The Contemporary Presidency: The “Flying White House”: A Travel Establishment within the Presidential Branch


  • AUTHOR’S NOTE: Special thanks are owed to my research assistants, Will Miller and Clarissa Kornell. Their time was funded by the George V. Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs.

Michael John Burton is assistant professor of political science at Ohio University. From 1993 to 1998, he served in the office of Vice President Al Gore. His has coauthored (with Daniel M. Shea) Campaign Craft: The Strategies, Tactics, and Art of Political Campaign Management and Campaign Mode: Strategic Vision in Congressional Elections.


A conglomeration of civilian, military, and security offices works in concert to support presidential travel. Although domestic and international excursions are critical to a chief executive’s efforts to “go public,” scholars have yet to investigate the bureaucratic structure that makes travel possible. This article traces the growth and formalization of a presidential “travel establishment,” from Washington’s day to the present. In so doing, it challenges legalistic definitions of the “presidential branch” which focus on the Executive Office of the President (EOP), recommending instead a functional definition that would embrace a wider range of presidential personnel. The article further suggests that scholars regard the travel establishment as a partner to the EOP—the two operations maintaining institutional separation even as they coordinate parallel missions.