November 7, 2016
Brandon Grabelsky, Fellow, Partnership for Public Service
While the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump focused on winning the election, their transition teams were quietly preparing for the prospect of governing by assessing the work of agencies, developing policy agendas and identifying potential political appointees for top leadership jobs.
In the weeks ahead, the campaign and transition teams of the president-elect will begin merging their operations, a process that will mean rapid growth in the transition and require organization and clear lines of authority.
President-elect Obama’s transition team, for example, grew from a paid staff of about 10 people, a number of informal advisers and dozens of volunteers in the summer of 2008 to about 450 full-time staff following the election. With such rapid expansion comes onboarding issues, ambiguous roles and responsibilities, budget increases and jockeying for power and influence.
The following tips can help the winning transition teams navigate these challenges.
1. Building capacity
The president-elect’s transition team will need to quickly build the administrative and logistical capacity necessary to handle the massive influx of personnel. This will require processes to identify and vet new employees, manage onboarding paperwork and issue credentials, and incorporate staff members into the existing organizational structure. Clear organizational charts, such as Obama’s in 2008 and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s in 2012 can prevent duplicative responsibilities.
2. Onboarding the transition team
Incoming members of the transition team should have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, specifically what deliverables they are expected to produce. In addition, the transition team should identify and address interdependencies within the team. This will allow employees to see how they fit in with the overall transition operation and collaborate with individuals directly related to and impacted by their work.
The transition’s leadership should communicate relevant policies and expectations. Transition team members may have aspirations to serve in the president-elect’s administration. Therefore, leadership should set clear guidelines and manage expectations regarding future employment in the administration. As documented in the Romney Readiness Project: Retrospective and Lessons Learned, the Republican candidate’s team planned to make clear that a role on the transition team did not guarantee a role in the eventual administration, which would be decided separately by the president-elect.
Additionally, under the Presidential Transition Act, transition teams are considered quasi-governmental entities that receive federal funds. Consequently, it is important to understand the laws governing the use of campaign information and transition resources, such as cellphones and laptops.
A 2008 Obama-Biden Transition Project memo highlights that transition employees are prohibited from engaging in campaign-related work using these resources. The memo also noted that former Obama campaign staffers were prohibited from using any documents or lists that are not publicly available or that have commercial value for transition work.
3. Setting the tone early.
As campaign and transition staff come together post-election, tensions can rise over competition for jobs in the new administration. Additionally, differing levels of experience and the pressure of the work can impact morale. It is essential that transition leadership set a strong, collaborative tone from the beginning of the integration to create a productive and team-oriented work environment.
Chris Liddell, the executive director of Romney’s pre-election transition effort, held weekly induction meetings with new employees and emphasized that employees should leave their egos at the door, remain low key about their work, tolerate ambiguous situations and be solutions-oriented.
Want to Know More?For more information on relations between campaign teams and transition teams, download the Partnership’s Presidential Transition Guide.