In an era of scrutiny over federal spending, there is one domestic initiative that costs the American taxpayer nothing, yet receives little to no attention: the cleaning and maintenance of the White House’s 35 chimneys. For almost 22 years, this job has gone to a team run by Jeff Schmittinger, the owner of Waukesha-based Wisconsin Chimney Technicians.
On February 17, 1993, Schmittinger was so moved by President Clinton’s appeal for a balanced budget—“I know this economic plan is ambitious, but I honestly believe it is necessary for the continued greatness of the United States, and I think it is paid for fairly by asking more Americans to contribute today so that all of us can prosper tomorrow”—that he personally called the White House to offer his services to the country. Not until a year and a half later, after undergoing Secret Service security clearances, did Schmittinger win the job. He and his team have been cleaning the White House chimneys at no cost to taxpayers ever since. The chimney sweeps must pay their own way to the capitol and pay for their accommodations and other expenses, but all feel the cost is well worth it.
The team of sweeps is comprised of 8 members, including Schmittinger’s wife, who clean each chimney. The cleanings happen once every two years, with Schmittinger replacing half of his crew before each trip in an attempt to keep the team sharp while encouraging a sense of community for chimney sweeping professionals. For sure, this approach helps prevent the sweeps from becoming complacent. Each chimney sweep is nominated by other professionals in the field and can only participate for two years. As one might expect, Schmittinger gives a bit of a pep talk the night before the sweepings begin to help calm the nerves of the rookies and to help the ret of the team focus on the days ahead. It is a great honor to be chosen to clean the President’s many chimneys.
Getting Down and Dirty
The cleaning takes place during August recess in an attempt to provide as little disruption as possible. Between sweeping and video scanning, each chimney takes about two hours to complete. For those of you who don’t feel like doing the mental math, that equates to approximately 70 total hours of work to clean the White House’s 35 chimneys.
As previously stated, this is one of our nation’s hidden gems. The spirit with which Jeff Schmittinger took on this great honor is just what we need to get us where we want to go. America’s small business owners embody the grit, ingenuity, and entrepreneurial spirit that make our nation great.