Posts Tagged ‘Jimmy Carter’

Engaging Civil Servants

January 2, 2009

President-Elect Obama will be meeting with President Bush and living past-presidents on January 7th in the White House to learn first-hand about their experiences.  President Bush has no agenda, but one topic might be:  how to engage civil servants in carrying out large-scale changes.


President George H.W. Bush met with members of the Senior Executive Service a few weeks after he took office in 1989; senior executives who attended still talk about it, even though it included no give-and-take with his audience.   President-Elect Obama has been urged to emulate this event.


However, presidential scholar Dr. Martha Kumar notes that: “there is another model and one that has the benefit of working with President Obama’s strength of listening to people who have much to say in addition to telling people about the goals of the administration and their role in it. 


“When President Jimmy Carter came into office in 1977, one of his first actions was to do a series of visits to each of the then-eleven government departments to talk to career staff about the importance of their work to the success of his administration.  These were sessions held from January 26th to March 1st 1977, ones where President Carter learned a great deal about the programs and achievements of each of the departments and their agencies.  In each meeting, he spoke a few minutes about what his hopes were for the departments and his need for the support from the career staff.  But the longer part of these sessions was the question-and-answer part he had with departmental employees. In addition to all of their benefits, the preparation for these visits served as a quick initiation for President Carter into the programs and people of each of the eleven departments.”


Kumar notes, “In 2009, these kinds of sessions could serve several purposes:

* Let the career civil servants know President Obama plans a partnership with them and what their common goals will be.

* Remind the American people of the fine career staff working on their behalf in the federal government.

* Learn about departmental programs through the preparation for the individual events and the questions the career staff ask. The public would learn from such sessions as the press corps following President Obama would write about the event and the issues.”


She also observes that it offers the President an opportunity to tell employees what he wants from them and what they can do together.  About two-thirds of career senior executives have not been through a presidential transition, so this would be an opportunity to engage them as well.


Kumar has identified the weblinks to the transcripts of those long-ago meetings that President Carter held (which remind me a bit of the cabinet townhall meetings that Vice President Al Gore held as part of his reinventing government initiative in 1993).


She notes: “While the sessions last varying amounts of time, there are similarities among them.  At each one, President Carter talked about his administration and their important role in it.. . . his central message of the partnership of the President and career civil servants was a solid one for his audience and the country as well. He opened with remarks about the direction of his administration and then took questions from his audience varying from a half dozen to a dozen questions.  The queries included ones about administration policies, work place issues (labor unions, flex time, day care), regulations, and budgetary ones.” 

Was this the best use of a new President’s time in his first 100 days in office?  Will the pressures of the challenges facing President Obama allow this level of interaction?  Are there new ways of creating such interaction, given the Internet? These are questions the transition team is likely grappling with.  Still, this might be an interesting topic of conversation when the Presidents get together.


For the history buffs, here are the dates of each of the sessions at the then-eleven departments as they took place and a link to the transcript of each session as well.  They are an interesting trip back in history!


Department of Justice – January 26, 1977. This was a different session than the others as he went to Justice for the swearing-in of Attorney General Griffin Bell and did not have a question-and-answer session that was recorded. He took a tour of the department and most likely answered questions then.

Department of Labor – February 9

Department of Commerce – February  9  

Department of Treasury – February 10  

Department of Housing and Urban Development – February 10

Department of Health, Education, and Welfare – February 16

Department of Agriculture – February 16

Department of Interior – February 18

Department of Transportation – February 24

Department of State – February 24

Department of Defense – March 1


Transition Off to Quick Start

November 7, 2008

The media has focused on the rapid start of the Obama transition effort. I was called by a reporter yesterday and asked my impression of what’s happened, just 48 hours after the election, compared to past transitions. I observed that, compared to past transitions, this one seems to have gotten underway much quicker. But that was just my observation from my reading the history.  However, this was confirmed for me last night at an event sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government on the transition where Harrison Wellford spoke. Wellford has been an advisor to every Democratic presidential transition team since Jimmy Carter took office. He said this was the best Democratic transition start he’s ever been associated with. He said he’s “very excited about how this is going,” and foresees quick action on making key appointments as well as defining 3-4 key policy areas where the new Obama Administration can take quick action. He also foresees an emphasis on transparency and teamwork during the transition.

Separately, the new Obama Transition Website was turned on – aptly named  The site has a number of high tech capabilities:  a newsroom, a blog to document the transition, a message board to allow citizens to post comments and their aspirations for the next Administration, and background material. But most important for some – a link where you can send your resume if you want to work for the next Administration! According to WTOP News, their offices are located at 451 Sixth Street, NW (just look for the newly erected security barriers) just a block from Verizon Center.

In addition, the 2008-2009 Transition Resources Website was turned on yesterday. It is part of the effort being undertaken by the General Services Administration and the National Archives. This site is targeted to the incoming transition team and new appointees and provides an overview of resources and laws. It includes organization charts of the government as well as links to a range of useful resources.

Also, the Council for Excellence in Goverment launched its Presidential Transition website, as well.  It’s got a lot of useful resources and up-to-date news.

Finally, the much-anticipated 2008 Plum Book, that lists all political appointment positions, is scheduled to be released on Wednesday, November 12th.

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.


Transition 1976: Jimmy Carter

February 19, 2008

President Jimmy CarterJimmy Carter’s pre-election transition effort was more ambitious than any of his predecessors in terms of its size and attention to staffing and policy development.  He basically developed the formula that would be used by all of his successors.  However, according to presidential historian John Burke, Carter’s transition “proved deeply flawed in its details and execution; it affected, in turn, his presidency.”

Richard Nixon was the first president-elect to receive public funding for his post-election transition effort.  However, President Lyndon Johnson split the funding in order to support his departure from office, leaving Nixon with $375,000 to support his transition effort.  Carter’s post-election transition effort was the first to receive designated federal funding, in the amount of $2 million. 


Carter was the first presidential candidate to start a pre-election transition effort so early, once he got the nomination locked up but before the primary season was over.  He designated Jack Watson, who lead Governor Carter’s state government reorganization efforts, to lead the pre-election transition effort in early June.  Carter specified that this effort would be separate from the campaign because he did not want to distract the campaign staff.

After the Democratic convention, the pre-transition effort was expanded and staffed with people experienced with the federal government.  It was allocated a budget of $150,000 and obtained assistance from a management consulting firm.  It developed lists of potential appointees and issues, option papers, and a potential legislative agenda.  The existence of this group aggravated the campaign manager, Hamilton Jordan.  The campaign staff was concerned that the separate pre-election transition staff was developing options that did not reflect campaign commitments.  They also felt the transition team was overly conventional, cautious, late-comers, elitists, who represented the Washington establishment.  This led to squabbling and friction.


President-elect Carter chose to stay in Plains, Georgia during the transition.  Watson sent him briefing books, option papers, and lists of potential appointees.  He also developed a white paper on the role of the transition staff and transition coordinator.  Jordan and Watson met with Carter to work out their differences, but Carter did not resolve them.  He told them to work it out among themselves.  There was no clear line of command and Carter had to continually intervene to resolve conflicts.  By that time, there were over 200 staff on the payroll and nearly 80 others as volunteers.

Carter wanted to have a Cabinet-run, rather than a White House staff-run, government.  As governor, he convened his cabinet frequently as a deliberative body and he wanted to replicate that in the White House instead of relying on a small cadre of White House staff, as President Nixon did.  As a consequence, he occupied himself in the weeks after the election with selecting the Cabinet.  In addition, he indirectly delegated the selection of sub-cabinet officials to the cabinet officers.  He did not focus on the selection and organization of the White House staff until a week before the Inauguration.  Roles of White House staffers were not defined; they evolved over the succeeding months.

In parallel, without a strong decision-making process in place, the number of policy initiatives to be pursued in the early months of the Administration grew.  There was no process to manage them.

Taken together, these various mishaps framed the Administration with a sense of disorganization and micro-management by the President that persisted throughout his Administration.

*** This story was abstracted from John P. Burke’s book, “Presidential Transitions:  From Politics to Practice.”   If you were involved in this transition, please feel free to add your stories, as well! ***

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!