When Alaska Native citizen Raina Thiele took over for Navajo Nation citizen Charlie Galbraith at the White House as Associate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs early this year, it was clear that she was to hold the same position he did, doing the same complicated work reaching out to tribes, while trying to strike a delicate balance between being a federal public servant and a tribal citizen.
In messages from Thiele to tribal leaders and in communications issued by administration officials since her hiring, she has certainly been portrayed as an equal to Galbraith, who was recently hired away from the White House by Kilpatrick Stockton to become a member of the firm’s Native American affairs team.
But on July 1, upon the issuance of the annual White House salary list to Congress, Thiele’s equality – and whether she has the same or stronger influence with the administration on Native affairs compared to Galbraith – is ripe for questioning.
The list indicates that Thiele makes substantially less in the same position—$65,000 per year for her versus $70,000 for Galbraith, which is the same salary he made in 2013, 2012, and 2011 when he was hired into the position.
Thiele’s situation appears to conflict with a justification that Josh Earnest, the new White House press secretary, recently gave to explain a widely-reported 13 percent gender pay gap for women working at President Barack Obama’s White House.
At a July 2 press briefing, Earnest said that men and women with the same job title make the same amount at the White House. To illustrate, he pointed to the salaries of two senior advisors to the president, Valerie Jarrett and Dan Pfeiffer, who both make $172,200 per year.
But that is clearly not the case when one compares Thiele’s title and salary to that of Galbraith.
Earnest admitted that there is “still more work to do at the White House” to equalize salaries between men and women, but he said the institution is doing better than the private sector.
“I wouldn’t hold up the White House as the perfect example here,” Earnest added at the briefing.
Regarding the position of Senior Policy Advisor for Native American Affairs – the top position at the Obama White House dealing exclusively with tribal issues – Jodi Gillete, a Standing Rock Sioux citizen, has made $100,000 for each year she has held the position. That is the same salary Cherokee Nation citizen Kim Teehee made in the position before she joined the Mapetsi Indian lobbying firm after the president’s first term.
While the pay for the Native affairs advisor has been consistent through the tenures of Teehee and Gillette, it is still currently substantially less than top advisors in other subject areas earn.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Montana), chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs, have both called on Obama to create a Cabinet-level position for a Native American affairs leader who would serve in the uppermost echelon of the executive branch, earning the same salary and having the same responsibilities as other Cabinet secretaries. They both believe that such a position could permanently elevate Indian affairs in the current and future administrations and with Congress.
White House statistics further show that another position that deals with Native Americans, the Director of Specialty Media, held by Shin Inouye, earns an equal amount of pay per year – $78,000 – as White House spokespeople who deal with African-American and Hispanic media.
However, Inouye’s position is not dedicated solely to Native American media, as are the positions of his Hispanic- and African-American-focused counterparts; he also oversees inquiries from gay, Jewish, and other minority journalists. There are several national Indian news outlets, major news outlets regularly cover Native news, and many of the nation’s 566 federally-recognized tribes have tribal newspapers, so tribal citizens see a vast need for dedicated communications from the White House.
During the same time that this discrepancy has existed, the president has done sit-down interviews with members of the African-American and Hispanic press, but he has yet to do one with the Indian press.