Presidential Transition Like An “Epic Corporate Takeover”

By Sandy K. Johnson

The transition of power from one U.S. president to another involves the oversight of a $4 trillion federal budget, 4,000 political appointments and the well-being of 325 million Americans.

It is akin to “one big epic corporate takeover,” said David Eagles, director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service.

For most of U.S. history, the transition was an afterthought to winning the presidential election. President George W. Bush put into place a template for a more orderly transfer of power, and that was codified under President Barack Obama and Congress. So since April 2016, the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns have had staff working on their blueprints for transition under the “safe, nonpartisan” auspices of the Center for Presidential Transition, as Eagles put it.

“There hasn’t ever been a large scale pre-election transition effort. This’ll be the first time,” Eagles said during a briefing sponsored by the National Press Foundation, the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism and CQ Roll Call.

Two dates to keep in mind: Election Day on Nov. 8 and Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2017. In the scant weeks between those two dates, the new administration will take shape based on its blueprint.

The presidential transition is a daunting task. Anita McBride and William Galston have seen it personally; McBride for the two Bush presidencies and Galston for Bill Clinton’s administration.

Galston, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the first six months of an administration are critical. He said most of the White House staff (450 people) should be appointed by Thanksgiving, and the Cabinet should be named by Christmas. During this time, Galston said it’s critical for the new president to reach out to congressional leaders.

McBride, now executive–in-residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at the School of Public Affairs at American University, said one great obstacle to the new team is “admitting what they don’t know.” The outgoing administration sets the tone by helping the new team learn how government works.

She reminded reporters of the 2000 election, when for seven weeks the nation didn’t know whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would become president. That considerably shortened the transition period. In a post-9/11 world, she said, that could put the government and public at great risk.

Eagles said the center is working with each team to draw up a 100-day plan (the classic barometer of how a new administration is doing) as well as a 200-day plan.

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