The White House Transition Coordinating Council stands as a cornerstone for the seamless transfer of power between presidential administrations.  

The council was officially established in 2016 as an amendment to the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 to help ensure continuity of government operations and the smooth transfer of power. Even when an incumbent president is running for re-election, the White House is still obligated by law to plan and coordinate activities to ensure a smooth and efficient transfer of power to a possible successor. This includes convening the White House Transition Coordinating Council.

Prior to passage of the 2016 amendments to the transition law requiring creation of the council, President Bill Clinton established a White House council in the fall of 2000 to assist in the transition as did President George W. Bush in 2008. 

The council serves as a central coordinating body to oversee transition efforts, providing resources, information and expertise to a potential incoming administration. It also helps guide government agencies and the federal transition coordinator from the General Services Administration, including succession planning and preparation of briefing materials.

The council is chaired by a senior employee of the Executive Office of the President and consists of senior White House officials. Executive branch employees, including the director of Office of Personnel Management, the administrator of the GSA and the archivist of the United States, are also part of this group. The president can also include any other individual deemed appropriate.

In addition, the council includes transition representatives for each eligible presidential candidate, who serve in an advisory capacity.  

This council is one of several reforms to the presidential transition act designed to support the orderly transfer of power and recognizing the increasing complexities of presidential transition planning. Since its inception, it has provided succession planning advice, facilitated information sharing between the candidates and hosted interagency emergency response actions. 

While election years bring uncertainty for the government and the public, bodies like the White House Transition Coordinating Council are designed to help agencies, the White House, candidates and their teams prepare for what’s next.

Khushi Parikh is a communications associate at the Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition  

As we celebrate Women’s History Month both in the U.S. and worldwide, it’s a good time to examine the contributions women have made in the federal government. The Biden administration has seen a number of historic firsts for women: In 2021, Kamala Harris became the country’s first woman vice president, Janet Yellen became the first woman secretary of the Treasury and Avril Haines became the first woman director of National Intelligence.

Despite these wins, there’s still a long way to go. There are still important leadership positions that have never been held by a woman. For example, not only has no woman ever been president or chief justice of the Supreme Court, but two Cabinet agencies have never had a woman secretary: the departments of the Defense and Veterans Affairs.

The following are 10 important positions in the federal government that have never been filled by a woman.

1. President – None of the 45 individuals who served as president have been women. Hillary Clinton was the first woman to be nominated by a major political party in 2016.

2. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – Twenty-one men and no women have filled the most senior position in the U.S. armed forces since its creation in 1949.

3. Chief Justice of Supreme Court – Only six justices in the more than 230-year history of the Supreme Court have been women, and none have been appointed chief justice.

4. Chief of Staff to the President – Since President Harry Truman appointed the first chief of staff in 1946—called the assistant to the president at the time—none of the 31 people to hold this position have been women.

5. Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation – The first leader of the FBI was appointed in 1908, and none of the 20 directors (including those in an acting capacity) have been women.

6. Director of the National Security Agency – Women have never held the highest-ranking position in the NSA since the intelligence agency was founded in 1952.

7. Secretary of Defense – The Department of Defense has never been led by a woman since its inception in 1947.

8. Secretary of Veterans Affairs – The Department of Veterans Affairs was formed in 1989, and all 11 of the Senate-confirmed officials who led the agency have been men.

9. Senate Majority Leader – No Senate majority leader has been female since that role was created in the 1920s.In fact, no Senate minority leader has been a woman during that period either.

10. NASA Administrator – None of the 14 people who have been confirmed to lead the agency since its founding in 1958.

This list is not exhaustive. Other important positions, such as the ambassadorships to China, Israel, and Russia have not been held by a woman. Other positions have only had a woman official recently.

As the country honors women’s history, those who have served as leaders of our democracy deserve recognition and appreciation. At the same time, their absence from key positions in government, and thus from critical conversations in domestic and foreign policy, is worth highlighting. As President Joe Biden proclaimed, “Throughout history, the vision and achievements of powerful women have strengthened our Nation and opened the doors of opportunity wider for all of us.”

Extensive research indicates diverse and inclusive teams produce better outcomes, and that well-qualified women are ready to lead. While we have made progress in the last 100 years, more work needs to be done to ensure the top levels of our government resemble the country they serves.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Following the last four presidential elections, the Partnership for Public Service and our Center for Presidential Transition have collected lessons learned on transition activities, which have helped inform four rounds of bipartisan laws passed to bring the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 in line with modern transition practices.

The transition law requires the General Services Administration to provide office space and other core support to presidents-elect and vice-presidents elect, as well as pre-election preparation space and support to major candidates. It also provides a framework for GSA, the White House and federal agencies to coordinate transition planning.

The updates to the law have had a profound impact in shifting the narrative around transition planning. Presidential candidates used to shy away from transition planning, worried that the public would see them as prematurely “measuring the drapes” of the Oval Office. Congress has helped change that perception and, through its oversight and legislation, has emphasized the importance of early planning by the transition teams of candidates as well as by agencies across the government. This tradition now continues with a new bill, the Agency Preparation for Transitions Act, sponsored by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Highlights include:

While candidates in recent elections have begun transition planning well before the election, the roughly 75 days between Election Day and Inauguration Day is a crucial period for an incoming president, during which agencies begin to brief the transition team on major policy issues and decisions that will confront the incoming administration on Day One. The bipartisan work of Congress over the years in fine-tuning the Presidential Transition Act has made the run-up to

Inauguration Day much less complicated and has enabled presidents-elect to take maximum advantage of the short post-election transition period.

Even if a sitting president wins re-election, the transition planning is not all for naught. The Center’s research has shown a high turnover rate of appointees as presidents move from a first to a second term. As first-term presidents plan for a second term, the briefing materials prepared by agencies are valuable alike to incoming appointees of a new president and for a second-term president. Under either scenario, the Presidential Transition Act allows the winner of the election an opportunity to heed Ben Franklin’s advice and prepare for success.