Often, one of the most underrated portfolios of a White House is the East Wing, dominion of the First Lady. Many people know what initiatives a first lady champions, but few understand how it happens alongside how many other things happen simultaneously in a White House. The West Wing is where policy happens, but the East Wing is no shrinking violet when it comes to hardball politics plus hammers and nails.
Some of the upper echelon of staff in the East Wing have dual reporting roles to the president and the Executive Office of the President as well as to the First Lady. Modern First Ladies have a scheduler and press/communication operation that works in conjunction with their West Wing counterparts. In Michelle Obama's case, to demonstrate how intertwined personally these dual operations can become, just one example; her former press secretary, Katie McCormick Lelyveld got engaged to the West Wing's Tommy Vietor during the trip to Paris in August 2009.
Multiple concurrent projects are all part of the issues a first lady must juggle - every single last one of them handles the scope of work differently. Some well, others have to learn the hard way how Washington works.
The First Lady usually has some refurbishing project to focus on discreetly until its unveiled. Most people don't pay much attention, but every first family is aware of their historic surroundings and their obligation for maintenance and improvement of the Executive Mansion. This includes the decorating in the West Wing. President Lincoln is one of the very few who made no significant architectural changes to the Executive Mansion, yet president Theodore Roosevelt involved himself with great gusto making The East Wing official. His intent was a museum... President Truman rebuilt the whole thing because it was crumbling. First Lady Jackie Kennedy will forever have a legacy of repopulating the house with original furnishings, period wall papers and American decor. She started the themed Christmas celebrations.
President Obama has a spiffier West Wing because Laura Bush redid the Cabinet Room in brighter colors along with President Bush revamping the Situation Room with all its whiz bang gadgetry. President Obama & Michelle Obama and their interior decorator, Michael S. Smith were under the gun to refurbish the Oval Office because the ex-president needed his rug, drapes, et al back for his library opening. (The Obama Oval drapes were not ready when the room was unveiled, but if you see pictures of him now behind the Resolute Desk, there are deep red drapes - to match the wallpaper crown trim.) Michelle Obama, as every predecessor since Lady Bird, must work/decorate within the confines of the Committee for the Preservation of the White House for certain state or historically important rooms - a law. That elite group decides what art (must be more than 25 years old), artifacts and furnishings should be acquired for the White House.
Michelle is working with the White House Historical Association and the Committee and the White House Curator to update the Yellow Oval Room (technically part of the private residence - but where VIPs congregate for state events), the Center Hall (runs the length of the residence) and the West Sitting Hall (the residence) where the Lincoln Bedroom and Queen's bedroom are located. Michelle Obama has made a dramatic impact on the White House grounds first adding a swing set, then her piece de resistance, the working White House Garden - with bee hive, on the South Lawn.
The East Wing is gearing up for the holidays now - no joke - because that has umpteen parts to come together. Of course, there is the continuous parade of White House public events and a full planning schedule for what's next month. First Ladies do lunches, brunches and other events externally while supporting their cause. State dinners are months in the making. It is no secret that one of the first selection is the first lady's dress for a State Dinner in order to use the best of the White House elements from flora to flatware to frame the first lady.
Throw in being a mom while running a full management team tasked with a myriad of duties personal and professional. Many times the staff selections are a work in progress when the right mix of people are not on the same page. The first lady has to manage how she wants the house run and the White House staff tries to schedule heavy/large projects while the family is away.
Menus need a plan on weekly basis as the president's family needs to know what groceries they will need personally for themselves and any guests. That has to be budgeted as the presidential family pays for all personal foodstuffs and snacks consumed and yes, there is a pricelist.
First Ladies receive a large amount of mail. That's nothing compared to what the family pets receive, many from children and they have to strive to answer. Modern first ladies have written books from the pets as a way to meet the demand for information.
My appreciation is for how much a first lady has on their executive management plate at any one given time and how they handle the constant pressure. Some thrive in the role, some learn to manage an aspect and others narrow their scope. Being first lady is a truly tough job.