Posts Tagged ‘Martha Kumar’

Update: The White House Transition Project

August 20, 2009

I had lunch yesterday with Martha Kumar, who helps run the White House Transition Project,  and she encouraged a visit to their website to see their “Six Month Review” of the Obama Administration’s transition.  You should visit also!

They’ve got a running tally of the status of presidential appointments as of the six-month point (55 percent identified or confirmed, of the top 542 positions).  They note the delay in confirmations tends to be on the White House side – not the Senate side — of the appointment process.

They have also drafted some essays on specific topics:  a review of Rahm Emanuel’s effectiveness on the job so far (a positive assessment), a review of Jim Jones’s role as national security advisor (still evolving), and a piece on presidential travel (Obama has earned lots of miles!).  Additional essays in production include a piece on the organization of the White House, and the interaction between the President and the press.


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: IBM Center Special Magazine Issue

December 22, 2008

bog_fall08pubs1Last week I visited with a friend at lunch and had a strange experience!  I’d brought a copy of the IBM Center’s latest magazine to share and left on the table during lunch.  A complete stranger came up and said “Oh, can I get a copy of that magazine?  I really need it!” Then someone a table over said, “Can I get a copy too!?”  This issue has a special section on the transition, which was what was attracting interest.

Well, in case you too are interested, here are the hotlinks to those articles:

Helping the Next Administration Succeed in Washington, by Jonathan Breul.  Management matters, says Breul:  “The transition from campaign to governing requires that presidential policies be transformed from rhetoric into an actionable agenda and then into concrete results. Neither good policies nor sound investments are likely to work, let along succeed, if undermined by poor implementation.”  He goes on to observe that this is difficult both because of the size of the federal government as well as the fact that so much of what goes on must be delegated to others.  He says that having good oversight and controls in place is important, but that a leadership interest in management, and not just policy, is important.

Eight Essential Tools for Achieving Your Goals:  Insights for the New Administration, by Mark Abramson, Breul, John Kamensky, and Martin Wagner.  This essay summarizes the book they co-authored, “The Operator’s Manual for the New Administration.”  They outline the eight tools leaders have at their disposal in every government agency to use to achieve their goals:  leadership, performance, people, money, contracting, technology, innovation, and collaboration.  The book has chapters on each. 

Hubris or Wise Policy?  Early Planning for a Presidential Transition, by Martha Joynt Kumar.  Based on years of study, professor Kumar says presidential candidates need to be prepared to select and vet some 100 top administration officials, staff up their White House, be ready in the first week to issue a dozen executive orders reflecting their social priorities and withdraw ones issued by their predecessors, have ready a speech to Congress on a major policy issue, and decide their budget priorities. Early planning makes all of the difference to the quality of the start a president has once he takes office.  Based on the progress of the Obama transition, it looks like they’ve taken her advice!

What Do (and What Should) Federal Officials Do During a Presidential Transition?, by Bruce McConnell.  This article focuses on the actions of federal officials in four separate phases of the transition: pre-election, post-election, post-inauguration, and post-arrival (of incoming political officials). It differentiates between three types of officials: political officials connected with the outgoing administration, incoming political officials, and senior career civil servants. Finally, it provides some tips for making the transition a success for all concerned.

An Apollo Project for Climate Change/Energy?  History’s Lessons for Future Success, by Henry Lambright. If President Obama wants to launch a massive effort to respond to the nation’s climate change/energy challenges, he can hearken back to large-scale government efforts in the past such as the Manhattan Project or the Apollo Project.  Dr. Lambright’s study of these past efforts offers five success factors for such large-scale efforts:  (1) a consensus-building catalyst for action, (2) a clear and urgent goal, (3) a powerful implementing agency, (4) sustained political will, and (5) exceptional administrative leadership. 

Hope you enjoy your holiday reading!

Transition Triple-Header

October 3, 2008

On Wednesday, October 15th, there will be three different events focused on the upcoming presidential transition:

The 1105 Government Information Group:  “Today’s Strategy for Tomorrow’s Administration”
Four Points Sheraton, Washington, DC.
8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (open registration; fees:  $295 government; $595 industry)

This conference is co-sponsored with the IBM Center for The Business of Government, INPUT, the American Society of Public Administration, Partnership for Public Service, FedSource, and ITAA.

The 1105 Government Information Group will bring together senior-level government officials, leading figures in academia and public policy, and CXOs from industry, to discuss the technology business and organizational challenges brought about by a change in administration, and effective strategies and tactics for dealing with that change.
Feature speakers schooled in the art of successful transitions will address these issues:  
• How government agencies transition key leadership positions and define roles and responsibilities
• How to sustain program momentum during a transition
• What budget, program and policy planning companies should be doing now to prepare for transition
• How industry can reap the benefits of transition – from personnel to programs
• How government agencies can help prepare industry for changes in a new administration.

Speakers will include: Paul Light, New York University; Allan Lichtman, American University; and Gail Lovelace, transition director, General Services Administration.

A detailed agenda and registration details:  are available.

* * * * *

An American University Conference:  “Presidential Transitions: From Campaigning to Governing”
Location: 1333 H St., NW; Washington, DC.   9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. (no registration fee but space is limited; Please RSVP to by Monday, October 13)

This conference is co-hosted by the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, the Kennedy Political Union, and the Center for American Progress.   This conference will bring together academics and practitioners to discuss successes and failures in past presidential transitions. There will be a special focus on the promise made by both 2008 presidential candidates to “change the way Washington works.” Can it be changed? Should it be changed? What advice can be given to improve the way the next president will work with Congress?

– DRAFT Agenda –

8:30-9:00a.m.              Registration and light breakfast

9:00-9:15a.m.              Welcome:  Dr. James A. Thurber:  Distinguished Professor and Director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University and editor of Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations

9:15-10:30a.m.            Panel:  Structuring a White House Legislative Affairs Office
** Chair: Dr. James A. Thurber
** Patrick Griffin:  Former Assistant to President Clinton for Legislative Affairs and Academic Director of the Public Affairs and Advocacy Institute at American University
** Gary Andres:  Former Assistant for Legislative Affairs to President George H. W. Bush and Vice Chairman of Public Policy and Research at Dutko Worldwide
** Maggie Williams (invited):  Former  Campaign Manager to Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chief of Staff in the First Lady’s Office

10:30 – 10:45a.m.       Break

10:45a.m.-12:00p.m.  Panel: Policy Making in a Polarized Congress
** Chair: Scott Lilly:  Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee
(Other panelists to be announced)

 12:00pm-12:30pm      Buffet lunch

12:30p.m.-2:00p.m.    Clay Johnson III:  Deputy Director for Management at the Office of Management Budget and former Executive Director of the Bush-Cheney Presidential Transition

1:45-3:00p.m.   Panel:  Working with Congress: Lessons from Past Presidential Transitions
** Martha Kumar:  Professor of Political Science at Townson University and co-founder of the White House Transition Project
** Jim Pfiffner:  Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University and author of The Strategic Presidency: Hitting the Ground Running
** Terry Sullivan:  Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Executive Director of the White House Transition Project
** Stephen Wayne:  Professor of Government at Georgetown University and author of The Road to the White House and The Legislative Presidency

* * * *

OMB Watch:  “Workshop on Strengthening Government Performance Systems in the Next Administration”
8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., at the offices of the National Academy for Public Administration (invited participants only; results will be published). Co-hosted by the National Academy for Public Administration, Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, and Accenture.

This workshop will help make recommendations for the next administration for strengthening government performance systems.  NAPA Academy Fellows Harry Hatry, Shelley Metzenbaum, Beryl Radin, and Robert Shea are playing integral roles as members of the advisory group for this project. 

OMB Watch has partnered with Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute (GPPI) and Accenture’s Institute for Public Service in this project to develop consensus recommendations for how to improve government performance measurement systems. As a part of this project, they are holding a day-long workshop to bring together a diverse group of policy experts, academics, government representatives, and outside stakeholders with the goal of finding areas of consensus, identifying areas of disagreement, and defining top priorities for the next administration.

Participants will review three short papers prior to the event that will help frame the issues and guide discussions. The focus of the day will be on providing feedback, comments, and perspectives about improving performance measurement at the federal level. The information and recommendations gathered during this workshop will serve as one of the main components in the final report of the project. For additional background documents and information, members of the informal Advisory Group for the project, and other details, visit the project website.

* * * * *

Oh yes, . . . . and don’t forget that Wednesday, October 15th is the last of the presidential debates!

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 Lessons: Pre- and Post-Election

May 6, 2008

White HouseScholars have studied presidential transitions over the past 40 years, which I’ve reflected in several earlier blog posts. While it might seem to be an obscure niche of scholarship, their efforts have been vitally important every 4 to 8 years. What have they learned that could be helpful to the upcoming transition?

Dr. Martha Kumar and several of her colleagues collaborated in 2001 on an interesting paper summarizing their years of work up to that point.

First, they note that the institutional presidency matters. However, the absence of any institutional memory in the White House that accompanies a transition means the incoming president needs to rely on veterans of previous White House operations in order to be effective. Think tanks can help provide some insights into the institutional presidency, but people with experience are vital.

Second, they caution that having a good pre-election transition planning effort is not necessarily predictive of an effective post-election effort. They point to several past transitions where the pre-election and post-election transition players were not well-connected with either the candidate or the campaigns and this caused the post-election transition efforts to stumble.


The literature on past transitions is helpful and offers several lessons:

Build a Bridge.A key pre-election step is to ensure there is trust between the leadership of the campaign staff and the pre-election transition planning group. The most publicized disconnect occurred when president-elect Jimmy Carter’s hand-chosen pre-election transition planner was displaced after the election. The most effective was the George W. Bush transition, where a close friend led the effort both before and after the election.

Watch Commitments. A second important cautionary note raised by academic observers is for the candidate to avoid making commitments that will constrain their ability to govern. The classic example is Bill Clinton’s campaign promise to cut the White House staff by 25 percent and to impose strict ethics pledge on his appointees (which reportedly led many capable people to reject offers to join the Administration, and which was repealed in the waning days of his Administration so leaving officials could find employment).

Draw Up a List. A third lesson was the importance of developing a list of key positions to be filled, and the order in which groups of appointments should be decided upon. There are about 7,800 political positions, of which about half are part-time jobs on boards and commissions. The transition team will receive between 40,000 and 70,000 resumes to fill these jobs. About 1,200 are appointments requiring Senate confirmation (cabinet secretaries, assistant secretaries, judges, ambassadors, district attorneys, US marshals). About 1,400 are Schedule C; 800 non-career Senior Executives; and 800 White House staff. GSA will work with the pre-election transition teams to identify automated software to handle the post-election surge.

While figuring out which jobs to fill first will be important, but equally important is coming up with a selection process that is seen as fair by those rejected. Past experience shows that a process seen as unfair leads to end-runs and a breakdown in the process itself.


What about post-election? Flipping the switch from campaigning to governing means the new president-elect needs to be up and running day after election. He or she will have 77 days to form a White House staff, designate senior cabinet officials, prepare an inaugural address, define an agenda, and begin developing a $3 trillion budget to send to Congress.

About 600 staff can be involved in a transition – some paid, and many volunteers. But this number varies greatly. The Reagan transition involved more than double that number while the George H.W. Bush transition was about half that size. Observers say that about 600 for a transition between parties seem to be a manageable number.

Pick Key White House Staff.Academic observers say a key lesson is that the selection of top White House staff should be the first order. When that did not happen, there was endless jockeying for position and little commitment to substantive action on the president-elect’s policy agenda. If the key goal during the transition is to develop a set of policy initiatives and a decision-making process to be used in the early White House, then the president-elect needs to have key White House staffing decisions out of the way. Focusing on the selection, vetting, confirmation process for the 15 cabinet members is seen as secondary.

Develop Policy Proposal Process. A second lesson is the importance of developing a strategic plan for the policy proposals to be put in place. This means developing a prioritization and decision-making process – and only then focusing on substance. An advantage of having these in place early is that they can also be used as a screen to help hire new appointees and get their buy-in up front on the president-elect’s agenda. The most effective policy teams have a plan for the first 3 weeks, the next 3 months, and the following 6 months.

Decide on Governance Style.A third lesson is making some early institutional decisions on how the president-elect wants to govern. It is easier to make these decisions at the outset rather than having to change course later. These decisions would include questions such as:

  • What is the role of the cabinet vs. White House policy councils?
  • What should be the role of key staff (e.g., will the chief of staff be an honest broker, a gate keeper, a controller of the information flow, a step in the decision-making process, etc.)?

Learn From the Outgoing Team. A fourth lesson is taking the time to glean lessons from the outgoing team. This is more likely to happen at the top levels, since the mid-level positions in most agencies will not be filled for 6 to 9 months. The outgoing team will have an institutional sense of responsibility, but past experience says the incoming team generally won’t be interested in listening to them (I know; I had first hand experience being ignored). These lessons are all useful and grounded in practice. Dr. Kumar and her colleagues are in the process of updating their research and this will be available this Fall to the incoming transition teams.

If you’ve had experience with a transition, what advice would you add?

Transition: Role of Think Tanks in 2000

March 24, 2008

white-house-south-lawn.jpgHere’s where this becomes a true blog.  I know only part of the story and hope that you can add what you know to what happened, or correct what I remember! . . . . the full story is more complex than what I know without doing a lot more research, so this is a work-in-progress. . . .

The role of think tanks during a presidential transition period has grown in value over the past 30 years.  The first big public splash of a think tank was the Heritage Foundation’s “Mandate for Leadership” which was prepared in anticipation of the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan.  It was seen as influencing the agenda of the early Reagan Administration.  By 1988, the Government Accountability Office added its voice, issuing a series of transition reports about the policy and management challenges facing the government and specific agencies. 

Also in 1988 the Council for Excellence in Government began publishing what it called “The Prune Book.”  This is a play on the so-called official “Plum Book” which is a quadrennial list of all senior-level policy posts, including all political appointees.  The Prune Book (which they view as experienced plums) focused on job profiles of several dozen of the most difficult sub-cabinet jobs in terms of management challenges.  The Plum Book lists job titles but provides no information about the jobs themselves.  The Prune Book was designed to inform the incoming Administration about key management jobs and the environment and issues the prospective office holder would need to address, in hopes that the new President would pair the rights skills and ability to these crucial jobs.

By the time of the 2000 election, there were a series of think tank efforts devoted to management improvement issues.  I’ll review three of the most prominent that I was aware of.  In addition, The Presidential Transition Act of 2000 resulted in the General Services Administration sponsoring a website that provided basic information about each agency for incoming appointees.   That same Act set aside funds for the incoming Administration to sponsor orientation training for new political appointees.  This training was organized by the Council for Excellence in Government.

The American Enterprise Institute, sponsored a major research effort, “Transition to Governing,” in conjunction with the Brookings Institution.  The effort had several elements.  One focused on around improving the political appointment process, in part by putting forms on-line.  The effort resulted in some fine-tuning of the appointment process – not the major overall envisioned.  The effort also tracked the progress of appointments for the first year of the Bush Administration.

A second element was the White House Interview Program, which also received support from the National Archives and the Pew Charitable Trusts.  This program, led by Dr. Martha Kumar and supported by several dozen academics, was devoted to oral histories and summaries of the historical evolution of key White House posts such as the chief of staff and the director of communications.  The results of these efforts were provided to both pre-election transition teams to help them understand the historical context of the different jobs and how they evolved over time.  This effort is being updated in 2008.

Brookings also sponsored an encyclopedic effort by Brad Patterson, “The White House Staff:  Inside the West Wing and Beyond” which describes what the 5,900 people in 125 different offices do.  It is largely an operators guide to the organization and management of the Executive Office of the President.  This volume is being updated in 2008.

The Council for Excellence in Government developed a 2000 version of its Prune Book.  But it also contributed in several other ways.  It sponsored a forum in mid-2000 among key government, non-profit, and industry officials that focused on the development of an electronic government initiatives for the next Administration.  By creating some consensus, the electronic government agenda got off to a fairly quick start once the Bush Administration took office.  Similarly, Management Concepts, a for-profit training company, sponsored a forum comprised of various stakeholders to develop a civil service reform agenda.  The Council was also asked to organize and lead the Bush transition’s political orientation training for the new Administration, as well.

Other groups also offered management insights and sponsored events.  For example, the Government Performance Coalition, comprised of about two dozen “good government” groups, sponsored a series of seminars on key management capacity issues – performance management, human capital, electronic government, etc.  It summarized its key advice in a short memo and followed it with a short book: “Memos to the President:  Management Advice from the Nation’s Top Public Administrators,” containing a series of essays

The predecessor to the IBM Center, the PWC Endowment for The Business of Government, sponsored a parallel book, “Memos to the President:  Management Advice from the Nation’s Top CEOs.”   The Performance Coalition also did a follow-on report in 2005, entitled: “Getting Results:   A Guide for Federal Leaders and Managers.”

* * * *

Combined, these various efforts contributed to a baseline of information and history that helped the new Administration as it took office.  As the 2008 presidential campaigns develop pre-transition teams, think tanks are beginning to develop their insights for the next President. 

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!