Keep satellites in orbit! Keep the lead out of the drinking water! Keep your cool, even though you have no idea, as a political appointee, whether you will have a job next year. This is the dilemma appointees face in an election year.

A political appointee’s job is always busy and never easy, especially in the lead up to a presidential election. An election may mean continued employment (if the incumbent wins) or a sudden date with the door (if the challenger prevails). Either way, uncertainty can create stress and campaign battles only serve to increase such anxiety.

Below is some advice, sourced from former officials, for political appointees about maintaining sanity and staff morale during the months ahead.

1. Deal fairly and honestly with the agency transition requirements.

Political appointees must model professionalism and good faith as they support efforts by career officials to prepare for a possible transition as required by law. Agencies must meet a series of transition requirements including preparing briefings and written materials. This will help ensure a smooth transition of power if there is a change of administration.

2. Collaborate with top leadership to plan for a potential second term.

At the same time, an incumbent administration should be preparing for a second term if victorious. Political appointees should fulfill any requests to support transition planning while continuing to do their jobs.

3. Prepare succession plans.

The start of a new presidential term triggers high turnover in political roles, even if an incumbent wins. Political leaders should direct agencies to prepare lines of succession and identify potential acting officials to be ready for any departures.

4. Identify high-performers and allow opportunities for advancement.

If the incumbent wins, election year turnover can create openings for top performers to advance within the political ranks. Top appointees should identify and offer opportunities for strong performers to stay during and after the transition period.

5. Communicate clearly with colleagues.

Given the external turmoil and election uncertainty, clear internal communication about continued expectations is essential for maintaining trust among employees.

6. Share success stories internally and externally.

Members of the civil service faces many challenges. Sharing stories of success can boost staff morale despite outside pressures.

7. Create or join a supportive community.

Participation in communities with those who have the same professional or personal identities can be an opportunity to share struggles and successes, and provide support across silos or lines of reporting. Affinity groups or professional convenings, such as those facilitated by the Partnership for Public Service, are great examples of these.

8. Take this opportunity to review and publicize leave and self-care benefits.

Appointees should create a culture that encourages their entire organization to make use of their vacation, sick leave and other benefits.

9. Show your people some love.

Small gestures can mean a lot. Political appointees should share invitations to White House gatherings when available such as the upcoming White House Easter Egg Roll or other administration events. This is also a great time to plan retreats for staff to bond, share strategies and refocus on their mission.

10. Show yourself some love.

Take a break from the news. Take a walk. Take a deep breath. The next few months may be difficult and stressful, so do what you need to get through it and support those around you.

By Dan Hyman, Troy Thomas and Catherine Manfre

With less than two weeks until Election Day, much of the nation’s attention is focused on the presidential campaigns. Behind-the-scenes, however, career civil servants are quietly preparing for a potential transition and a turnover of political appointees.

According to the federal transition law, agencies are required to complete three major tasks prior to Election Day:

To date, more than 140 agencies have teams of career employees leading this transition work. Since May, the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration have convened leaders from these teams to coordinate transition activities and facilitate the sharing of best practices.

Agencies have met the first two milestones and are working to complete their briefing materials by the November 1 deadline. In their simplest form, the briefing materials are like an “Agency 101” of the key facts, figures and issues. They enable new leadership to get up to speed quickly so they can hit the ground running.

Four tips to maximize the effectiveness of agency briefing materials

While federal law requires agency transition teams to “create briefing materials related to the presidential transition that may be requested by eligible candidates,” it does not specify what contents should be included. Based on guidance issued by OMB and GSA, as well as best practices from past transitions, the following tips will help agencies maximize the effectiveness of their briefing materials.

Tip one: Provide a baseline understanding of the agency

Recipients of briefing materials – whether they are transition review teams for an incoming first-term administration or newly appointed leadership for a second-term administration – will have varying degrees of familiarity with the agency prior to arriving. Some may have prior experience with the agency (though it is likely dated), while others could be experts in the policy area. These materials must provide readers with the agency’s full background and current context, including at a minimum:

Tip two: Be succinct

Agencies should focus on the top issues and the most relevant data. Recipients of briefing materials are busy individuals who may not have time to read lengthy reports. Many agencies have begun streamlining information to make it more digestible. During the 2016-17 transition, the Department of Defense created a series of one- and two-page papers on the top five to 10 priority issues they believed were most important to newcomers.

Tip three: Include key insights

The best materials go beyond agency statistics and conventional issues to provide insights into the challenges and opportunities facing new leaders. During the 2016-17 transition, the FBI linked its bureau’s locations with a list of threats to national security. They also created a map pinned with color-coded offices according to the year they opened. The visual representation of the bureau’s newest locations generated conversations on where emerging threats were located.

Key insights should include:

Tip four: Take advantage of digital formats

Historically, the briefing materials have been produced as reports in thick binders. However, digital versions make it easier to distribute to the intended recipients, especially now when so many federal officials and transition leaders are working remotely.

Creating succinct, comprehensive and informative briefing materials is a federal agency transition team’s most significant task. To learn more about briefing materials and other aspects of the federal agency transition process, check out our 2020 Agency Transition Guide. For additional information on the transition process as a whole, see our 2020 Presidential Transition Guide and visit the Boston Consulting Group’s transition homepage.

Dan Hyman is a manager at Center for Presidential Transition. Troy Thomas is a partner and associate director of the Boston Consulting Group and Catherine Manfre is a principal of Boston Consulting Group.

Chief financial officers play an essential role in the stewardship of the federal government’s resources, guiding agency finances, strengthening the capability of the workforce, meeting customer needs and using new technologies to improve payment accuracy. As we approach the 30-year anniversary of the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, there have been continual improvements of financial management systems and audits, and greater use of technology and data to increase the government’s ability to make informed decisions.

While CFOs have played an essential part in these developments, challenges remain. The role of the CFO has not been updated since the 1990 legislation. Many agencies are still working to implement core elements of the statute, and several agencies remain out of compliance with the law’s technical requirements.

Another challenge has been the low priority given to CFOs by the Senate. One indication is the amount of time the Senate takes to confirm CFO appointees. For the nearly three-decades since the CFO law was enacted, the Senate has taken an average of 104.7 days to confirm CFOs. That is the third-longest average for any type of job within these agencies behind only inspectors general and members of various government boards.

A recent report produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Deloitte, “Finance of the Future,” made recommendations to modernize the role of CFO. One recommendation called for standardizing the position government-wide by delineating a common set of core responsibilities. This would enhance their ability to integrate and share information across agencies, transfer institutional knowledge and standardize functions.

Another recommendation called for improved continuity in CFO leadership. Currently, 15 of 24 federal CFOs are Senate-confirmed positions while the others are career positions. Congress should consider converting all CFO jobs to career positions or establishing the role as a fixed term with a performance contract. In that situation, CFOs would be expected to remain in office even with a change in administration.

Many of these recommendations are contained in a bipartisan bill proposed by Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. and Mark Warner, D-Va.

To meet the evolving needs of federal financial management, the Senate and agencies should make changes to better position CFOs to fulfill their obligations to the American people.

Agency review—the process of informing new administrations about the work of the federal government’s various departments—is a critical aspect of presidential transition planning. In this episode of Transition Lab, host David Marchick speaks to Lisa Brown, co-chair of agency review for the 2008 Obama-Biden transition team. Marchick and Brown discuss how this process works, why it is so important and the critical role played by career staff.   

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Read the highlights:

Marchick asked Brown why agency review is vital to presidential transitions.

Brown: “When [presidents] actually start governing on Inauguration Day, [agency review teams help ensure] they are ready to hit the ground running….The agency teams collect … critical information that the [president-elect] and his or her senior key advisors need to make strategic policy [as well as] budgetary and personnel decisions.…You don’t want gaps when one president leaves and another one comes in….You want to make sure that when the new [administration] comes in, they have the information they need to handle the crisis of the day.”

Marchick asked  why career staff are so important to the agency review process.

Brown: “If you’ve ever worked in the government, you realize how critically important career employees are. They are in these agencies [and] they’re the ones who know how to get things done. You need them to be your friends. You need to be collaborating with them. The worst thing that you could do during agency review is to go in and alienate the career staff because you will find that it is much harder to get things done when you take office.”

Marchick asked  how career staff tend to view agency review teams.

Brown: “I have found that career employees are professionals and they are accustomed to a change in political administration….They care about the mission of their agency. They care about the work that they’re doing. So they do want to partner with you to get that work done.”

Marchick asked Brown about her experience working with the Bush administration in 2008.  

Brown: “President [George W.] Bush and his team in the White House really set the tone … for collaboration. They wanted to ensure that it was as seamless a transition as possible. This was after 9/11, so they had a real sense of responsibility to the country.”

Marchick asked Brown to discuss what she learned from spearheading agency reviews after the 2008 election. 

Brown: “You need to anticipate demand for your work product quite early. The pre-election work that you do is vital….Post-election, you really do want to get people into the agencies very quickly so that you get that information fast to inform policy and to inform the personnel, particularly [during] confirmation hearings….Really think about how [to] best integrate policy teams with the agency review teams….I think you really want people [on the agency review teams] who are … familiar with the president-elect’s policies…..You [also] have to think about [creating] a structure with enough redundancy that your critical work continues … [even if] … somebody [takes on] a new role.” 

Marchick asked Brown to describe how Joe Biden should handle the agency review process if he wins the election, but has an abbreviated transition.

Brown: “[A shorter post-election transition] puts a premium on engaging people who have worked in the government before. That is not to say that you don’t want fresh blood when you actually enter office on nomination day and after … You absolutely want a mix of new people and previous experience….Democrats have been out of power for not yet four years. There’s a lot of knowledge that people have that will still be relevant.”

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.

By Paul Hitlin

As our world becomes increasingly digital with new life-changing innovations on the way, federal agencies will need digital, technological and innovation expertise to provide Americans with necessary services. As the country experiences the widespread outbreak of COVID-19, virtual access to government services is proving more essential than ever.  

The Partnership for Public Service and the Tech Talent Project released a new report today, “Tech Talent for 21st Century Government,” that focuses on how federal agencies can deliver strong policies and services to advance the country’s ability to innovate. The report highlights a subset of key presidentially appointed and senior-level positions critical for driving innovation in government and a need for leaders who understand the link between technology and organizational effectiveness. Any president planning his policy and management agenda must consider the potential to enhance government capabilities with new technologies. 

Built on recommendations from dozens of current and former federal leaders across the political spectrum, the report identifies a subset of critical leadership positions across government and the responsibilities that come with them. The report: 

The White House and agency leaders must build technology-literate leadership teams that set policies for government modernization and provide support government-wide. Ultimately, modern technical expertise is as vital for leaders to have as economic, legal and financial expertise. if we are to create a well-functioning government that works for the people of the United States. 

Download the full report.  

This post was updated on May 28, 2020.

As a nonpartisan resource for transition teams, the Center for Presidential Transition gathers and organizes knowledge and resources for those planning transitions. 

The following list of books, articles and reports offer a wealth of information related to transition planning that our team found useful in creating resources for transition teams.  

The bibliography is divided into four sections. The first section is a list of recommended readings. The next three sections consist of additional materials divided by subject area: guides for transition teams, the history of transitions, and materials about the presidential nomination process. 

Christopher Liddell, Daniel Kroese and Clark Campbell, “Romney Readiness Project 2012: Retrospective & Lessons Learned,” R2P Inc., 2013. 

First-hand account and lessons learned from the Romney transition team 

Congressional Research Service, “Presidential Transitions: Issues Involving Outgoing and  Incoming Administrations,” RL34722, May 2017. Retrieved from 

Overview of transition process prepared for members and committees of Congress 

Ron Johnson and Tom Carper, “The Presidential Transition Act: A  Framework for Continuity in Government,” Center for Presidential Transitions, March 2020. Retrieved from 

Letter regarding the most recent changes to the Presidential Transition Act 

Martha J. Kumar, “Before the Oath: How George W. Bush and Barack Obama Managed a Transfer of Power,” Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.  

An account of the transition from Bush to Obama 

Martha J. Kumar, “Getting Ready for Day One: Taking Advantage Of The Opportunities And Minimizing The Hazards Of A Presidential Transition,” Public Administration Review 68(4), July 2008, 603 – 617.  

Article focused on how a president‐elect can minimize hazards and take advantage of opportunities transitions offer 

National Academy of Public Administration with Ernst & Young, “A Survivor’s Guide for Presidential Nominees,” 2013. Retrieved from 

Guide for navigating the nomination, clearance and Senate confirmation process 

Partnership for Public Service and The Boston Consulting Group, “Agency Transition

Guide,” August 2017. Retrieved from

Guide for federal agencies to prepare for successful transitions

Partnership for Public Service, “Ready to Govern: Improving the Presidential Transition,” Jan. 2010. Retrieved from 

Review of transitions and recommendations for improving the process 

Partnership for Public Service and The Boston Consulting Group, “Presidential Transition Guide,” April 2020. Retrieved from

Outline of every component of the transition process 

Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, “Transition Lab podcast series,” 2020. Retrieved from

Series of podcasts featuring a behind-the-scenes look at presidential transitions 

James P. Pfiffner, “The Strategic Presidency: Hitting The Ground Running,” University  Press of Kansas, 1996. 

History of presidential transitions from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton 

Tevi Troy, “Measuring the Drapes,” National Affairs, Spring 2013. Retrieved from

History and lessons learned from previous transitions

Additional Readings Organized by Subject

Transition Guides

MaryAnne Borrelli, Kathryn D. Tenpas and Lauren A. Wright, “Smoothing the Peaceful  Transfer of Democratic Power: The Office of the First Lady,” The White House  Transition Project, 2017. Retrieved from 

John P. Burke, “The National Security Advisor and Staff: Transition Challenges,”  Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(2), June 2009, 283 – 321.  

Kurt M. Campbell and James B. Steinberg, “Difficult Transitions: Foreign Policy Troubles  at the Outset of Presidential Power,” The Brookings Institution Press, 2008. 

Congressional Research Service, “2012-2013 Presidential Election Period: National Congressional Research Service, “Presidential Transitions,” RL30736, April 2008. Retrieved from  

Congressional Research Service, “Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding,” RS22979, Oct. 2016. Retrieved from 

Congressional Research Service, “Senate Consideration of Presidential Nominations: Committee and Floor Procedure,” RL31980, April 2017. Retrieved from 

The Council for Excellence in Government, “A Survivor’s Guide for Presidential Nominees,” Nov. 2000. Retrieved from 

Stephen Hess, “What Do We Do Now?: A Workbook for the President-Elect,” The Brookings Institution, 2010.  

John Hudak, “Appointments, Vacancies and Government IT: Reforming Personnel Data Systems,” Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings, June 2014. Retrieved from 

Clay Johnson, III, “Recommendations for an Effective 2008 Transition,” Public Administration Review 68(4), July 2008, 624 – 626.  

Martha J. Kumar, “Rules Governing Presidential Transitions: Laws, Executive Orders, and Funding Provisions,” The White House Transition Project, 2016. Retrieved from 

Martha J. Kumar, George C. Edwards III, James P. Pfiffner, and Terry Sullivan, “The Contemporary Presidency: Meeting the Freight Train Head On: Planning for the Transition to Power.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 30(4), Dec. 2000, 754 – 769.  

Martha J. Kumar and Terry Sullivan (eds.), “The White House World: Transitions, Organization, and Office Operations,” Texas A&M University Press, 2003.  

Partnership for Public Service, “Effective Transition Planning Can Help Presidents Have a Successful Year One and Year Five,” April 2020. Retrieved from

Partnership for Public Service, “Government Disservice: Overcoming Washington Dysfunction to Improve Congressional Stewardship of the Executive Branch,” Sept. 2015. Retrieved from 

Partnership for Public Service, “Presidential Transition Act Summary,” March 2020. Retrieved from

John Rollins, “2008-2009 Presidential Transition: National Security Considerations and  Options,” Nova Science Publications, 2010. 

U.S. Office of Government Ethics, “Transition Guide,” Aug. 2016. Retrieved from 

U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “Presidential Transition Guide to Federal Human Resources Management Matters: Election Year 2016,” Sept. 2016. Retrieved from 

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “Policy and Supporting Positions,” Dec. 1, 2016. Retrieved from 

Harrison Wellford, “Preparing to Be President on Day One,” Public Administration Review 68(4), July 2008, 618 – 623.  

History of Transitions

Carl M. Brauer, “Presidential Transitions: Eisenhower through Reagan,” Oxford  University Press, 1986.  

Heath Brown, “Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition,” Routledge, 2012. 

John P. Burke, “Becoming President: the Bush Transition, 2000-2003,” Lynne Rienner  Publishers, 2004. 

John P. Burke, “The Contemporary Presidency: The Trump Transition, Early Presidency, and National Security Organization,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 47(3), Sept. 2017, 574 – 596.  

John P. Burke, “‘It Went Off the Rails’: Trump’s Presidential Transition and the National Security System,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 48(4), Nov. 2018, 832 – 844.  

John P. Burke, “Lessons from Past Presidential Transitions: Organization, Management, and Decision Making,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 31(1), March 2001, 5 – 24.  

John P. Burke, “The Obama Presidential Transition: An Early Assessment,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(3), July 2009, 574 – 604.  

John P. Burke, “Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice,” Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000. 

John L. Helgerson, “Getting to Know the President: Intelligence Briefings of Presidential Candidates and Presidents-Elect 1952-2012,” Center for the Study of Intelligence, 2012. Retrieved from

Amnon Cavari, Richard J. Powell and Kenneth R. Mayer (eds.), “The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake,” Lexington Books, 2017.  

Chris Christie, “Let Me Finish: Trump, the Kushners, Bannon, New Jersey, and the Power of In-Your-Face Politics,” Hachette Books, 2019.  

Stuart Eizenstat, “President Carter: The White House Years,” Thomas Dunne Books, 2018. 

Stuart Eizenstat, “Stuart Eizenstat Oral History,” Miller Center, Jan. 1982. Retrieved from 

Anthony J. Eksterowicz and Glenn P. Hastedt, “The George W. Bush Presidential Transition: The Disconnect Between Politics and Policy,” White House Studies 5(1), Winter 2005, 79 – 93. 

Jody Freeman, “The Limits of Executive Power: The Obama–Trump Transition,” Nebraska Law Review 96(3), 2017, 545 – 576.  

Stephen Hess and Kathryn D. Tenpas, “The Contemporary Presidency: The Bush White House: First Appraisals,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 32(3), Sept. 2002, 577 – 585.  

Laurin L. Henry, “Presidential Transitions,” The Brookings Institution, 1960. 

E. Pendleton James, “Ronald Reagan Oral History Project: Interview with E. Pendleton James,” Miller Center, Nov. 2003. Retrieved from 

Clay Johnson, “The 2000-01 Presidential Transition: Planning, Goals and Reality,” PS:  Political Science & Politics 35(1), March 2002, 51 – 53. Retrieved from 

Charles O. Jones, “Passages to the Presidency: From Campaigning to Governing,” Brookings Institution Press, 1998. 

Charles O. Jones (ed.), “Preparing to Be President: The Memos of Richard E. Neustadt,” AEI Press, 2000. 

James D. King and James W. Riddlesperger, Jr., “The 2016-2017 Transition into the Donald J. Trump Administration,” in “The 2016 Presidential Election: The Causes and Consequences of a Political Earthquake,” Lexington Books, 2017, 161 – 184.  

James D. King and James W. Riddlesperger, Jr., “The Trump Transition: Beginning a Distinctive Presidency,” Social Science Quarterly 99(5), Sept. 2018, 1821 – 1836. 

Martha J. Kumar, “The 2008 – 2009 Presidential Transition Through the Voices of Its Participants,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 39(4), Dec. 2009, 823 – 858.  

Martha J. Kumar, “The 2008 National Security Council Transition: Providing Continuity in a Bipartisan Environment,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 43(3), July 2013, 490 – 522.  

Martha J. Kumar, “The Contemporary Presidency Energy or Chaos? Turnover at the Top of President Trump’s White House,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 49(1), March 2019, 219 – 236.  

Martha J. Kumar, “Recruiting and Organizing the White House Staff,” PS: Political  Science and Politics 35(1), Feb. 2002, 35 – 40. 

David E. Lewis, Patrick Bernhard and Emily You, “President Trump as Manager: Reflections on the First Year,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 48(3), Sept. 2018, 480 – 501. Retrieved from 

Michael Lewis, “The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy,” W.W. Norton & Company, 2018. 

Edwin Meese III, “Reagan: The Inside Story,” Simon and Schuster, 2015.  

Miller Center, “Pitfalls. Peril. Prosperity. Miller Center Offers Insights for the Next President’s Crucial First Year,” May 2016. Retrieved from 

Miller Center, “Tales of transitions past,” Sept. 2016. Retrieved from 

National Archives, “Reagan Administration Transition Interviews,” 1999. Retrieved from

Jack Nelson and Robert J. Donovan, “The Education of a President: After six months of quiet success and loud failure, Bill Clinton talks about the frustrating process of figuring out his job,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 1, 1993. Retrieved from 

Michael Nelson, “2013 and Beyond: Barack Obama and the Perils of Second-Term Presidents,” in “The Elections of 2012,” CQ Press, 2014. Retrieved from 

Michael Nelson, Jeffrey L. Chidester and Stefanie Georgakis Abbott (eds.), “Crucible: The President’s First Year,” University of Virginia Press, Jan. 2018.  

Anne J. O’Connell, “Acting leaders: recent practices, consequences, and reforms,” The Brookings Institution, July 2019. Retrieved from 

Anne Joseph O’Connell, “Actings,” Columbia Law Review 120(3), April 2020, 613 – 728. Retrieved from

Anne J. O’Connell, “Staffing federal agencies: Lessons from 1981 – 2016,” The Brookings Institution, April 2017. Retrieved from 

Ashley Parker, “Campaigning Aside, Team Plans a Romney Presidency,” New York  Times, Aug. 16, 2012. Retrieved from 

Eric Rauchway, “Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First Clash Over the New Deal,” Basic Books, Nov. 2018

David Rubenstein, “David Rubenstein Oral History, Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy,” Miller Center, March 1982. Retrieved from 

Richard Skinner, “9/11 improved presidential transitions,” Vox, Oct. 10, 2016. Retrieved from 

Richard Skinner, “Bill Clinton set a bad example with his transition,” Vox, Oct. 7, 2016.  Retrieved from 

Richard Skinner, “How the presidential transition process has evolved over time,” Vox, Oct. 3, 2016. Retrieved from 

Richard Skinner, “Jimmy Carter changed presidential transitions forever,” Vox, Oct. 5, 2016. Retrieved from 

Alan Taylor, “Peaceful Transfer,” Miller Center, July 2016. Retrieved from 

Kathryn D. Tenpas, “Tracking turnover in the Trump administration,” The Brookings Institution, May 2020. Retrieved from 

Jack H. Watson, Jr., “Jack H. Watson, Jr. Oral History,” Miller Center, April 1981. Retrieved from 

Appointment Process for Presidential Nominees

William A. Galston and E.J. Dionne, Jr., “A Half-Empty Government Can’t Govern: Why Everyone Wants to Fix the Appointment Process, Why It Never Happens, and How We Can Get It Done,” The Brookings Institution, Dec. 2010. Retrieved from 

Stephen Hess, “First Impressions: Presidents, Appointments, and the Transition,” in “Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Presidential Appointments Process,” The Brookings Institution Press, 2001, 107 – 159.  

Glen S. Krutz, Richard Fleisher, and Jon R. Bond, “From Abe Fortas to Zoe Baird: Why Some Presidential Nominations Fail in the Senate,” American Political Science Review 92(4), Dec. 1998, 871 – 881.  

Paul C. Light, “Back to the Future on Presidential Appointments,” Duke Law Journal 64(8), May 2015, 1499 – 1512.  

Paul C. Light, “Recommendations Forestalled or Forgotten? The National Commission on the Public Service and Presidential Appointments,” Public Administration Review 67(3), June 2007, 408 – 417.  

Paul C. Light and Virginia Thomas, “The Merit and Reputation of an Administration: Presidential Appointees on the Appointments Process,” The Brookings Institution and The Heritage Foundation, April 2000. Retrieved from 

Paul C. Light and Virginia Thomas, “Posts of Honor: How America’s Corporate and Civic Leaders View Presidential Appointments,” The Brookings Institution, Jan. 2001. Retrieved from 

Burdett Loomis, “The Senate: An ‘Obstacle Course’ for Executive Appointments?” in “Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Presidential Appointments Process,” The Brookings Institution Press, 2001, 160 – 172. 

G. Calvin Mackenzie (ed.), “Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Political Appointment Process,” The Brookings Institution Press, 2011.  

G. Calvin Mackenzie, “The Real Invisible Hand: Presidential Appointees in the Administration of George W. Bush,” PS: Political Science & Politics 35(1), March 2002, 27 – 30. 

National Academy of Public Administration, “Leadership in Jeopardy, The Fraying of the Presidential Appointments System,” Nov. 1985. Retrieved from 

Anne J. O’Connell, “Shortening Agency and Judicial Vacancies Through Filibuster  Reform? An Examination of Confirmation Rates and Delays from 1981 to 2014,” Duke Law Journal 64(8), May 2015, 1645 – 1715.  

Anne J. O’Connell, “Waiting for Leadership: President Obama’s Record in Staffing Key Agency Positions and How to Improve the Appointments Process,” Center for American Progress, April 2010. Retrieved from 

James P. Pfiffner, “Presidential Appointments: Recruiting Executive Branch Leaders.” in “Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Presidential Appointments Process,” The Brookings Institution Press, 2001, 50 – 80. 

Terry Sullivan, “A Guide to Inquiry: Executive Questionnaires,” The White House 2001 Project, Nov. 2000. Retrieved from  

Terry Sullivan, “Passing Through the Maelstrom: The Inquiry of Presidential Nominees and Reform, 2001-2012,” Feb. 2014. Retrieved from 

Terry Sullivan, “Reducing the Adversarial Burden on Presidential Appointees: Feasible Strategies for Fixing the Presidential Appointments Process,” Public Administration Review 69(6), Oct. 2009, 1124 – 1135.  

Working Group on Streamlining Paperwork for Executive Nominations, Executive Branch, “Streamlining the Background Investigation Process for Executive Nominations – Report to the President and the Chairs and Ranking Members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration,” Nov. 2012. Retrieved from 


Regardless of the election result, hundreds of new appointees will be vetted, confirmed and serve over the next four years. To date, there are 228 vacancies in key positions in the current administration. 51 of these vacancies have formal nominations and are expected to be filled in the coming months. Historically, 43% of the top three positions (secretary, deputy secretary, undersecretary) turnover in the first six months of a second term administration. In today’s fast-paced, constantly changing environment, federal agencies must be prepared for leadership transitions.

Leadership transitions are among the most difficult organizational changes to implement and have significant implications for federal agencies. The effectiveness of an incoming leader’s onboarding is directly correlated with the agency’s performance, level of employee engagement and retention. Yet only 45% of federal executives stated that their onboarding got them up to speed quickly.

Talent management and workforce planning are the most pressing challenges in today’s federal environment. Of the 35 GAO high-risk areas, 16 were attributed to mission critical skill gaps. However, according to the Boston Consulting Group, Human Resources in public-sector organizations is significantly less involved in the development of the business strategy and in strategic decision making than in private-sector companies.

New checklist for CHCOs

To address the projected increase of leadership transitions, the complexity and criticality of their execution and the need for agency leaders to partner with their HR counterparts, the Partnership developed the CHCO Checklist for CHCOs (chief human capital officers) and new appointees. This guide outlines leading practices and key actions CHCOs can take to support appointees during their first weeks and position themselves as a trusted strategic advisor to help appointees implement key priorities.

Each agency’s CHCO, or equivalent is responsible for developing an effective and comprehensive onboarding process for the ongoing stream of appointees into their agency. For each appointee, CHCOs are expected to create a tailored program to accommodate their varying backgrounds and preferences, as well as unexpected conflicts that will take priority over onboarding activities.

Each leadership transition offers the opportunity for the organization to evaluate the progress made towards the agency’s strategic goals and course correct if necessary. While most onboarding programs consist of both familiarizing new leaders with their agency and the federal government, many do not prepare them to make strategic decisions on how to advance the agency’s mission. Only 41% of federal executives stated they were briefed on organizational priorities during onboarding.

CHCOs should use these early interactions to deepen their understanding of new leader’s priorities and assess the organization’s ability to execute. Based on these insights, CHCOs should determine how to utilize talent as a lever for implementation as well as align the agency’s human capital strategy to support the advancement of their agency’s mission.

The CHCO Checklist includes insights and advice from current and former CHCOs, appointees and other federal leaders. It can be found along with many other transition resources at the Center for Presidential Transition, the first permanent repository for documents and guidance on presidential transitions.