“Who’s in charge of a transition? Nobody. There’s no government-wide standard on how to do it,” says David Bibb, deputy administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA), and the career senior executive designated to help organize the administrative support for the upcoming presidential transition effort.
Bibb, who spoke at a forum held at the National Academy for Public Administration last week, said GSA already has a transition support team identified and it has been meeting quarterly since mid-2004. They’ve developed a detailed timeline and have identified temporary office space for a transition team of up to 600 people – along with parking, furniture, and support services. He says their goal is to focus on logistics of the transition and the inauguration so the president-elect’s team can focus on the substance of the transition itself. He says that up to 40 GSA staff will likely be involved.
In addition to supporting the incoming team, GSA will also help support the outgoing team of President George Bush. In fact, agencies are already designating officials who will be the point persons during the transition for their agencies. Bibb says GSA has not yet reached out to the presidential candidates to let them know what GSA can and will be able to provide in terms of support. He thinks that will likely occur after the political conventions are held later this summer.
He outlined two items that GSA will be responsible for — in addition to the logistics –that were added by law in 2000:
Appointee Directory. GSA will work with the National Archives, the Office of Personnel Management, and the White House office of presidential personnel to develop a high-level overview of federal departments and agencies for incoming political appointees. In 2000, that document was both a 50-page guide as well as a website. GSA is exploring different options for 2008.
Orientation of incoming political appointees. GSA is developing a document that would be shared with the pre-election transition teams presidential candidates will form after the conventions. This document will outline the requirements of the statutory provision on orientation of incoming political appointees, along with organizations that may have the potential capacity to support the orientations. GSA will not define the content of the orientation or the approach to the orientation – whether it is training-style or discussion group-style. That will be up to the president-elect’s transition team.
In addition, GSA will consult with both candidates’ teams in advance of the election to coordinate things such as software for the collection of resumes.
Why is the GSA role so important to get right? Political scientists have said that a smooth transition is important to getting the new president’s agenda off on the right foot. But Bibb says it is now more urgent than that: after 9/11, “we’ve absolutely got to have the ability to back up” the security-related agencies. He noted that terrorists attacked at the time of leadership transition ins Spain and the United Kingdom in recent years and we need to be able to respond on Day One.