The White House tried to clarify a mystery Wednesday about the government constructing a replica Oval Office for President Obama — but the attempt to explain raised more questions than it answered.
White House press secretary Jay Carney labeled as “false” a report by Real Clear Politics that construction has begun on a clone Oval Office, located in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House, to make way for extensive West Wing renovations.
The report said Mr. Obama would be moving out of the West Wing as early as August, for a period of up to two years, into a temporary Oval Office at EEOB complete with curved walls.
“Reports about a replica Oval Office are false,” Mr. Carney said. “No one’s moving from the West Wing … including the president.”
But pressed by reporters about the pending renovations, Mr. Carney said “no decisions about that have been made,” seeming to leave open the possibility that Mr. Obama might move into a secondary executive suite at some point in his second term.
Mr. Carney has been referring questions about the construction project to the General Services Administration, which seems like a deft move if the intention is to give out as little information as possible.
After several days’ worth of inquiries, a GSA spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson, likewise failed to provide any details about the project, such as its cost to taxpayers.
The GSA, a federal agency that oversees acquisition of government property and services, is better known to taxpayers during Mr. Obama’s tenure for spending $823,000 on a Las Vegas convention in 2010 and misplacing 115 Apple iPods meant for an employee-rewards program.
The Obama administration bills itself as the most transparent in history and GSA’s website says the agency’s core values include “accountability and transparency in operations.”
No one will say whether security concerns are causing the White House to be so secretive about the plans. The precise location of the current Oval Office, on the southern end of the West Wing adjacent to the Rose Garden, has been known to the public for more than 100 years.
The RCP report said the timing of Mr. Obama’s move to a substitute executive suite depends in part on the president’s readiness to begin working in temporary quarters for what could be as long as two years. It said the construction is part of a larger, $376 million renovation project begun in September 2010.
Although the White House was built between 1792 and 1800, the Oval Office was added only in 1909 during the presidency of William Howard Taft. The Oval Office has undergone renovations previously, such as the repairs after a fire in 1929.
The EEOB, a massive edifice that stands to the west of the White House, was built in 1888 and originally housed the War Department.
Construction crews late last year completed a “big dig” on the north side of the White House grounds that was similarly cloaked in secrecy. After nearly two years and $86 million worth of construction, whatever was built deep underground remains covered up by sod and the administration’s silence.
The construction project was officially called a long overdue upgrade of White House utilities, but it included the excavation of a huge pit several stories deep, reinforced with truckloads of steel beams and heavy-duty concrete.