Most transitions organize policy teams into working groups focused on particular policy areas. The relative priority of different policy goals will determine the number and size of each policy working group and the level of resources devoted to each. These working groups should be separate from the agency review staff, which looks at each agency separately to explore the work it is doing and inform incoming leadership. But some overlap is expected and can help facilitate coordination between teams. Structurally, George W. Bush’s 2000 campaign policy team was divided into a number of core working groups focused on broad categories, including national security, economic policy and domestic policy. There also were working groups focused on the federal budget and executive orders and regulatory review. These teams essentially carried over into the transition phase. Obama’s 2008 transition team had seven policy working groups to focus on the top priorities of his administration. These included working groups on the economy, education, energy and the environment, health care, immigration, national security, and technology and government reform. Each working group included approximately 10 members, with a chairperson who, in some cases, went on to serve in the administration. The Romney transition team created five policy working groups that focused on the economy, health care, deficit reduction, foreign affairs and federal regulations. These working groups reported to a policy and strategy council lead by Tim Adams, a former Department of Treasury official in the George W. Bush administration.
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.