The structure and operation of governors’ offices vary across the states, commonwealths, and territories. Differences often reflect external factors such as the powers and authorities given to governors by constitution or statute as well as state tradition and custom. But possibly more important, they reflect and support each governor’s personal style.
There are generally three basic models for the organization of a governor’s office:
- Strict Hierarchy – All staff report to the governor through the chief of staff.
- Limited Hierarchy – The chief of staff serves as primary coordinator but one or more other senior staff have direct access to the governor in specific areas of responsibility.
- “Spokes of the Wheel” – Several senior staff members report directly to the governor and the governor provides detailed direction and coordination as needed.
State-by-state differences notwithstanding, there is a common set of functions that support each governor, including policy development, legal counsel, legislative relations, communications, appointments, scheduling, intergovernmental relations, emergency management/homeland security, and administrative support for the governor and his or her spouse. In turn, these functions are fulfilled by specialized staff, who are assigned primarily to the governor’s office. Almost all governors have designated a chief of staff to serve as one of their principal advisors and, in many states, to manage the overall governor’s office. In some states the position of budget director falls within the governor’s office, while in others it is assigned to manage a separate executive branch agency. Other senior staff in the governor’s office are likely to include the policy director and communications director or press secretary. In some states, senior staff also include the legislative director, appointments director, legal counsel, scheduler, and governor’s secretary.
Chief of Staff
Almost all governors designate a chief of staff, who in turn plays a wide range of roles in the governor’s office, among which are the following.
Chief Operating Officer: Much of the day-to-day responsibility for ensuring that state agencies are functioning falls to the chief of staff.
Office Manager: The chief of staff directly manages the governor’s office, overseeing the daily operations and interrelationship of the gubernatorial staff and determining what decisions will be taken to the governor.
Chief Strategist: The chief of staff helps the governor to develop and maintain a short and focused policy agenda. As primary strategist, the chief helps to reinforce the governor’s commitment to his or her agenda and to oversee the process of campaigning for its achievement.
Policy Advisor: The governor inevitably will rely on the chief for advice on a wide range of policy issues. The chief’s role is to ensure that the governor receives the information, analyses, and views necessary to make a decision. The chief of staff also may develop the key themes and directions of the governor’s budget or legislative message, leaving details to the budget or policy director.
Crisis Coordinator: The chief of staff has a formal role in the governor’s office plan for emergencies, which includes developing the standard processes for managing crises, putting together an ad hoc team to address the specifics of any given emergency, and rationing the governor’s visibility in a crisis.
The NGA publication, “The Many Roles of the Governors Chief of Staff,” provides a full list and description of the work performed by governors’ chiefs of staff.
The budget director heads the team that reviews funding requests made by individual agencies within state government and consolidates them into a statewide executive budget proposal for the governor’s approval and enactment by the legislature. The review of agency requests may include program and management evaluations, economic and review analysis, and examination of caseload and demographic data to determine need. The budget office also may analyze national and state economic data to develop predictions of state business activity and state revenues.
Once review and analysis of the agencies’ budget requests have been completed, budget staff make recommendations to the governor on the overall budget proposal. The governor reviews the recommendations and often provides additional direction that is incorporated in the proposal. The budget is then typically presented by the governor to the legislature, stressing particularly priorities during a state-of-the-state message.
(SOURCE—and for additional information: Budget Processes in the States, The National Association of State Budget Officers, 2015.)
The executive office of the governor generally includes staff who work with state agencies and the issues that concern them. Many governors establish a policy unit in the governor’s office to manage policy and liaison with state executive branch agencies. A variation is to appoint aides in the areas of greatest concern to the governor or where there are no department or agency heads directly responsible to the governor. In addition, these policy aides often act as ambassadors to interest groups and the business community. In general, policy functions will follow one of the following models:
Policy Unit in Governor’s Office – In this model, an organizational unit is maintained in the governor’s office whose central mission is policy development. This unit also maintains liaison with departments and agencies. The unit head—or policy director—is a member of the governor’s senior staff who supervises a number of other policy advisors, often clustered by issue area. The policy unit will work closely with other units in the governor’s office that are responsible for relating to legislation and budget development.
Policy Unit Clustered with Other Functions – In this model, states maintain a unit in the governor’s office that clusters policy with one or more other major functions. As in the case of a separate policy unit, the director of these clustered functions is a member of the governor’s senior staff who supervises a number of staff members, again likely organized by issue area. Typically, clustered units may combine policy development with the functions of legal counsel and/or legislative relations.
No Formal Unit – In this model, the governor looks to one or more staff members, and frequently cabinet members, as primary sources for policy development and advice. Some states have a designated policy director to keep the governor’s agenda on track but have no policy staff reporting to the director. Others using this model have one or more policy advisors on staff, most likely in areas of primary concern to the governor’s agenda, who report directly to the chief of staff. In still other states, an out-stationed or adjunct office helps develop policies on behalf of and at the direction of the governor.
The role of legislative director involves overseeing the development of the governor’s legislative agenda, coordinating the lobbying activities of the administration, and negotiating many issues with the legislature. It encompasses coordinating executive branch legislative proposals and mobilizing support for the governor’s legislative program. The legislative director also is responsible for advising the governor and members of the administration on probable legislative reactions to administration proposals. The director monitors legislation and often has a strong role in advising the governor on whether to sign or veto legislation. If not formally clustered with a policy unit, the legislative director will have a close working relationship with the budget and policy directors. The legislative director also works closely with the governor’s legal counsel.
The gubernatorial communications office develops and implements the governor’s communications strategy and serves as the point of contact for media seeking information about the governor and the governor’s programs. It is generally headed by a director of communications or a press secretary and may have additional staff who specialize in media type or specific issue areas.
An effective communications strategy, grounded in solid media relations and managed by talented communications staff, will help the governor communicate his or her priorities to the citizens of the state and ultimately leave office remembered for his or her many accomplishments
Governors are called on to make numerous appointments during their time in office. These appointments range from cabinet officers to judges to members of boards and commissions. In many governors’ offices, specialized staff are assigned to the appointments process. This staff often will be expected to track expiring terms and vacancies. They also may be charged with identifying candidates for vacant positions and for verifying credentials and coordinating background investigations. Appointments staff also may be responsible for obtaining political clearances and for managing the confirmation process with the state legislature.
Governors face varied, complex and numerous legal issues. Some relate to formal responsibilities of the office, such as making appointments to the state judicial branch, deciding whether to grant clemency to state prison inmates and preparing the state to deal with emergency and crisis situations. Other legal issues are less predictable, including investigations related to ethics standards the governor has established for his or her administration. The governor’s legal counsel manages legal issues for the governor and the governor’s office. Therefore, it is essential that he or she fully understand and effectively address the many diverse legal questions and problems that will arise during an administration. The resolution of legal issues often results in significant consequences statewide and produces broad and lasting effects on state citizens. Legal counsels typically report to the governors either directly or through the chief of staff.
There are many demands on a governor’s time. Governors need time to manage and interact with their staff and their department and agency heads, to decide on policy and legislative initiatives and to meet with legislators, media representatives, advocates and individual constituents. Governors also represent their states in Washington, D.C. and in meetings of national organizations such as the National Governors Association. Many governors will schedule time for economic development activities on a national or international scale. In addition, governors are called on to represent their state or their party at numerous civic and political events.
Time is a governor’s single most precious resource, and the job of the scheduling director is to assist the governor in managing it. The governor must rely heavily on the scheduling director to manage the schedule strategically in a way that maximizes the governor’s strengths and is driven by the governor’s goals and objectives. In some cases scheduling strategy and decisions are managed solely by the governor and the scheduling director, while in others, strategy and decisions are managed by a team of senior staff members (ex. chief of staff, communications director, scheduling director).
Traditionally, governors’ offices receive a large volume of mail and telephone calls. Less frequently, constituents pay unscheduled visits to a governor. In recent years the public has begun communicating with governors electronically, via email and programs such as Facebook and Twitter. In general, contact with the governor’s office will fall into three major categories:
Policy – urging the governor to take a specific position or seeking the governor’s position on state legislation or other policy-related matters;
Scheduling – seeking the governor’s participation in a meeting or event or seeking time on the governor’s calendar; and
Constituent Service – requesting the governor’s assistance in obtaining benefits or services from state government or in recognizing special achievements or milestones such as birthdays.
Most governors’ offices have assigned staff members or units to manage the flow of correspondence, telephone calls, and other communications. Depending on the state, territory, or commonwealth, these staff members may serve a purely administrative function or they may focus on particular policy issues or case management. Constituent service requests frequently are referred to appropriate state agencies for a direct response or for information that will enable the governor to respond.
Scheduling requests often will be referred to the governor’s scheduler. Policy-related correspondence may be referred to the governor’s policy aides. In some cases, the governor will use standardized responses on issues that have generated considerable interest.
Governors use other tools such as town meetings and “capitol-for-a-day” programs as a way to provide time for the governor to interact with constituents and interest groups. In addition, many governors maintain regional offices to facilitate communications outside the state capital.
The governor’s website can provide direct access to detailed information about the governor and his or her priorities or programs and can provide a structured forum for constituent input through feedback forms, email, and online surveys.
Intergovernmental relations is an important function of the governor’s office. Some governors have assigned specialized staff to establish close working relationships with local officials. The governor also plays an important role in relations with the federal government and may designate staff to specialize on this task. In addition, many states have offices or other representatives in Washington, D.C.
Emergency management and homeland security are functions often assigned to governor’s office staff due to the fact that it is the governor’s responsibility to make official declaration of an emergency. The day-to-day handling of emergency management and homeland security functions may be assigned to a staff specialist, although the chief of staff, legal counsel and other senior staff members are likely to comprise a joint management team during a crisis situation. In addition, emergency preparedness and response will likely require the involvement of one or more executive branch departments or agencies.
The governor’s personal secretary or executive assistant is often a member of the senior staff and plays a critical role in managing the flow of people and information through the governor’s office. In addition, many governors’ offices include staff support for the governor’s spouse, either as part of the executive residence staff or within the governor’s office itself.