“It looks more like Hollywood than it used to, is the most common response we get,” Marc Gustafson, a Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of the Situation Room, told a group of reporters inside the White House Situation Room.
The White House Situation Room (also known as WHSR, or “whizzer”), where the President of the United States meets with military officials, national security staff and video conferences in world leaders, is actually a series of different rooms totaling some 5,500 square feet. It also just underwent a $50 million renovation that left it with a “rich, new car smell.”
Located on the ground floor of the West Wing, the room where President Barack Obama famously watched as U.S. Navy SEALs raided Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad compound was essentially the same room where President Lyndon B. Johnson poured over details of the Vietnam War. It’s safe to say the country’s most important office space was in need of an upgrade, and it got one. The room was gutted and those updates took more than a year to finish.
When all was said and done, White House reporters got a glimpse into the room before it opened for its intended purpose: America’s most secret work. President Joe Biden received the first classified intelligence brief of a new era last week, then took to X (formerly known as Twitter) to praise the upgrades.
“Folks, the newly renovated White House Situation Room is up and running,” Biden said. “My thanks to everyone who worked on this incredible facility.”
The whizzer’s new look is mahogany paneling and stone masonry, all from American-made sources. It’s filled with LED lights that change color, flat panel monitors and television sets and transparent glass paneling that can transform to block views with the flick of a switch. No mobile phones are allowed inside the room, so landline phones still dominate.
After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, President John F. Kennedy’s administration created the White House Situation Room as a crisis management nerve center, where officials involved in any given operation could meet and coordinate efforts, intelligence and communication.
Since then, subsequent administrations have given the room certain upgrades. President Richard Nixon’s staff upgraded the room because it offered very little in the way of comfort. President George W. Bush’s administration upgraded the room for the technology needed at the time, including video teleconferencing. It was last updated in 2007.
The latest overhaul of the room required workers who were temporarily given security clearances. They dug five feet into the ground below the room to make way for the latest technology. The room is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week. After passing through a reception area, visitors and officials can enter the main conference area, also known as the JFK Room. To the right are two smaller soundproof rooms and to the left is an always-active operations center where personnel monitor world events.
The room was also designed so that such a renovation won’t be needed again. The areas where technology was installed are modular, so aspects can be removed and replaced when necessary. Even the Presidential Seal can be swapped out depending on who’s in the room at any given time or during any given meeting. It’s as close to a Hollywood look as the Sit Room has ever come.