One Year and Counting


White HouseA year from now, a president-elect will have already frantically launched his or her transition team for the 77-day transition period.   But before then, the die will have already been cast on his or her management approach, which, according to presidential scholar John Burke, can determine the success of his or her first year as president.

There will be at least four forces that will contribute to framing that management approach:

The President-Elect.  The candidates will start to put into place their transition teams by spring or summer of 2008, after each party has winnowed down their respective fields. Traditionally, these efforts have been very low profile because none of the candidates will want to give the impression to the public that they are so confident in winning that they are planning to launch a transition team before the election results are known.  However, history also tells us that any winning candidate who has not started at least six months before the election will be woefully behind come the day after Election Day.  Dr. Burke’s book on the transition process concludes that the best-run transition effort was conducted by Ronald Reagan.

The composition of the transition team, both in its planning stages as well as its implementation, will strongly influence the first six months of the new president’s term of office.  Also influencing the management agenda will be the new president’s campaign promises as well as the potential appointees who will be jockeying for position.

The Bureaucracy.  The Presidential Transition Act gives the General Services Administration a prominent role in the transition.  It provides temporary office space and equipment to the transition team, but GSA and the National Archives are also given joint responsibility for pulling together information on how the government works to provide to the incoming president-elect’s team.  In 2000, for example, they created a website with agency-by-agency information.  The Act also authorizes funding to provide training to new political appointees, such as how to work effectively with Congress, the media, and career executives.

The agencies traditionally prepare back-up books for the incoming administration.  The outgoing administration can also make the transition easier by having agencies update their strategic plans, etc. in advance.  It can also selectively recommend funding to be set aside for the incoming president’s team so it has the flexibility to move quickly.  For example, the Office of Management and Budget’s budgeting system is antiquated and funding would be needed to begin an upgrade.  If the request for funding is left to the new president, that funding would not be available for at least a year after taking office, with implementation occurring far later than that.

The Congress.  The Congress has a strong influence on the success of the new president’s management efforts.  Will it update and fund the provisions under the Presidential Transition Act?  Will it provide some discretionary funding for updating White House internal operations?  Will it streamline its requirements for the confirmation of new political appointees?  Will it adopt new laws that will be left for the new president implement?

External Think Tanks.  The Washington think tank world predominantly focuses on policy issues.  However, a sub-set of “good government” groups (including the IBM Center) often provide insights for the incoming administration on management issues. 

Past efforts have helped new administrations get a jump-start on management issues, as well.  For example, in 2000, the Council for Excellence in Government sponsored forums on electronic government that helped the incoming Administration frame its e-government initiatives.  In 2008, similar efforts may be launched around improvements to acquisition systems and human capital, as well as technology.  In addition, the good government groups will likely offer guidance and training materials on management issues as well as assisting new appointees understand the context of working effectively in Washington.  For example, the Council plans to update its “Prune Book” describing the context and needed qualifications for the 40-50 most difficult jobs in the government.  In another example, Brookings Institution in 2000 published a book, “The White House Staff,” by Brad Patterson that examines in detail the functions of each of the offices in the White House.  He is planning an update in 2008. 

What other things do you think should be added to a check list of things the candidates’ transition teams should be watching for in the coming year?


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