As the presidential election approaches, federal agencies are starting to take “election readiness” steps – the required activities to prepare for a possible new administration or a second term for the incumbent.
The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition supports career officials who lead these planning efforts by organizing the Agency Transition Roundtable: a forum for all agencies, large and small, to talk about how to prepare briefing papers, manage personnel onboarding and offboarding, and execute other work necessary to prepare new agency leaders to govern. The content is based on our Agency Transition Guide and serves to complement the government-run Agency Transition Directors Council.
How government manages agency transition
The Presidential Transition Act requires that the White House and General Services Administration convene an Agency Transition Directors Council to coordinate transition efforts across agencies. The council meets regularly starting in May of a presidential election year and is comprised mostly of representatives from large Cabinet-level agencies, usually the agency’s transition director. Agencies that provide important services during a transition, such as the Office of Government Ethics and the National Archives and Records Administration, are also core participants.
The council is co-chaired by the deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget and the federal transition coordinator from the GSA, who communicate guidance from the administration. Amendments to the Presidential Transition Act in 2019 require that members of the council be senior career staff, reflecting the important role of the civil service in providing continuity of knowledge and experience across administrations.
What do agency transition directors do?
Agency transition directors are formally named by May of an election year. They serve a crucial leadership role in organizing activities that represent their agency well to both current and potential future leaders. They coordinate briefings on how the department operates, how policies have been implemented and what challenges and opportunities lie ahead for the agency. If an election produces a change in administration, the director is the first point of contact with the winning candidate’s transition team, and the agency team’s output is critical to providing incoming federal leaders with the information needed to govern effectively.
The impact of the Agency Transition Roundtable
In each election cycle since 2016, the Center for Presidential Transition has partnered with the Boston Consulting Group to hold regular meetings of the Agency Transition Roundtable to supplement the efforts of the Agency Transition Directors Council. The roundtable is designed to promote knowledge-sharing, collaboration and best practices in the following ways:
- Build a community of agency transition leaders across the entire government to allow members to have a support network as challenges arise.
- Learn directly from experienced peers who share practical tips and advice based on their experience managing transitions and receive updates from Agency Transition Directors Council co-chairs.
- Develop a foundation of knowledge, especially for first-time agency transition directors, based on lessons learned from previous transitions and recommendations outlined in the latest Agency Transition Guide.
- Dedicate time for leaders to problem-solve the challenges with peers who share their unique responsibilities.
The first Agency Transition Roundtables for this election cycle kicked off in early 2023 with more than 110 individuals from over 60 agencies in attendance and will continue regularly throughout 2024.
Agency transition leaders play a crucial role by preparing incoming leaders and providing continuity during a transition period, regardless of the outcome of the presidential election. By Election Day in November 2024, agency transition directors and their teams will have spent significant time conducting a thorough review of every aspect of their agency. They are uniquely positioned to understand the challenges their agency faces and can continue to play a major role in the success of the agency’s mission even after their official duties as transition directors end.