White House set to receive deep cleaning ahead of inauguration

Thursday, January 14, 2021

After three COVID-19 breakouts within the White House in recent months, the federal government is sparing no expense to clean and disinfect the building before President-elect Biden moves in Jan. 20.

According to government contracts reviewed by ABC News, more than $200,000 has been spent for increased White House janitorial and housekeeping work, including $127,249 on "2021 Inaugural Cleaning" and another $44,038 on "Inaugural carpet cleaning." There was $29,523 spent for "Inaugural curtains cleaning."

While the White House is always deep-cleaned during the transition between presidents, that work is usually handled by White House staff, including butlers, ushers and maintenance crews. Contracting out additional cleaning services is unprecedented in modern times, according to Kate Brower Andersen, presidential historian and former White House reporter.

"We've never seen this before," Brower Andersen said on ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. "The Government Services Administration has said they're going to do this very deep cleaning -- cleaning every surface of the 55,000 square foot mansion. There's always been a deep clean between administrations, but we've never seen anything like this."

In a statement, a GSA spokesperson said, "GSA will thoroughly clean and disinfect the building spaces between the administrations and ensure that everything is up to standard. Cleaning will include, but is not limited to, all furniture, flooring, window treatments, handrails, door knobs, light switches, countertops, elevator buttons, restroom fixtures and dispensers, door handles and push plates, and lighting fixtures."

The deep cleaning comes after multiple large in-person events at the White House over the past few months, during which attendees rarely wore masks or practiced social distancing. Following those events, dozens of Trump administration staffers and allies tested positive for COVID-19, including the president, the first lady and the chief of staff.

The cleaning contracts were awarded the Didlake, a Manassas, Virginia-based company whose mission is to provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

In addition to the deep cleaning, a government contract provides $115,000 to replace and install new carpeting "to correct the current floor condition" for various offices within the West Wing, East Wing and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB).

Didlake did provide carpet cleaning services in the EEOB prior to President Donald Trump's inauguration. A Jan. 6, 2017 contract allocated $42,000 for that work. But there were no contracts for expanded cleaning services at the time.

The raging COVID-19 pandemic could prove to be a challenge when it comes to the remarkable work of transitioning the White House between presidential residents. Traditionally, the 132-room mansion is transformed during a 5- to 6-hour period when the outgoing and incoming presidents are busy with inaugural ceremonies on Capitol Hill. At that time, "a very well-organized ballet choreography" involving dozens of residence staff unfolds, according to former White House usher Gary Walters.

But Biden's team has practiced strict COVID-19 safety protocols, including limiting the number of people in enclosed spaces around the president-elect. It's unclear whether the administration will take steps to limit the number of staffers involved with the move, but one Biden transition official said the president-elect intends to move into the White House on a traditional timeline. A transition spokesperson did not respond to request for comment on the need for expanded cleaning.

Biden has already received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, as has soon-to-be first lady Jill Biden.

Incoming press secretary Jen Psaki has confirmed that some White House staff will begin working for the new administration remotely.

"We won't have all staff in the White House because our mantra is COVID safety first for everyone," Psaki said Wednesday. "We're waiting on specifics of how many people will be there on the first day and first weeks."

ABC News's Karen Travers and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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