Mais où sont les bureaux d'antan?

This morning I went to interview an Administration Official in what used to be known as the Old Executive Office Building, was known in the 19th century as the State, War, and Navy Building, and is now known as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. It is this familiar, ornate, French Second Empire-style structure, called by Mark Twain "the ugliest building in the world," which is immediately to the west side of the White House. (Wikipedia photo - with West Wing of White House barely visible on left side of shot):


One happy surprise is that the security arrangements were less onerous than I expected, and less obviously heavy-handed than around the modern, embunkered U.S. Capitol complex. Check in with name and photo-ID at a Secret Service guard house; run bags through an airport-style screen (but leaving your shoes on!); then you're on your own.

Personal surprise: en route to the appointment, I took a glance into what had been... my own office, back in the Jimmy Carter era. The speechwriters didn't have much influence in those
days, but we had great offices! The colonnade in the photo below (from The American Interest - corresponds to farthest right-side corner of building in photo above) surrounds the balcony outside what was then the speechwriters' suite. Now, it belongs to a big shot from OMB.


The big shot turns out to be Jeffrey Zients (whom I know, but didn't know was in this office), the first-ever Chief Performance Officer of the United States and a genuine business-world hotshot whose presence in the administration should be a reassuring sign of professional acumen in public service. This is probably a better use of such palatial quarters than the production of presidential rhetoric. Mixture of pride and wistfulness in seeing the same physical structure in such different times.
(I have learned to be explicit about these things: if you're curious, Mais où sont is based on this ballade.)
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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