the first lady’s office payroll in comparison to her predecessor, Michelle Obama.
During then-President Barack Obama’s first year in office, 16 people were listed working for Michelle Obama, earning a combined $1.24 million a year.
This year, just four people were listed working for Melania Trump as of June. Their salaries totaled $486,700.
The details are contained in an annual report the White House sends to Congress showing the names, positions and salaries of all its personnel. Both the Obama and Trump administrations acknowledged several additional staffers beyond those listed in the report with the term “first lady” in their titles. But even counting all those employees — 24 for Michelle Obama and nine for the current first lady — Melania Trump’s office is relatively small.
It’s an approach her spokeswoman says is intentional. “As with all things that she does, she is being very deliberate in her hiring, focusing on quality over quantity,” communications director Stephanie Grisham said in an email. “It is important to her that the team is a good fit for what she wants to accomplish as first lady, and that everyone works well together. She also wants to be mindful and responsible when it comes to taxpayer money.”
While the 2009 annual report listed 16 staffers for Michelle Obama, her press secretary said at the time the staff actually included 24 people. A 2009 FactCheck.org story said Obama’s 24 aides might have broken records.
“That may indeed be the largest of any first lady, but Hillary Clinton, with 19 staffers, and Laura Bush with at least 18 and perhaps more, weren’t far behind,” FactCheck.org said.
According to those personnel reports, Melania Trump’s staffers include a chief of staff, a communications director, a deputy chief of staff, and a deputy director of advance.
Michelle Obama’s staff included those same positions and a slew of others: additional press aides, a director of policy and projects, a personal aide, a traveling aide, and a director of correspondence.
Michelle Obama’s office did not return a request for comment.
But the larger staff is likely due in part to Michelle Obama entering the East Wing with a more aggressive agenda and embracing initiatives like her Let’s Move! child obesity campaign.
During the first few months of the Trump presidency, Melania Trump and son, Barron, remained in New York as he finished the school year. But she has noticeably ramped up public activity in recent weeks, including hosting a roundtable discussion on the opioid crisis and traveling with her husband to tour the destruction of hurricanes and meet with the victims of the Las Vegas massacre.
“She is more like a Pat Nixon or a Bess Truman than a Hillary Clinton or a Michelle Obama,” Andrew Och, a first lady historian who was a producer for the C-SPAN’s “First Ladies: Influence and Image” series, said of Melania Trump.
Och noted there is no formal job description for a first lady and each one defines the role. Melania Trump, he said, does not come from the world of politics and “clearly does not feel the need for the larger staffs that her predecessors have had.”
The first lady’s office isn’t the only place in the White House where the Trump administration has trimmed staff positions. When the White House personnel report was released in June, Forbes reported 110 fewer employees under Donald Trump than Barack Obama and said the projected four-year savings resulting from the cuts could be more than $22 million.