This story appears in the Nov. 21 print edition of Transport Topics.
Efforts of the transition teams to ensure the government continues without a major glitch when President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January have dominated news reports, but whenever there is an entrance, there also is an exit.
Another critical component of the job is moving the outgoing president from the White House and transferring his personal and official records. President Obama’s are going to a temporary storage place in Chicago. This is under way but flying under the public’s radar.
Through February, tractor-trailers will be moving the first family’s personal effects and Obama’s records out of the White House and from storage in warehouses in the Washington, D.C., area that are operated by the National Archives and Records Administration.
It is a highly secretive operation.
While it is known that the military is helping move Obama’s papers, the cargo is largely confidential or classified, and so are the names of commercial motor carriers transporting the documents. Many of them will end up at Obama’s presidential library on Chicago’s South Side.
“We have already begun the physical transfer of hundreds of millions of textual, electronic and audiovisual records and additional materials to a temporary warehouse facility in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, that will store the records of the eventual Barack Obama Presidential Library,” Archivist of the United States David Ferriero wrote in his blog Nov. 10.
“We are also planning for the transfer of legal custody of those records on Jan. 20, 2017, the care of those records and the development of the library itself,” he said.
From packing to loading and unloading, the move by an unknown number of vetted, unidentified motor carriers and their employees will be scrutinized by the military, Secret Service and archive officials. In some cases, the tractor-trailers moving the cargo will be escorted under armed guard.
The military will help load and unload the trucks, according to Air Force Lt. Col. Vianesa Vargas, a logistics officer on special assignment to oversee the move.
“We’ve done it for the past few presidents, so we continue to be a trusted body for that logistical piece,” Vargas told Transport Topics. “Very simply, we’re the muscle behind the movement.”
John Laster, director of the Presidential Materials Division of the National Archives, did not return phone calls seeking comment. An Archives spokeswoman declined comment on the moves, calling them “confidential.”
There is no bidding process for the moves, said Chuck Kuhn, CEO of JK Moving Services of Sterling, Virginia. JK Moving has been involved with several presidential moves, including both George H.W. and George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Like so many things in the nation’s capital, connections and reputations play an obvious role in the carrier selection process.
“On the moves we’ve done, we got contacted,” Kuhn said.
“In some ways, there’s certainly a different nuance to it, with respect to confidentiality, security, dealing with the Secret Service and having all your drivers and workers vetted by the Secret Service prior to being involved in the relocation,” Kuhn said.
He added that the trucks also are vetted before they enter the White House grounds. “We have Secret Service escorts leading and following the vehicle to and from delivery. The trucks are locked and they’re sealed. But when it comes down to inventorying, moving, driving and delivering, it’s really no different,” he said.
Asked if JK would be playing a role in the Obama move, Kuhn responded, “We are not at liberty to discuss that.”