Center Blog

Governing Effectively: A Checklist for Incoming Cabinet Secretaries


January 17, 2017

Chantelle Renn Partnership for Public Service



On Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States and the transition will give way to governing. As the inauguration approaches, the president-elect and his team are in the midst of one of the most pressing steps of the transition—getting the Cabinet in place.

To ensure a smooth, safe transfer of power, incoming Cabinet secretaries need to be ready to lead and effectively manage their departments.

Managing a federal department is a complex task. It involves understanding the department’s responsibilities and pressing issues, getting a handle on a multi-billion dollar budget, dealing with numerous stakeholders, assembling a leadership team, connecting with the workforce, establishing decision-making processes and being prepared to deal with unexpected crises.

Mastering any organization can be a laborious and lengthy process, but mastering a federal department is downright daunting. The job of a secretary is not for the fainthearted.

However, many have been there before and there are common practices and actions that an incoming secretary can take to support and facilitate a meaningful orientation.

These items are included in our Cabinet secretary checklist, providing a roadmap on what members of the president’s leadership team need to know, who they need to meet and what they need to communicate. The checklist incorporates feedback from former secretaries as well as the calendars detailing the daily activities of some of these individuals during the first two weeks of their terms.


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