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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights include:

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

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

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

On this week’s episode of Transition Lab, host David Marchick unpacks the contested 2000 presidential election with David J. Barram, who served as administrator of the General Services Administration from 1996-2000. Barram discusses the process of ascertainment, his work during the 2000 election and how that contest differed from the 2020 race.

Find out more at the Center for Presidential Transition.

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By Livi Logan-Wood and Dan Hyman

The conclusion of the Democratic and Republican national conventions this month mark the official start of the 2020 presidential campaign and a key turning point for transition planning.

According to the Presidential Transition Act, within three days after the last convention ends, the federal government is required to provide presidential transition teams with specific support. By Sept. 1, 2020, the following changes will take place.   

Because President Trump is the incumbent, his administration is not required to create a formal transition team. However, the conclusion of the nominating conventions presents an opportunity for the Trump administration to plan for second term policy and personnel changes.

The next notable transition milestone will be on Oct. 1 when the Trump White House and the Biden-Harris team must reach an agreement that governs how and when transition team members can engage with federal agencies following the November election if the Democrats are successful. This agreement also will include an ethics plan for transition team members.

With the presidential campaign now heading into its final months, the law dictating the beginning of official coordination among the transition team, the current administration and federal agencies is a testament to the importance of a smooth and peaceful transfer of power and for effective presidential transition planning.

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.”

By the IBM Center for Government and the Shared Services Leadership Coalition

One of the first major policy requirements for any new president is to submit a budget proposal to Congress. For recently elected administrations, this budget is usually presented in February—less than a month into a first term—followed by a more detailed request later in the spring. Presidential transition teams often begin preparing their budget proposals before inauguration.

Rising deficits and debt constrain spending and make the budget process increasingly more difficult. As a result, the government needs to find creative approaches to pay for current and future operations, especially with the added pressure created by the recent economic stimulus plan. One option for federal leaders and agencies is to encourage the private sector to invest in modernizing government operations.

To address these challenges, the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the Shared Services Leadership Coalition recently released a report, Mobilizing Capital Investment to Modernize Government, which offers strategies federal agencies can use to encourage private investment. The report offers specific recommendations for revising budget and acquisition procedures while abiding by safeguards in appropriations, budget scoring and procurement processes rooted in long-standing policy.

This report also includes expert insights and precedents for applying commercial best practices across government. Among the recommendations:

The report features 10 recommendations for the Office of Management and Budget, the General Services Administration and Congress, and their stakeholders and partners. Leaders who find creative ways to improve the budget process will be better equipped to address important national needs now and moving forward.

This blog post originally ran in 2016 and was one of our most read from the last election cycle. The information remains valuable for transition planning. Please note this post has been updated with information from FY 2020 and FY 2021 GSA appropriations.

By Shalini Hicklin-Coorey

When candidates receive their party’s presidential nomination, they must begin to stand up presidential transition teams to prepare for the possibility of governing. As they do so, a number of questions arise, including who will pay the costs of running these transition operations?

Congress, realizing the importance of supporting a smooth transfer of power, passed the Pre-election Presidential Transition Act of 2010, which provides major party candidates with office space, computers and services immediately following the nominating conventions. Previously, Congress withheld support until after the election. Both candidates are now taking advantage of this government support.

Campaign vs. Transition Teams

The term “transition” is often assumed to be a process—a shift in power. In fact, the presidential transition teams are nonprofit entities, separate from the campaigns, and require their own space, people and money.

In 2008, Barack Obama’s transition cost roughly $9.3 million. Of this total, about $4 million was raised by the Obama from private donors to fund the pre-election timeframe and some of the post-election period, with the government money also kicking in after the election. Obama’s transition team grew from a handful of advisors about 10 weeks before the election to about 450 full-time transition team staff immediately after the election when government assistance was made available.

In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s transition team was the first to take advantage of the pre-election funding provisions of the Presidential Transition Act, and also spent $1.4 million in privately raised funds during this period. The Romney transition team used the private funds to leverage the pre-election government office space, computers and supplies provided by General Services Administration (GSA) for nearly 500 paid and volunteer transition staffers.

Pre-election Help for All

In order to accept private funding for pre-election transition activity, candidates must set up an entity covered under section 501 (c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Service code. If candidates plan to accept government support, they must disclose privately raised funds to the public, which are subject to a $5,000 per person limit.

Thanks to the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010, Congress has appropriated $9.6 million for pre-election transition support to assist the Democratic and Republican nominees this year. This specifically includes transition office space, communications services, briefings and workshops for new political appointees, printing, supplies and other materials. These services must be used exclusively for the preparations regarding the assumption of official duties of the president or vice president.

Post-Election: Now There’s One

Based on the fiscal 2021 congressional budget, GSA has been allocated $6.3 million to support the president-elect after the fall election and $1 million for appointee orientation activities. The post-election support provides the president-elect’s team with funding for staff, consultants and postage in addition to printing, travel, communication and continuing use of the pre-election office space.

Making full use of the federal support and any private funding prior to the election will help both presidential candidates get up-to-speed on the enormous challenge of preparing to govern in the event of a November victory.

This short time period will be critical in laying the groundwork for a more intensive effort after the election that will involve making some 4,000 political appointments, laying out comprehensive domestic and foreign policy agendas and running a government of 2.1 million civilian employees and another 2 million active-duty military personnel and reserves.

This blog post originally ran in 2016 and was one of our favorites from the last election cycle. One of our most popular posts, the information remains valuable for transition planning.

By Zach Piaker

There is both disruption and continuity in a presidential transition. Thankfully, a support structure of career staff and their agencies stands ready to assist the presidential transition teams BEFORE the election and the incoming administration after the votes have been counted. 

In 2010, Congress passed the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act to provide major party presidential candidates with support and services after their nominating conventions. This law added to a range of services that are provided by the government to the presidential campaigns. Here are some places to turn to for help. 

Campaigns don’t need to search for federal resources, though. Congress mandated GSA to create a Presidential Transition Directory, which was launched online last fall to help eligible 2016 presidential candidates get quick and easy access to key resources about the federal government’s structure and policies related to presidential transition.

More resources are available to transition teams—including templates, timelines and guidance—in our own Center library

The “transition service providers” all play a critical role in the transition process. Last summer, the Center for Presidential Transition started a series of meetings with representatives from these agencies. Getting support teams together early and often helps federal service providers share information and create strategies and solutions. 

Thanks to the work of this group, the next president’s transition team will be better supported than ever before.