Senator Hillary Clinton says she’ll “be ready on Day One.” She’s referring to her experience. But it could also refer to a well-organized transition process. According to presidential scholars and other observers, the first six months of a new Administration are its period of greatest influence. A poorly organized transition can result in missteps that can slow action on a new President’s agenda to the point that it will not have gotten organized until after that period of influence has passed.
Two things happened last week to quietly kick off the presidential transition effort that will be in high gear come November. First, President Bush released his FY 2009 budget, which includes a $9 million funding request for the General Services Administration to operate the transition process.
Second, the Republicans now have a presumptive candidate, Senator John McCain, who can now start to quietly build a transition effort in the coming months, if he has not already.
But what does this entail?
It means effective pre-election planning for the 77-day post-election transition period. Some academics, including Martha Kumar, describe the post-election transition period as a “freight train.” Actions include: picking top White House staff – not cabinet officials – first; avoiding any constraining commitments; learning from outgoing predecessors; creating a decision-making process for policy and personnel sections; and developing a strategic agenda for policy proposals.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll summarize the existing public records on presidential transitions, starting with the 1976 transition for President-elect Jimmy Carter. The most descriptive reference is a 2000 book by John P. Burke, “Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice,” which he followed with an addendum on the George W. Bush transition. There are also several other presidential transition efforts that some think tanks developed, as well. I’ll conclude with a summary of some of the “lessons learned” which the campaigns, and ultimately the President-elect’s team, may find helpful.
Any insights you might have are encouraged!