Obama's Time Keeper

Part logistics man, part guide and part personal aide to Obama

In a room just off the Oval Office, Brian Mosteller carefully pens a to-do list on a little white notecard. In the coming hours, he will monitor all the comings and goings in the West Wing, as well as all the practical details of those events. And so his list mixes the monumental and the mundane.

There’s a surprise visit by singer John Legend and a meeting with the prime minister of the Netherlands.

The laser printer in the Oval Office needs an ink cartridge. President Barack Obama asks for a follow-up note to be sent to the family of a sick child who visited and had a question about health care. The president’s former Senate colleagues are dropping by, and though it’s only July, Mosteller needs to start thinking about shopping for the Christmas gifts Obama wants to send.

In a town focused on keeping the trains running on time, Mosteller, 33, is one of the supreme conductors. He is part logistics man, part guide and part personal aide to Obama, connecting the dots and checking off the daily to-do list on the way. While Reggie Love, the president’s almost-famous body man, caters to Obama’s personal needs, and Katie Johnson, his personal assistant, tends to phones and his correspondence, Mosteller is the guy who works between them — literally and figuratively.

“I’m kind of like the trip director when Obama is at the White House,” Mosteller explained in an interview with POLITICO. “My job is to keep the day going. He has a lot going on, so we want to make sure he gets through the day with the greatest amount of ease.”

Breaking his job down, Mosteller continued: “I’m trying to make sure the schedule will flow in reality as it does in theory or on paper. ... I scan the day, the week and onward, looking for potential hiccups or challenges,” he said.

That can range from to placing the notes for the president’s speeches on the podium to finding out whether interpreters are needed when the next round of foreign leaders visits. When the president makes a phone call, it is Mosteller’s job to have the correct phone number for him to dial. He also works to ensure that participants are at the White House and ready to meet with Obama and “not on the other side of D.C.”

When an event is scheduled for the Rose Garden, it is Mosteller who reaches out to stop the construction crews in the neighboring Eisenhower Executive Office Building from hammering away. This week, he made sure the lighting at a country music concert was bright enough for Obama to read his remarks.

Around the West Wing, Love calls him “the Director of Due Diligence.” Johnson says Mosteller is “Mr. Proper … quite possibly the most organized person I’ve ever met.” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest likens Mosteller to “the Wolf from the movie ‘Pulp Fiction,’” the ultimate problem solver. The morning of Memorial Day offers a perfect example. Mosteller was walking to work  — as he puts it, “very casually” — when he received an urgent e-mail from White House press secretary Robert Gibbs alerting him that Obama would make unscheduled remarks that morning on the North Korea crisis.

Mosteller’s leisurely walk turned into a full-fledged sprint to the White House, where he quickly called the usher’s office to set up the lectern, dealt with last-minute edits to the speech and found himself running for the printer before presenting Obama with the remarks he would make. 

How long did the process take? Two hours?

“Try 25 minutes,” Mosteller says.

Not every problem can be so smoothly solved. Recently, as Obama taped a string of television interviews, flies swarmed the White House. Mosteller stood by the president, off camera, holding a fly swatter. One pesky fly managed to get by Mosteller, and Obama killed it in the now famous “I got the sucker!” moment. 

Details, though, are Mosteller’s métier. Last week, when the White House invited a group of nurses to appear at a health care event, he helped organize it from the ground up — even worrying about the heat at the time of the event. “We had to contend with sun,” said Mosteller, who wanted to keep Obama and the guests sweat-free on a day when the temperature was more than 80 degrees. (He wakes up every day to a weather report on his BlackBerry.)

For such an event, Mosteller’s work begins by conferring with White House staffers in charge of health care, making calls to the social office to set up the Rose Garden event and speaking to the legislative office to accommodate lawmakers. Beforehand, he’ll brief Obama and then head for the lectern, where he will place the president’s remarks in a leather-bound binder with a presidential seal. “And then it’s his time to perform,” Mosteller said.

Mosteller’s time to perform is long before the cameras roll, coordinating with various offices at the White House and carefully checking off his list of things to do. “I would want to make sure that, if he’s going to a meeting in the East Room, that his talking points are seated on his chair. … Or when there are guests coming, the vice president or perhaps a member of Congress, I work with the Mess to coordinate their orders and the little place cards on the table,” Mosteller said.

During most events, Mosteller carries around a few must-haves: Sharpies (should the president need to sign something), notecards (should the president need to quickly jot something down), Purell (for all that handshaking), tissues (mostly during cold season) and answers (for all those questions the president will surely ask).

The job is one that Mosteller never imagined when he was growing up in Akron, Ohio. Initially, he aspired to be an architect but majored in international business at Ohio State University. He landed an internship at the White House under the Clinton administration after becoming interested in protocol and politics. He went on to work for both Clintons as an advance staffer before leaving to help run Utah Olympic Park during the Salt Lake City Olympics. Later, he became a logistical planner for the Olympic Games in Italy and Greece, where he helped manage motorcades, interpreters and credentials.

Mosteller began working on the Olympic Games in Beijing just as Obama hinted that he might run for president. He says he was looking for a change when he got the call that Obama was going to make an announcement.

“I literally ran out the door,” he said. “It was definitely a gamble, but sometimes you have to throw things in the air for great things to happen.” Mosteller became the national advance lead on the Obama campaign, flying to Iowa and more than 60 other spots across the country preparing campaign events. On Election Day, Mosteller was the guy in charge of ensuring that Obama’s day — from voting in Chicago’s Hyde Park to the victory speech in Grant Park — went off without a hitch.

Now, sitting in a room with a view of the president’s desk, Mosteller goes through his checklist of things to do at a spotless desk where nothing is out of order. By 3 p.m., 16 items are on the list and seven have been crossed off.

Obama, he says, is a “very low-maintenance guy. He’s incredibly easy to work for. There aren’t any ‘Devil Wears Prada’ moments whatsoever.”

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