Posts Tagged ‘George W. Bush’

Lessons Learned: Past Political Appointees

May 12, 2009

DeSeveCoverIf you had a high level job, what advice would you leave for your successor?

The IBM Center released a new report today: “Speeding Up the Learning Curve:  Observations from a Survey of Seasoned Political Appointees,” by Ed DeSeve.  The survey was jointly sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration, the Partnership for Public Service, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute.  At the time of the survey, DeSeve was with the Fels Institute.

According to the Washington Post, there are about 500 top political appointees that are appointed by the President to lead major federal agencies whose appointments must be confirmed by the Senate.  The outgoing Senate- confirmed appointees of President George W. Bush shared their insights in this September 2008 survey.  This was a seasoned group of appointees, often with prior public service.

Survey respondents offered six observations:

  • Knowledge of ethical standards and financial disclosure rules is needed to be rapidly effective.  This is especially true during the confirmation process, but this knowledge was seen as especially important in the early months in office.  Along with this came the need to be clear on what was expected of them.  Appointees wanted direction on how they would be measured in their jobs by the White House, as well.
  • Performance and results matter.  Survey respondents said they thought that two dimensions of performance were important or very important:  measuring organizational results, and evaluating employee performance.  Setting standards of performance and measuring progress against those standards was seen as more important than financial, contract, or pay and benefits management.
  • Policy development and implementation depend on understanding processes.  Appointees said four factors ranked high: (21) understanding the president’s priorities, (2) knowing how the executive branch works, (3) understanding the budget process, and (4) mastering the policy development process.
  • Managing relationships matter.  The group rated relationships with the Office of Management and Budget, career employees, and Congress were at the top of their list.
  • Leadership is a key competency.  All appointees surveyed cited leadership as an important competency.  This was followed closely by negotiation and communication skills.
  • Support of career executives is critical.  The survey indicated that successful political appointees felt career executives provided them with three essential ingredients:  (1) knowledge of the agency’s policies and processes, (2) support for the goals of new leaders, and (3) an understanding of the agency’s internal culture.

Of the 66 survey respondents, 56 percent noted that it took four or more months from the time they were officially nominated until confirmation.  In 10 percent of the cases, the time required was 10 months or more. (BTW, as of today, there are 100 people confirmed to top positions. . . .15 percent of the total).


Wash Post Transition Editorial

October 29, 2008

With just six days before the election, the Washington Post’s lead editorial today, “Measure Those Drapes,” highlights the importance of pre-election preparation by both presidential candidates to be ready to govern.  Some excerpts:

“WE WRITE today in praise of drape-measuring. Early preparation for a presidential transition is essential to a successful launch of any presidency, and this transition will be more challenging — more perilous — than any in decades.

“The candidates are understandably reluctant to discuss the transition for fear of appearing presumptuous. . . . [However] Clay Johnson, who launched George W. Bush’s transition planning in spring 2000, wrote in a recent article for Public Administration Review, “It is irresponsible for anybody who could be president not to prepare to govern effectively from day one.”

“Mr. Johnson and other transition experts believe the new president should announce his chief of staff within a few days of the election and, by Thanksgiving, name his key White House, economic, national security and foreign policy officials. That will be a daunting task; no recent president-elect has followed so ambitious a timetable.”

Transition Advice from Experts

July 3, 2008
The July-August 2008 issue of Public Administration Review contains a trio of articles offering advice to the presidential candidates’ transition teams.  Each of the articles offers advice based on experience and history.  As might be expected, there are many parallels.


  Dr. Martha Kumar, who directs The White House Transition Project, did an article, “Getting Ready for Day One,” which offers historical insights into what candidates’ transition teams should be doing, starting now!  These include:

·      Campaign commitments can affect the ease or difficulty with which the president-elect establishes the direction of the Administration and staffs the offices.

·      The importance of an information-gathering operation prior to the convention to identify information on personnel and timetables for decisions to be made.

·      Monitor the actions of the incumbent president and administration to be aware of issues that may come to the fore in the early days of the new Administration.

·      Focus on the White House decision-making process, key White House positions, and budget officials.

·      Coordinate both people and policy around the president’s agenda.


Harrison Wellford, who helped manage President Jimmy Carter’s transition – both in and out of the White House (and served as an advisor to subsequent presidential transition teams) – wrote “Preparing to Be President on Day One.”    He offers advice on the attributes of a successful transition team.  For example, the transition leader should have a close relationship with the candidate and be trusted by the campaign.  He also advises establishing a relationship of mutual respect and cooperation with the outgoing administration, and learn from the institutional memory of both outgoing teams as well as from senior career executives.  Pointing to the Clinton transition, he notes “Avoid musical chairs in transition leadership after the election!”


And finally, Clay Johnson III, who was President George W. Bush’s transition director in 2000 and, as deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget is helping manage the transition out for this Administration, wrote an authoritative: “Recommendations for an Effective 2008 Transition.”  Johnson based his insights on the latest transition:  a cost of at least $9 million, a staff of at least 800, an influx of at least 75,000 resumes.  He offers practical advice about schedules, priorities, and communication.  For example, he notes “Expect a lot of advice from member of previous administrations, ‘experts,” interest groups, lobbyists, governors, legislators, donors, and the like.”  He advises the incoming transition team to clearly inform such advisors on the best ways to communicate with the team.  But his key advice, like both Dr. Kumar and Mr. Wellford, is to start preparing to govern months before the party nominating conventions.


Note:  Links to the articles cited are used with the permission of the American Society for Public Administration.


Ready on Day One

February 12, 2008

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!