Although the roles of the policy and agency review teams are integrally linked, the policy team has a distinct set of responsibilities. Unlike the agency review team, the policy team must focus on developing the broad policy platform of the incoming administration and coordinate activities across multiple agencies and actors to ensure that the candidate’s policies are implemented. Nevertheless, the policy and agency review teams must share information throughout the transition. In the Bush 2000 transition, this meant actually housing the agency review team within the larger policy team. During Obama’s 2008 transition, the two teams were separated, but some high-level experts served on both. This included policy advisors like Michèle Flournoy, who led the Department of Defense agency review team but also participated in the national security policy working group. This facilitated coordination and information-sharing between the two groups. The Romney Readiness Project linked its department and agency review groups to the policy and strategy council through four themed task forces that ultimately would synthesize the products of both teams into larger, overarching content to inform Romney’s 200-day plan. By the end of the formal transition phase leading up to the Inauguration, the intent was for the two teams to work together closely to develop policy strategies tied to particular agencies and positions, leading to an increased interdependence and cooperation between the teams.
Every presidential administration has experienced management successes and unexpected management failures, some of which have created political firestorms, set back policy initiatives or undermined public confidence in our government. For example, the inadequate emergency response to the Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast in 2005, led to increasingly negative public perceptions of President George W. Bush’s performance and government’s overall competence. In the fall of 2013, the botched rollout of HealthCare.gov, the online portal for President Obama’s signature domestic policy initiative, reinforced the perception that the government and its leaders cannot get things right, and slowed down the launch of the initiative. A focus on management by the White House and executive branch agencies will be essential for the new administration to be success at implementing its policy goals, reducing the risk of costly missteps and building public confidence in the federal government’s ability to serve our nation.
The transition teams should develop a management agenda that:
Developing a management agenda will help the transition team identify actions that can strengthen the new administration’s capacity to address key challenges facing our country. A good agenda provides clarity for a new administration on its management objectives, enabling it to develop a clear plan for carrying out the agenda in the complex federal environment.
The policy team, in cooperation with legal counsel, also should begin drafting the first executive orders and directives for the new president to issue upon taking office. These should reflect the president-elect’s top policy priorities, tee up the major initiatives of the administration's first months in office and help build momentum for the administration’s agenda. President Obama was aggressive in this regard, issuing executive orders and presidential memoranda on a range of issues, including ethics standards, labor regulations and Guantanamo Bay. President Obama issued nine executive orders and nine presidential memoranda in his first 10 days.
A major task of the policy office is to begin laying the groundwork for the first presidential budget, which is essentially the first significant comprehensive policy document the new administration releases. The Budget Enforcement Act of 1990 requires the president’s budget to be submitted no later than the first Monday in February, meaning that an outgoing president can let his successor submit a budget. However, the past three outgoing administrations submitted transition budgets to Congress that included a baseline budget and historical data. That set the stage for the next administration’s budget submission. The need for the incoming administration to develop a comprehensive and complex economic and budgetary blueprint in a short period of time requires a high-powered team with significant experience. So it is critical for the president-elect to select his or her budget and policy staff early so they have time to prepare the budget submission. OMB career staff are well-prepared and motivated to help the president-elect’s team translate priorities into a new budget. This will be one of the new administration’s first opportunities to work with the dedicated, nonpartisan civil servants across the federal government, who can be tapped for their expertise.
It is the policy team’s responsibility to review any regulatory or executive actions coming through the pipeline during the transition phase and to develop a plan to halt or reverse anything contrary to the new administration’s priorities. This includes not only those regulations issued in the final days of the outgoing administration, but any other rules or administrative changes that may be working their way through the system in its final months. Federal law ordinarily mandates a 60-day delay for “major” rules before they take effect, and a 30-day waiting period for “non-major” regulations—those that do not have major policy significance or that will have less than a $100 million annual effect on the U.S. economy. For this reason, some outgoing administrations have tried to publish new regulations on November 21—60 days before the presidential Inauguration on January 20. Alternatively, the policy team should plan to look for regulations and executive orders that may either advance the new administration’s agenda or that address issues the new administration wants resolved, and which the team can help push through the rule-making process.