News & Politics

White House Source: President Will Have to Vacate Oval Office Next Year

Planned renovation to the White House means the next president—whoever it is—may be displaced from the Oval Office for as long as a year.

The Oval Office, shown here in May 2011, may have to close next year for renovations. Official White House photograph by Pete Souza.

Update: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about our report Wednesday and referred all comment to the GSA. From the transcript:

Q: Can you — there are reports out about some renovations having to do with the Oval Office.  And can you explain what is true, what is not true?  Is the Oval Office going to have to be vacated for some time?  Does the President, whoever he may be, have to be relocated to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building?

MR. CARNEY:  Jake, I have a very broad portfolio, but renovations to the campus here are not part of it.  So we refer those questions to the GSA, which handles the renovations and all the work that’s done on the property here.  So I don’t have anything specific for you.  I would just refer you to the GSA.

Barack Obama, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney are already knee-deep in what many observers are saying could be the nastiest presidential bid in decades—but a year from now, the ultimate victor, no matter who he is, may not get to claim the ultimate prize: the Oval Office.

According to sources familiar with the discussions, beginning sometime next year the President may be relocated from the White House West Wing and the iconic Oval Office to temporary office space next door in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, formerly known as the Old Executive Office Building.

How big will the displacement be? According to sources, who demanded anonymity in order to talk about non-public plans, the White House Mess and other parts of the West Wing will also undergo needed repairs—in other words, “the whole West Wing except the Situation Room,” as one source put it.

The displacement could last up to a year, according to two people who have been part of the discussions.

While the exterior of the White House has had a lot of repair work done and the press room underwent a thorough renovation, other parts of the West Wing are old, weary, and need to be upgraded.

Another official in the White House said the work is tentatively scheduled to begin after the 2013 inauguration.

A former White House official who is familiar with the plans said they are “well underway” but the timing is “awful” for President Obama.

The extensive—and expensive (the press area alone cost around $6 million)—renovation of the West Wing has been underway for several years. Much of the area around the West Wing is currently torn up and barricaded off as part of what the White House has said is a replacement of the electrical and air conditioning systems, even though the massive concrete blocks being lowered into the enormous hole under the White House have led to speculation that a new emergency operations center is under construction.

“There’s no mystery to this,” said the former official. “A lot of people know about it on the inside because it is a huge operation to move the President’s office over to the EEOB.”

The EEOB itself has been under renovation for a number of months.

The Washingtonian asked the White House press office for comment and were referred to Gregory Mecher, the acting press secretary and White House liaison at the General Services Administration.

In response to our e-mail inquiry about relocating the President to the EEOB, Mecher denied that the President would be relocated for up to a year, but refused to comment further.

“As we have done since the project began, GSA will continue to keep the public abreast of this project as it moves forward,” Mecher wrote.

GSA declined repeated attempts to clarify specific plans.