In the words of a senior Bush advisor, the agency review team needs to be seen as “working with” and not “doing to” the agencies. Teams also should view this process as a way to onboard potential new appointees into the agency, but the transition leadership should make it clear that there should be no expectation that agency review team members will be guaranteed positions in the new administration.
Building a spirit of collaboration between the top staff of the outgoing administration and the agency review team is important, and can be accomplished by maintaining professional and courteous relationships. At the same time, if the election has brought a change in the political party in power, incoming teams usually are intent on changing direction and moving quickly, and trust and cooperation may not always be easy.
As was the case in the Romney transition effort, agency review personnel should be trained to approach each agency with respect; to ask questions about the overall functions and mission of the agency and its offices; and to quickly develop collaborative and open working relationships with their agency counterparts. The review teams should have a clear understanding of the major policy priorities of the president-elect and how their particular agency fits into the overall policy platform of the incoming administration. Finally, the agency review teams should collaborate and work closely with one another to share information and learn from one another as well as from their respective agencies.
Within the Romney Readiness Project, the department and agency review group was the largest single team, with 250 members by Election Day. This group had 33 teams under the four major subgroups of budget, national security, domestic policy and economic policy. Most team members were volunteers. Agency review team members were chosen directly by their team leaders and not vetted by the campaign.
The Obama 2008 agency review team began with only four people prior to the election, nearly all volunteers. Following the election, the team was divided into 10 separate agency review teams, each with a particular area of focus, including economics, international trade and development, national security, energy and natural resources, and education and labor. Each review team was allowed to hire its own volunteers and staff, with incoming staff vetted by a central working group. Teams consisted of about 30 people, mostly from the campaign. Most positions were unpaid volunteer positions. The team deliberately avoided using Capitol Hill staffers in an attempt to minimize leaks and avoid future conflicts with congressional oversight activities. A large number of the people on the team went on to become members of the Obama administration, due to their work and their previous professional experience.