November 14, 2019

The Center for Presidential Transition: Helping the 2020 candidates prepare to govern

By David Marchick

As the 2020 presidential election heats up, President Trump and the myriad Democratic candidates will not only have to campaign, they also will have to prepare to govern for the next four years – preparation that takes place well before voters go to the polls. Doing so will mean putting campaign promises into policy, recruiting capable teams and managing the largest and most complex organization in the world – the U.S. government. 

Preparing to govern well in advance of Election Day is not an option – it is a necessity given the magnitude of our nation’s domestic and national security challenges. After all, national emergencies do not wait until a president is ready; they force the president and their team to be ready. President Obama was forced to deal with the nation’s worst economic crisis since the Great Depression before he even took the oath of office. President George W. Bush managed the diplomacy associated with the downing of a U.S. plane in China in his third month in office, and only five months later, he rallied the nation after the September 11 attacks. 

The need for effective planning is particularly acute for the Democratic challengers who will start from square one if elected, recruiting 4,000 political appointees including 1,200 who require Senate confirmation; preparing a $4.7 trillion budget; implementing a policy agenda; and learning how to manage a workforce of 2 million civilian employees and 4 million active duty and reserve troops.

Planning for a second term also requires significant work, coordination and execution for any sitting President seeking a second term. A second term creates an opportunity for fresh eyes, fresh lags and renewed focus on policy implementation. A new report from the Center for Presidential Transition shows that presidents need to be prepared for significant personnel turnover in the second term.

New data from the Partnership for Public Service shows that from about Election Day through the first six months of the second terms of Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, 42% of their Cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries and undersecretaries left their jobs. Nine percent left prior to Inauguration Day. These changes included six of President Clinton’s Cabinet secretaries, six for President Bush and seven for President Obama.

Serving in a senior level position is exhausting and high pressured. Only 11% of the top officials in the last three two-term administrations lasted all eight years in office. Indeed, the fifth year of a second term presidency, much like the first year of a new president, creates an optimum moment of political power and a chance for significant accomplishments.

On November 7, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition launched its effort for the 2020 cycle, preparing to work with President Trump’s team, career government officials responsible for transition activities and the various Democratic candidates and their teams. The Center plans to bring unparalleled capabilities to this effort – an updated Presidential Transition Guide which was downloaded more than 11,000 times since 2016; detailed checklists for new agency officials; coordination with the talented and dedicated career federal officials tasked with preparing for either a new president or second term under the Presidential Transition Act; and helping thousands of Americans interested in serving in the administration get ready for the detailed vetting, clearance and ethics processes associated with federal employment. 

These efforts are just the beginning. To learn more about our transition efforts and how to ensure that all administrations are set up for success, subscribe to our newsletter or contact us.

David Marchick is a retired executive from the Carlyle Group serving in a volunteer role as Director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service.  He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as a Senior Of Counsel at the firm Covington & Burling.  He also serves on a number of corporate and non-profit boards of directors.