Filling key health-related positions was not a priority during recent presidential transitions. By their 100th day in office, only 28% were filled under Trump and 35% under Obama.

By Christina Condreay

As medical professionals and essential workers begin to receive the coronavirus vaccine, the nation enters a new phase of the pandemic. Yet even with this positive development, the country faces thousands of deaths from the virus each day and will likely be dealing with the pandemic for months to come. With the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden only days away, the new administration will need key health officials in place quickly to coordinate the government’s response and assure continuity during the change in leadership.  

Biden’s plan for a COVID-19 response includes providing 100 million vaccines in 100 days and reopening schools safely by May. To achieve these goals, he must have personnel in key decision-making positions. Recent history, however, shows that under the last two presidents, most health-focused jobs were not among the earliest filled. In fact, under Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama, only about one-third of leadership positions responsible for coordinating health efforts were confirmed by the Senate within 100 days of taking office.

To study the priority given to these roles, the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition identified 50 Senate-confirmed positions relating to public health and emergency response. The list is comprised of positions held by individuals on the current coronavirus task force, health-related nominees already announced by Biden and the positions of those who participated in the 2016 transition pandemic tabletop exercises. Additionally, the Center examined job descriptions for more than 400 positions across 22 agencies. The final list of 50 includes agency heads and Cabinet department secretaries, as well as assistant and undersecretaries responsible for less visible but important agency subcomponents.

Pandemic response positions during the Trump administration

Of these 50 key positions, only 14 were filled during the first 100 days of the Trump administration (28%). When the pandemic began in early 2020 – and Trump had been in office for three years – only 28 of these 50 positions or 56% were filled with a Senate-confirmed official.  Even though the Senate confirmed these officials, significant turnover occurred during Trump’s first three years. Between Inauguration Day and March 1, 2020, 20 Senate-confirmed officials in pandemic response positions had resigned.

The lack of Senate-confirmed officials was due in part to Trump’s slow pace of nominations. During Trump’s first year in office, he submitted nominees for just 27 of the selected positions. In his second year, Trump submitted nominations for only 11 more. Another cause of the delays was the length of time it took the Senate to vote on nominations.

All told, 42 of the 50 health-related positions were filled at some point during the Trump presidency, even if not by the start of the pandemic. On average, the Senate took 99 days to confirm those nominations.

Pandemic response positions during the Obama administration

The Obama administration filled a few more of these health-related jobs early in its first year, but only by a small margin. During the first 100 days, 35% of these positions had a Senate-confirmed official, including four holdovers from President George W. Bush’s administration. There was a notable difference, however, in staffing these positions during Obama’s second year. By the end of Obama’s second year in office, the administration had sent nominations for 39 of the 50 positions to the Senate.

Due to key holdovers from the Bush administration and five recess appointments, a permanent official served in 49 of the health-related positions by the end of Obama’s third year. The Trump administration added a Senate-confirmed position, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, which is included in our list. On average, the Senate took 71 days to confirm officials for those positions during the Obama administration.


An effective strategy to fight the pandemic requires a smooth transition of power and continuity in leadership. Although many health-related positions were not filled quickly during the last two administrations, the Senate and Biden administration have a joint obligation to expeditiously nominate and confirm officials for these critical roles to deal with the current crisis.

By Christina Condreay and Alex Tippett

The winner of this November’s presidential election will face daunting challenges—a devastating pandemic, a major economic crisis, civil unrest stemming from racial inequality and a long list of pressing domestic and national security issues. These are momentous times that accentuate the need for presidential transition planning, whether it’s a first term for Democratic candidate Joseph Biden or a second term for President Donald Trump.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its fallout will impact presidential transition planning in four key areas:

Additionally, a first-term Biden administration will have to consider a fifth area–the preparation for “landing teams” that are deployed by incoming presidential administrations to review agencies operations and policies.

The president’s budget must balance the immediate needs stemming from the pandemic and the economic crisis along with the long-term policy agenda

The president’s budget is an important opportunity to signal the priorities of an administration, shape the congressional debate and shore up alliances.

In 2021, the president’s budget will come on the heels of congressional approval of several trillion dollars in stimulus spending in 2020 and will involve weighing trade-offs between the administration’s long-term policy agenda and the requirements dictated by the current crises. This will necessitate a high-stakes appraisal—the funding choices in this budget could shape the economic and political landscape for the next four years. Due to these challenges, work on the budget should begin early and be given greater attention and resources than in previous election cycles. 

Chris Lu, the executive director of the President Barack Obama’s 2008-2009 transition, said the severe financial crisis occurring when Obama took office pushed many policy concerns “to the backburner.” Transition planners should develop the budget to highlight major policy goals for the year ahead even if the immediate crisis remains the top priority.

Staffing the government during a crisis requires focusing on both immediate needs and second-order issues

Presidents are responsible for appointing about 4,000 officials throughout the federal government. A new president must fill these positions from scratch while second-term presidents often face significant staff turnover. According to previous research by the Partnership for Public Service, the first year of a second term coincides with an average turnover rate of more than 40% for senior leadership positions. Both before and after the Nov. 3 election, it is critical for transition planners to focus on public health and economic policy appointees who will be responsible for overseeing the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the sagging economy.

The specific priority positions will depend on how a new administration structures its response, while a second-term administration may take the opportunity to reshape its efforts. A Cabinet-led response will require the administration to prioritize agency leadership positions while a response driven by the White House will call for a different staffing structure. Transition planners should develop a clear picture of what the post-election COVID-19 response will look like and identify key personnel for this effort.

The pandemic also has created several second-order threats such as increased cybersecurity risks with a remote workforce as well as greater global instability. The next administration should recognize that successfully navigating the current crises will require filling positions without traditional “pandemic-response” roles in agencies throughout the government.

The pandemic also will create operational challenges for presidential appointees. Procedures will have to be developed for previously routine issues, ranging from how to conduct safe and secure briefings with new appointees to the best way to work with a potentially remote Senate. The challenger’s transition team will need to closely coordinate with the General Service Administration (GSA), which provides the transition with office space, IT equipment and other support.

According to Mary Gibert, the federal transition coordinator at GSA, the groundwork for a virtual transition, however, has already been laid. In the last transition, much of the work was already conducted virtually, with many of personnel choosing to work on GSA-provided devices rather than come into the office. “COVID has not impacted our transition planning,” Gibert says. “We haven’t missed a beat. We’ve kept up with all our statutory requirements.”

Those involved in overseeing a second Trump term will have to ensure the Office of Presidential Personnel can ramp up its efforts to meet an expected turnover of political appointees on top of a high level of current vacancies, and determine where it can improve operations and procedures to better deal with the challenges resulting from the pandemic.

Prioritizing key executive actions will advance policy goals

Executive actions are one tool presidents can use to enact significant change–and do so quickly. Effectively using executive orders for achieving policy goals may be more challenging in 2021 because so much attention must be devoted to dealing with the immediate crises. Transition planners for both first- and fifth-year administrations should take time to develop executive orders and anticipate potential operational and legal challenges well before Jan. 20.

First-year administrations face a two-pronged challenge. They must advance the new president’s agenda while evaluating previous executive actions and rules they want to change. This can be a huge undertaking even under normal conditions. Resource constraints created by the pandemic will make it difficult for a new administration to accomplish all its goals. An incoming administration should concentrate on the most critical subset of issues. Doing so will prevent it from spreading itself too thin and increase its chances of success. Historically, there has been a decline in the number of executive orders issued by a president during the fifth year in office compared with the first term. In interviews with the Partnership for Public Service, former senior White House officials suggested the focus on re-election often limits formal planning for a president’s fifth year. If an administration is facing both a crisis and a re-election campaign, as is the case today, developing fifth-year executive orders may well fall to the bottom of the agenda. Investing time and resources in planning an executive agenda now, however, may allow the president to start the fifth year more effectively and set a productive tone for the rest of their presidency.

The White House structure must be equipped to respond to the current and future crises

All presidents seek a White House organizational structure that will lead to a smooth functioning operation and enable them to achieve their key policy priorities. New administrations must create this structure from scratch while a second-term administration has the opportunity to reexamine its White House design and improve areas of weakness. Any such redesign, however, will need to be attuned to the demands of the current crisis.

Different presidents have relied on a variety of organizational structures to address crises. During Harry Truman’s presidency, Congress created the National Security Council in 1947 to help the president coordinate national security policy. In 1993, President Bill Clinton created the National Economic Council by executive order to help coordinate the economic policy-making process and provide economic policy advice.

These entities centralized decision-making and the flow of information. Other presidents have relied on temporary arrangements such as President Obama’s appointment of an Ebola czar in 2014 to coordinate what was then the world’s biggest health threat. This type of temporary structure can be valuable but cannot provide the same institutional knowledge offered by a more permanent organization. Both first- and fifth-year administrations should use the transition period as an opportunity to evaluate the current pandemic response structure and determine if changes are needed. The next administration also should assess how to operate in a partial virtual work environment. A new administration should seek expert guidance and develop contingency plans while the current administration should identify problem areas that need to be resolved. Identifying and resolving these issues long before Inauguration Day will ensure a smooth start for a new administration or lead to improved conditions for a second term. Lessons could be learned from the agencies across government who are currently operating partially or totally virtually. Despite working virtually, agencies like the IRS and FEMA have managed to fulfill their normal mission requirements in addition to the new demands created by COVID-19. A new administration will have to demonstrate a similar level of agility.

A new administration must understand how agencies operate

A new administration must have a thorough understanding of every federal agency’s capabilities and responsibilities. To do this, presidential transition teams traditionally create landing teams that enter agencies following the election and gather relevant information. The roles of various agencies can change rapidly during a crisis. The transition landing teams must flag challenges related to the pandemic so that those issues can be evaluated and resolved.

Landing teams should also map the statutory landscape for each agency. Do agencies have emergency powers they are not taking advantage of? Are agencies exceeding the legal limits of their authority? An incoming administration must be aware of all these issues to mount an effective COVID-19 response. In addition, federal agencies must coordinate with one another, the private sector, state and municipal governments, and international partners during a crisis such as a pandemic. Landing teams should document these relationships so an incoming administration can take immediate control and identify potential pain points that need to be resolved.


Whether it’s a second Trump term or a first term for Biden, our government must be prepared to tackle the pandemic and the nation’s economic problems in addition to the challenges associated with any presidential transition. This will require thorough transition planning that accounts for the uniqueness of the current crises.

Mary Gibert has one of the most important jobs in Washington today, preparing the federal government for a possible presidential transition. As the federal transition coordinator at the General Services Administration, Gibert and her team are working closely with the White House, the campaign of Democrat Joseph Biden and the federal agencies. In this Transition Lab episode, host David Marchick speaks to Gibert about GSA’s responsibilities in the transition process, the support it will provide to the incumbent president and the challenger, and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected transition planning.  

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Read the highlights:

Marchick asked Gibert about GSA’s responsibilities in presidential transition planning.

Gibert: “The GSA has a statutory role to provide services and facilities (for presidential candidates). In addition, we receive funds for a president-elect for staff travel and supplies. We also have an interagency coordination role. We provide inaugural support to our partners…That includes the military, the (National) Park Service, the D.C. government and the volunteers who actually plan the inauguration. We also plan the outgoing activities. There are funds for an outgoing president and vice president to provide approximately seven months of services, including office space and support to wrap up things within their offices.”

Marchick asked when planning for a presidential transition actually begins.

Gibert: “We start two and a half years out with our planning and our preparation. The statute lays out when we must do things, what must happen. We take that role very, very seriously. I would say to the American public, the federal government is in good shape. The planning is on track. Our budget is on track. Our activities are on track. We’re on schedule. We’re meeting all of our statutory requirements.”

Marchick asked how GSA remains nonpartisan during the transition process.

Gibert: “I think that’s one of the reasons why my position is designated to be a career position. The statute over time has become very clear about what must be done, who needs to do it and who needs to do it by certain points in time.  If we have a transition, our job is to make sure everyone is ready…We have to do everything we need to do to make sure that the federal side of the house is prepared.”

Marchick asked whether the COVID-19 pandemic has affected transition planning.

Gibert: “COVID has not impacted our transition planning. We haven’t missed a beat. We’ve kept up with all our statutory requirements. We’ve held meetings. Before (the pandemic), everything was large gatherings in-person. Now we go to Zoom and Google Hangouts. Our platform is different, but our ability to carry out the mission is not. One of the other key features that we provide to candidates…is a secure internet…through pre-election or post-election. They (the Biden team) will be able to operate wherever they are using the same suite of tools that we have within the government.”

Marchick noted that if Democrat Joseph Biden is victorious in November, he will want to send teams into the major agencies to gather information about their operations and policies. “Do you anticipate that being more difficult because of COVID-19?”

Gibert: “There is a memorandum of understanding that specifically addresses this particular topic should there be a transition (to a new president.) In this environment, (the agency reviews) will all just be done remotely…We will be addressing this with the agencies if they (the transition landing teams) want to come into the office…We don’t have a crystal ball to know what phase we may or may not be in, but certainly there will be an option for in-person meetings as long as it’s safe…We will also make sure that our agencies understand what they need to do to be prepared.”

Marchick asked if the Biden transition team will adhere to the protocols that President Trump has in place the West Wing, including daily testing and mask wearing, when they move into GSA office space in early September.

Gibert: “It is up to the Biden team. (They) get to decide what their rules of engagement are for anyone who enters that space. And of course, we will be providing them with what our guidance…and all the data and the things we use to make those determinations.”

Marchick asked why the GSA decided to put Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s transition teams in the same building before the 2016 presidential election, noting it created some awkward encounters among members of the two opposing teams.

Gibert: “We gave a great deal of thought to this…We made the decision fairly early on that we would house both of the candidates in the same space to ensure equity. And not only in terms of the amount of space, but the location and proximity.”

Presidential nominating conventions are a major moment for any campaign. Reverend Leah Daughtry and Maria Cino served, respectively, as CEO’s of Democratic and Republican conventions, and join host David Marchick on Transition Lab to discuss their experiences. The two women talk about the role of conventions in political campaigns, whether they give a boost to the candidates, and how the coronavirus pandemic will change conventions this year and in the future. 

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Read the highlights:

Marchick asked about the purpose of political conventions and whether they still matter 

Cino: ”At one point, conventions were really about rallying grassroots and energizing volunteers. It was traditionally driven by getting positive media and getting your message out. It gave you a springboard for the general election. I think today they’ve become perhaps less important. The nominees are decided beforehand, where at one time at conventions you were kingmakers. It has become…a necessary formality.” 

Marchick asked whether conventions give a lasting boost to the presidential nominees. 

Daughtry: “In 2008, we thought we had a good bounce (for Barack Obama). We had a great night at Invesco field, but then Senator (John) McCain announced Sarah Palin (as his running mate). The next morning it completely killed the bounce. The nation’s attention turned to the Republicans and the historic moment of having a woman on the Republican ticket.” 

Cino: “In theory it was a great call. Unfortunately, that balanced out in about two weeks and it (the rise in the polls and positive public attention) went away very quickly…It was great to have the first woman on the Republican ticket. There was a tremendous amount of press, but it did not last very long given the fact that perhaps (Alaska) Governor Palin wasn’t as prepared for that particular role as we would have needed.” 

Marchick asked whether the political party platforms are important. 

Cino: “You go through a lot of pains because you’re trying to keep everybody happy, but in the end nobody’s happy and you have to produce a document…I’d honestly say that after that document is printed and handed out, if you ever look at it again, I would be surprised until the next platform is written. In my mind, the theory is great, but I’m not sure in practice that it makes a whole lot of sense.” 

Daughtry: “It’s a great exercise in trying to create unity and a statement of values and principles, but in the end, nobody takes the platform to the halls of Congress and says, `Here’s your legislation.’” 

Marchick asked Cino what she liked and did not like about planning a convention. 

Cino: “The best part of the convention is probably more personal. I love working with young people. It’s a great opportunity to actually find a lot of very, very talented young folks…I also think it’s really great to get to know local officials in a city and get to know about the city. I think the least fun part is probably raising money and trying to make sure that you had the money to do what needed to be done, to get the arena in shape and put the program on that the candidate.”  

Marchick asked how the pandemic will impact this year’s conventions and how this might set a precedent for the future. 

Cino: “I think now out of necessity, this is an opportunity to look to the future. Do conventions have to be four to five days? Do they have to be in the same city, and do you have to bring all delegates and alternates to one location? I think that’s a positive…The media is not interested in covering more than maybe two hours an evening…Maybe we’ll have more impactful speeches, we’ll have better messaging and we’ll have the ability to maybe hear what’s most important.” 

Marchick asked how the convention planners can create excitement and energy this year with virtual convention? 

Daughtry: “In any convention, no matter how many people are there, you’ve got the audience that’s in the arena and in the hall. Of course, there’s tremendous energy for the speakers who are there…But really in any convention cycle, the bulk of the people who are watching are in their homes, in their churches and their union halls…To that point, not much is changing in terms of the need to provide some exciting programming that will keep people glued to their devices. I think both sides have an opportunity to do something really exciting that will hold the viewer’s attention. It’s going to be all their own production and all on their messaging…Both sides have to put their best foot forward to give something to the American people that tells them how they’re going to lead in the next four years. I think people will watch and if the programming excites people, they will stay the two whole hours.”  

Marchick asked Daughtry about her biggest convention nightmare. 

Daughtry: “The biggest nightmare I had was the year that someone who thought they should have more (speaking) time and actually took more time. I was sitting in my seat on the podium watching this individual go off script. This particular person went over about 10 minutes, which meant we had to bump somebody and the person we had to bump was another elected official. And that person was really, really unhappy.” 

Marchick asked Daughtry whether she had any pre-convention rituals. 

“I like to go to the venue on Sunday night around midnight when it’s empty. No one is there except  a couple of cleaning people and I just like to walk around. I walked through… all of the delegation sections and just try to get ready for the next day, but also remember the ancestors and in particular, Fannie Lou Hamer, who was not allowed to be seated as a delegate at our 1968 convention. I am grateful to the work that she did that made it possible for me so many years later, an African American woman, to serve as CEO of the same party that kept her out. It’s a testimony  about how far a party has come and how the power of the people really can make change, including inside the political structure.” 

Marchick asked about any memorable convention delegates. 

Cino: At one point I remember seeing two particular delegates on floor trotting around in  elephant costumes.” 

Daughtry: I remember the man who was covered head to toe in buttons, and I just thought to myself, how long did it take you to do that? I mean, his entire outfit was buttons.”

President Herbert Hoover and President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to cooperate in any matter during the four-month transition that occurred in the midst of the Great Depression. Eric Rauchway, an expert on the New Deal and the Progressive Era, shared his expertise on how Roosevelt utilized his time between the election and the inauguration to set in motion one of the most successful presidencies in American history despite Hoover’s unwillingness to ease the way. 

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Read the highlights

David Marchick asked historian Eric Rauchway why he chose to write about the Hoover-Roosevelt transition. 

Rauchway: “I became persuaded that this hundred or so days before Roosevelt took the oath of office were actually as important as the much more famous hundred days that came after. In fact, the previous hundred days really paved the way for that burst of legislative activity that happened upon his coming into office.” 

MarchickAt the Partnership for Public Service, we focus on effectiveness in government, and we would advise the outgoing administration to work cooperatively with the incoming administration, much like George W. Bush did with Barack Obama during the financial crisis of 2008. So what happened with Hoover and Roosevelt? Did they cooperate with each other? 

Rauchway: “No, they really didn’t. Of course, your advice, which is excellent advice for outgoing and incoming chief executives, assumes that both parties regard the transfer of power as legitimate. In this case in 1932 and 1933, Herbert Hoover fundamentally regarded the proposed New Deal FDR had campaigned on as an illegitimate use of presidential and federal power, and something that he wanted to stop as much as he possibly could. 

“It’s fair to say certainly that Hoover probably never really liked Franklin Roosevelt. He said, ‘I had no use for that man after 15 years of acquaintance.’ Which kind of tips you off. 

“Although they weren’t that far off in age…Roosevelt’s youthful demeanor made him seem a lot younger than he was. Hoover thought of him as callow and immature. And frankly, Herbert Hoover wasn’t the only one. Roosevelt had a definite sense of humor that I think today we would identify as being kind of trollish.” 

Reflecting on similarities between the Great Depression and the today’s economic crisis, Rauchway noted: 

“I think that one of the things that the pandemic and the shutdown (of economic activity) have revealed is that there are big structural inequalities in the United States that have been unaddressed for a long period of time. That is a point where we do have important parallels with the United States in 1932, 1933. The Depression also revealed the thinness of the boom years of the 1920s and how many sectors of American life really hadn’t benefited from that sort of superficial prosperity.” 

Rauchway explained how FDR used the transition period between his election in 1932 and his inauguration ion 1933 to prepare to govern.  

“He (Roosevelt) goes to his vacation house in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he meets a whole bunch of various Democrats and liberal Republicans and starts to marshal ways of putting through the legislation that he had promised during the campaign: legislation to relieve farmers, legislation to build dams at public expense and operate them to produce hydroelectric power…, legislation that’s friendly to unions, legislation that’s going to push forward what we would now call a sort of “pro-welfare state” like unemployment insurance and Social Security.  

“He begins to take advice from experts, politicians and industry leaders over how best to do those things. He sends up trial balloons. He tries to get… people in his party and sympathetic members of the Republican Party on his side. He begins to put together a Cabinet that is shaped with those policies in mind and in deference to the kinds of constituencies that he thinks will support him.” 

Filmmaker Ken Burns and historian Geoffrey Ward have captured American history by collaborating on documentaries like “The Civil War” and “The Roosevelts.” The two shared stories with Transition Lab about the biggest crises in our nation’s history – from the Civil War to the Great Depression to Vietnam – and how our past informs the present. 

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Read the highlights and our feature in Axios:

Dave Marchick: Is there a historical corollary to today?  

Geoffrey Ward: “I’m always a little uneasy with parallels, but I suppose 1933 is certainly one and 1861 is the other, and I think this is the third.” 

Ken Burns: This crisis (pandemic) is on the level of the Second World War, but particularly the Depression and the Civil War. As Lincoln predicted, the danger didn’t come from without, but from within, and now that’s literally medically, epidemiologically true, but also politically and socially true as well. So this is as great a crisis as we’ve had. 

Dave Marchick: Based on your read as historians, should we be optimistic, pessimistic or should we be just downright depressed today?  

Ken Burns: We have the opportunity here to press a kind of reset button about our values. And so as a student of history and a storyteller, I feel always optimistic, but I am not Pollyannaish. I know that there are great threats and great difficulties at any moment, and we are filled with opportunity as much as we are filled with threat. And it is my fervent hope that we Americans choose the path towards finding a way to have a reset in a very new and spectacular way. 

Dave Marchick: Ken, we were talking earlier this week and I was lamenting how presidential transitions are never perfect. They always have problems. And you had a more optimistic view? 

Ken Burns: “Let’s step back a little bit and celebrate that since 1797 when George Washington gave up the presidency and John Adams took over, we have had an unbroken succession of presidential administrations. No troops have been alerted. Nobody’s fought and said, ‘No.’ They may have gone unhappily, but they’ve gone…We created a government unbelievably imperfect in its scope and understanding and yet (we’ve) been able to hand off the ball without a single fumble. That’s amazing. Let’s celebrate that.” 

Kens Burns reflected on leadership during a time of crisis 

Ken Burns: “Both of them (Lincoln and Roosevelt) made huge and glaring mistakes, but a sign of their leadership was their willingness to accept those mistakes, to acknowledge them publicly,  to take the blame, to have the buck stop with them and to move on and try something else…The greatest measure of leadership is, ‘Are you part of the solution or are you part of the problem?” 

Ken Burns shared his view on how our history and geography have shaped American ideology. 

“He [Lincoln] understood that the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean, and two relatively benign neighbors North and South, insulated the United States in ways that no other country has ever been insulated…No matter how much the Germans were trying, they weren’t going to cross over and make a Normandy like landing in Montauk…The Japanese were not going to make a beachhead on the West Coast and move in to take over the United States. Unfortunately, the things that it incubates that are positive, like freedom and this kind of curiousness and restlessness and entrepreneurial spirit, have kind of concurrent, darker side…We love more than anything else that kind of division between things. I think as we look across the expanse of American history, people have come in, great leaders have come in and either been able to tame, or they have exacerbated that.”  

Four-star Admiral James Stavridis and former General Motors CEO Dan Akerson distinguished themselves as exceptional leaders during times of crisis.  Join us on Transition Lab to learn how effective leaders operate during times of uncertainty. Stavridis and Akerson discuss how public and private sector leaders can navigate the challenges posed by the coronavirus.   

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Read the highlights:

Dave: “What is the size and scope of the COVID-19 crisis?”

Admiral Stavridis: “This is the biggest crisis the nation has faced since the second world war, and that’s going back over 70 years. I think the only way I can categorize it from relatively recent life events from the 21st century, is that this combines the worst of the 2008 financial crisis with 9/11. In that sense, this is a dagger pointed at the heart of the U.S. and global economy.”

Dave: “What attributes do the best leaders possess in times of crisis?” 

Admiral Staviridis: “[The leadership skills] I’ve found that transferred seamlessly [from military to business] are two very basic things that are effectively the same: a sense of integrity and the need for honesty. At the Navel Academy, we have an honor code: we don’t lie, cheat or steal. I think that’s a basic framework, but leaders know that they have to have that bedrock of integrity… 

Secondly, the ability to communicate, to take an idea and inspire others, is both a technical skill – to think and speak, present well – but also a creative skill, taking what you’ve come up with and moving it across a wide frame. 

Thirdly, both in the military and the business world, innovation is critical. Steve Jobs, who knew a lot about innovation… He said that, ‘the difference between leaders and followers is the ability to innovate.’ And I think that is true. It was true for me in the military when I changed the command structure of U.S. Southern Command… you have to be able to innovate.”

Dan Akerson: “Integrity is absolutely critical to being an effective leader. People are going to watch how you conduct yourself in good times and bad when the pressure is on and not.”  

Author Michael Lewis shares insights on the coronavirus pandemic and stories from “The Fifth Risk.” Lewis discusses the critical role federal employees play in managing the crisis, and his advice for presidential transition teams. Lewis also outlines the importance of effective government management, both in times of crisis and times of normalcy, and why we need to rethink what we’re told about the career officials running our federal government. 

Listen, rate and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and TuneIn.

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Read the highlights:

Dave: “When you were writing about government workers, it seems like a boring subject to write about – people that work in the government. There are stereotypes about them as bureaucrats and slow-moving. What were your observations when you met people that were longtime career federal officials?”  

Michael: “They were extraordinarily mission-driven, extraordinarily focused, passionate about the things they cared about. They were all moving and important characters, and easy to make a swing on the page because they cared so much about something that mattered so much, to which much of the country was completely indifferent or oblivious. I thought of them as our greatest patriots. It was as if you had a military that was off fighting and dying in a war without anybody acknowledging it.”

Dave: “Having written a whole book about transition, you’ve spent a large chunk of time on it. What advice would you have for the Biden or Sanders team on what they should be doing and how seriously they should take a transition planning effort?”  

Michael: “It should be the number one priority, especially given what we’re living with now and what crisis might emerge between now and then… The biggest thing you’re being handed right now is this giant toolbox. A lot of the tools are broken, some of the tools are missing. But it’s all you’ve got. You can fill that toolbox up pretty quickly if you’re ready to go on day one, so the advice I would give them makes it a huge priority. No partisan litmus tests, the filter is not are you Democrat or Republican. The filter is, do you know what you’re talking about? Do you understand the subject? Do you have management ability?”  

Lewis emphasized the importance of federal employees and the expertise they bring to their jobs.  

“If you think you know what a federal government worker is, maybe you think again. When you actually meet the people doing the jobs, you think, ‘Thank God they’re there.’” 

Admiral Thad Allen talks about his experience leading the U.S. response to some of the most challenging modern crises. Named the “Master of Disaster” by TIME Magazine, Allen discusses the coronavirus pandemic and how to find calm in times of panic. 

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Read the highlights:

Dave: “Our work at the Partnership is focused on effectiveness in government and smooth political transitions. In your view, were our political leaders and our government ready for this crisis and where they prepare to implement the emergency response?”  

The admiral noted the critical role that career federal employees play in preparing for any crisis, and shared insights on how the political polarization of the country effects disaster preparedness.  

Admiral Allen: “The thing that has bothered me, and it’s bothered me for almost three decades now, is the more bifurcated and politicized we become as a nation, the more we’ve started to lose the dividing line between what’s a campaign and what’s governing. And when you try and run an operational response to a disaster or a crisis, and you confuse that with campaigning, you run the risk of failing of both.”  

Dave: “One of the challenges that you dealt with, and that I think President Trump and others are dealing with today, is the different responsibilities. The federal government may lead the effort, but really the States have all the resources and the responsibility on the ground. How do you balance the roles of the federal government, the States and the cities? And how do you get everybody lined up? Clearly today, all the governors, mayors and others who are delivering direct responses to the people in the coronavirus crisis are on different pages than the president.”  

Admiral Allen: “I’ve said many times that each one of these events, and especially the one we’re dealing with right now, becomes an exercise in applied civics and sometimes we end up load testing the Constitution and whatever the basic authorities mean. I always start with the 10th Amendment, which basically says that all powers not granted to the federal government are reserved to the states and specifically disaster response, police powers, health and sanitation and those types of things are a state responsibility. The question is how you move beyond that if the problem exceeds the ability of the state to respond to, and that’s done usually through a disaster or an emergency declaration that allows the federal government to come into assist.”  

Admiral Allen gave thanks to the Partnership for enabling continuity of government and effectiveness among career federal employees.  

Admiral Allen: “I have to give kudos to the Partnership for Public Service, what they’ve been doing for the past several transitions, a continuity of government that’s not continuity of policy and things that are subject to change by the will of the people, by electing people, but the continuity of government and the ability to maintain essential services has to be understood and respected by anybody that’s running for office. And it has to be depoliticized. It can’t be an immediate referendum on loyalty across two administrations.”