The President’s Men Don’t Go AWOL

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s disappearance story will strike anyone who has served in a senior administration role as bizarre. When you are entrusted with high-level public responsibilities, the expectation is that you are always available. Top officials like Mr. Austin occupy what is known as the PAS level—presidentially appointed, Senate confirmed. PAS officials don’t even accrue vacation days since they are assumed always to be on the clock.

Over the years, the constant availability of top administration aides at all hours has become the stuff of legend. When I served in the White House, workdays routinely began at 7 a.m. and continued until 8 p.m. Neither weekends nor late nights were considered time off. Andy Card, George W. Bush’s chief of staff, would sleep with his BlackBerry on his chest so that he’d be ready if a call came while he slept.

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