The policy team’s work is driven by the vision, promises and policies of the candidate, and the team should make sure to align with the candidate and campaign when developing the agenda for the administration’s first 100 and 200 days. The policy priorities will determine everything from the internal structure of the policy team to the scheduling of the president-elect’s time during the post-election transition phase. These priorities also will influence how resources and personnel are deployed within the policy team and which senior positions are a high priority for security clearances and appointments. The transition chairman and top campaign advisors need to participate in the process to ensure priorities are aligned with the candidate’s goals and public statements, with the recognition that the political, economic and security climate helps drive policy choices and their relative priority. For example, in early 2009, the financial crisis required immediate intervention by the new administration and forced President Obama to prioritize passage of economic stimulus legislation over health care reform and other domestic policy objectives.
The head of policy is tasked with planning for and preparing to implement the major policy initiatives that have been driving the campaign. This requires a deep understanding of the governing philosophy and policy objectives of the candidate; knowledge about the key experts and top officials who might be tapped to lead policy strategy; and experience implementing policy. This last piece is particularly important for a new administration looking to turn its campaign promises and policy initiatives into action. A president is judged on how well he or she gets things done. A head of policy who understands the “how” and the “what” of getting policies enacted, and knows who to enlist in support, is an important contributor to a new administration’s early success.