The operations and support functions of the transition team must provide the backbone for a fast moving, rapidly growing and changing office from spring of the election year through the inauguration. The various components (operations, human resources, legal, communications, congressional relations and president-elect support) can be structured in different ways, such as establishing each as an independent team answering to the executive director or collapsing multiple functions into fewer, larger teams.
At its core, the operations work stream must handle the basic administrative tasks of the transition from on the beginning stages, when the transition team may consist of only a handful of people, through the formal transition period, when there may be hundreds of paid staff and volunteers.
Substantial financial management and budgetary experience will be necessary to ensure the adequate division of transition resources. The operations function also is responsible for establishing the legal infrastructure necessary for the transition team to operate, including setting up a 501(c) (4) organization and fundraising apparatus, ensuring compliance with all legal requirements, drafting internal guidelines such as an ethics policy and negotiating memoranda of understanding with multiple government entities. In particular, the operations team must work closely with the General Services Administration on tasks from issuing credentials to ensuring adequate office space and IT support. Given the ever-increasing importance of information technology to the work of government and to the management of a large and growing organization like a presidential transition team, it is critical that the operations team help develop IT systems that will transfer smoothly to the White House.
The transition team also may perform a significant amount of planning for the president-elect’s “care and feeding” during the formal transition period. How the president-elect is supported and by whom has varied in prior transitions. President-elect George W. Bush’s transition team did not play a role managing the president-elect’s activities; those were handled by the incoming chief of staff and members of the incoming White House staff. The Romney Readiness Project envisioned a different model, creating a president-elect support team to design a strategic 75-day calendar to help advance the new administration’s goals. This work was to have included everything from the president-elect’s scheduling and “transition White House design” to Cabinet preparation and assistance for the vice president-elect and the first lady.
Other key support functions include congressional relations, public liaison and communications.
The 2010 Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act brought more public attention to the presidential transition process than ever before, thanks to its requirement that the General Services Administration provide substantive support to transition teams before Election Day. Developing a communications strategy is important in shaping when and how the transition informs the public, the press and key stakeholders about its activities, major personnel and policy decisions, and events involving the president-elect.
The various components handling operations and support functions must work closely with the agency review, personnel and policy teams to enable them to effectively execute the transition team’s goals.