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.

Ted Kaufman and President-elect Joe Biden go way back. Kaufman helped organize Biden’s first Senate office in 1972 and served as his chief of staff for nearly two decades. Kaufman left the Senate in 1994, but later returned to fill his old boss’s seat after Biden became Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009. More recently, Kaufman helped pass two laws, one in 2010 and another in 2015, that improved the presidential transition process. He currently co-chairs the Biden-Harris transition team.

In this episode of Transition Lab—the first to focus on the Biden transition to power—host David Marchick asks Kaufman to discuss Biden’s transition planning process. Marchick also discusses with Kaufman how he became a leading transition expert, why the Biden-Harris transition will serve as a model for future transition teams and how he has approached the unique challenges of the 2020 transition cycle.

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Read the highlights:

Kaufman recalled Joe Biden asking him to run the transition:

Kaufman: “It was in the spring. We had been talking … about the campaign. I think maybe I mentioned the transition in passing, but [did not say] anything about if we ought to start or whatnot. I don’t think there’s ever been a transition that started in the early spring. And then he called me, and he said, ‘You know, I’ve been thinking about this transition and I think we ought to get started right now.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what … if you go to one of these Partnership for Public Services get-togethers, you learn one thing: You can’t start too early.’ And so, I said to him that I would start it. …It was really one of the smartest things we [did].”

Kaufman described the relationship between the campaign and transition teams.

Kaufman: “Until Election Day, the campaign [was] by far the most important part of the Biden effort. We talked with campaign [staff] and cleared everything we did all the time. …The transition is not about making policy. It’s about getting to the bottom of what a President Biden would want to do when he became president. …We got from the campaign all of the policy statements he made, and we collected them into what we called a campaign promises book. Then, the transition took the book and sliced it and diced so that people [responsible for] each agency knew what the Biden policies were for that specific agency.”

Kaufman explained why the transition team embraced the motto, “Whatever happens in the transition, stays in the transition.”

Kaufman: “We knew that there would be incredible interest in what was happening in all parts of the transition, especially who was going to get positions in the administration. It’s like the greatest parlor game or rabbit hunt in Washington during the period that the transition is ongoing. Who’s going to get a job? When are they going to get them? Who’s going to get what? Who’s going to be in line? Those types of things. Everyone took [the transition team’s] responsibility seriously. [As a result], there were very few accurate reports of what was happening during the transition.”

Kaufman described building a diverse transition team.

Kaufman: “President-elect Biden’s most important commitment was having an administration that reflected America. And I must tell you, because of the incredible number of highly qualified people interested in serving the transition, this was no problem. And we turned out to have a transition that genuinely mirrored America in just about every way”

Kaufman reflected on planning a virtual transition.

Kaufman: “When we started [the transition], we were just about a month into the period when businesses [and] schools had been shut down, and we had no idea how long that would last. We also were just learning to be efficient on Zoom and other platforms. We realized we needed to plan for a virtual transition, and we did. It increased the degree of difficulty considerably. But thanks to good planning, coordination, and communication, [the transition] has been seamless.”

Kaufman discussed the impact of his transition legislation:

Kaufman: “In 2010 … the Senate passed my bill, Senate bill 3196. It moved up the date that the transition teams get access to office space, computers, phones and funding from the government. Prior to the legislation, support from the General Services Administration only kicked in after the election. …I said before about how difficult it is to have a transition in the most complex organization in the history of the world. You’re supposed to basically do it in 70 days. What my bill did was increase it from 70 to more like 140 days. Instead of getting the financing help after the election, you got the financing help after the convention.”

Kaufman reflected on Biden’s Cabinet nominees:

Kaufman: “I think these nominees [are] highly qualified. They’re experienced. And they’re breaking barriers. …The first person of color to run the Defense Department, the first female to be the Director of National Intelligence, the first gay Cabinet secretary. It’s about a half a dozen different [minority groups] that were not represented [before].”

Kaufman compared the challenges of the 2020 transition with those of 2008:

Kaufman: “I thought we [saw] the most difficult transition because of the Great Recession, but it’s nothing like this. I mean, no other transition has ever taken place with these set of challenges: a pandemic, a recession, a racial justice crisis, an unpredictable president and political polarization. I realized that we had to build off the best of what previous transitions had done—and do much more—to ensure that Vice President Biden would be ready to govern on Inauguration Day.”

By Troy Thomas, Partner and Associate Director, Boston Consulting Group and Dan Hyman, Manager, Center for Presidential Transition

The new edition of the Presidential Transition Guide shows that it is imperative that presidential candidates prioritize the top 100 appointments early in order to get them through the clearance process. It also emphasizes that policy plans should be aligned with the budget and supported by principles of sound management in executing the president’s agenda.

Whether an incumbent is running for a second term or a challenger seeks a first, preparing for the awesome responsibility of governing is an absolute necessity. And it starts months before Election Day. In the past, however, candidates had nowhere to turn for guidance on how to plan their transition.

That changed in January 2016, when the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition and Boston Consulting Group released the Presidential Transition Guide. The guide is a one-of-a-kind resource that offers a “how to” manual on all the key activities required for managing a successful transition. It captures best practices, binding laws and important timelines, along with groundbreaking historical documents from past transition efforts.

The Center and BCG studied multiple transitions dating back to 2000 and incorporated lessons from the 2016 election to create the fourth edition of the guide specifically for the 2020 election cycle. The new edition shows that a second-term administration will experience 43 percent turnover among its most senior officials, and a new president will need to fill more than 1,200 positions with appointees confirmed by the Senate. The new guide makes clear the importance of prioritizing the top 100 appointments early to fill the most important jobs in government.

The fourth edition builds on the work of previous iterations and adds the following new information:

The Presidential Transition Guide is an invaluable tool for teams that are leading transitions as well as for anyone who has an interest in this hallmark practice of American democracy. The Center and BCG are committed to ensuring that no matter who wins in November, the transition to a new presidential term is smooth, safe and effective. 

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 https://bit.ly/38EmSwt 

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 https://bit.ly/2QmXftR 

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 https://bit.ly/2Q3nViU 

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 https://bit.ly/3g6D4vr

Guide for federal agencies to prepare for successful transitions

Partnership for Public Service, “Ready to Govern: Improving the Presidential Transition,” Jan. 2010. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3aLPhSz 

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  https://bit.ly/36hSOap

Outline of every component of the transition process 

Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, “Transition Lab podcast series,” 2020. Retrieved from https://presidentialtransition.org/transition-lab/

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 https://bit.ly/2zlDIoh

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 https://bit.ly/2ICRu6R 

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 https://bit.ly/2U3UjDl  

Congressional Research Service, “Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding,” RS22979, Oct. 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2W52xxJ 

Congressional Research Service, “Senate Consideration of Presidential Nominations: Committee and Floor Procedure,” RL31980, April 2017. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Q8bxye 

The Council for Excellence in Government, “A Survivor’s Guide for Presidential Nominees,” Nov. 2000. Retrieved from https://brook.gs/2Q7TwA3 

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 https://brook.gs/3aK2rzx 

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 https://bit.ly/2ICPOu3 

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 https://bit.ly/2LLtwYu

Partnership for Public Service, “Government Disservice: Overcoming Washington Dysfunction to Improve Congressional Stewardship of the Executive Branch,” Sept. 2015. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/39GCsJi 

Partnership for Public Service, “Presidential Transition Act Summary,” March 2020. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2zjsiRF

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 https://bit.ly/2TLq19D 

U.S. Office of Personnel Management, “Presidential Transition Guide to Federal Human Resources Management Matters: Election Year 2016,” Sept. 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/39KkRQx 

U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, “Policy and Supporting Positions,” Dec. 1, 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2TIGcnU 

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 https://bit.ly/2TtQdEZ

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 https://bit.ly/3cQnvq4 

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 https://bit.ly/39Lpjyv 

Clay Johnson, “The 2000-01 Presidential Transition: Planning, Goals and Reality,” PS:  Political Science & Politics 35(1), March 2002, 51 – 53. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/339mvc0 

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 https://bit.ly/2w1qYkK 

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 https://at.virginia.edu/2vXM03T 

Miller Center, “Tales of transitions past,” Sept. 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/39EwBEa 

National Archives, “Reagan Administration Transition Interviews,” 1999. Retrieved from  https://bit.ly/3cPXSWf

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 https://lat.ms/33ahgsr 

Michael Nelson, “2013 and Beyond: Barack Obama and the Perils of Second-Term Presidents,” in “The Elections of 2012,” CQ Press, 2014. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3aNZw9a 

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 https://brook.gs/3d0vXTI 

Anne Joseph O’Connell, “Actings,” Columbia Law Review 120(3), April 2020, 613 – 728. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2YEMw2L

Anne J. O’Connell, “Staffing federal agencies: Lessons from 1981 – 2016,” The Brookings Institution, April 2017. Retrieved from https://brook.gs/2IGxU9T 

Ashley Parker, “Campaigning Aside, Team Plans a Romney Presidency,” New York  Times, Aug. 16, 2012. Retrieved from https://nyti.ms/38BFIUU 

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 https://bit.ly/3d0vtNo 

Richard Skinner, “9/11 improved presidential transitions,” Vox, Oct. 10, 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/39NdCr6 

Richard Skinner, “Bill Clinton set a bad example with his transition,” Vox, Oct. 7, 2016.  Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2TUUCjG 

Richard Skinner, “How the presidential transition process has evolved over time,” Vox, Oct. 3, 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2W3vHgt 

Richard Skinner, “Jimmy Carter changed presidential transitions forever,” Vox, Oct. 5, 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2TIJiIL 

Alan Taylor, “Peaceful Transfer,” Miller Center, July 2016. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2U0RQcP 

Kathryn D. Tenpas, “Tracking turnover in the Trump administration,” The Brookings Institution, May 2020. Retrieved from https://brook.gs/2wKzJzZ 

Jack H. Watson, Jr., “Jack H. Watson, Jr. Oral History,” Miller Center, April 1981. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2W5f5F2 

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 https://brook.gs/2Q7hZ8O 

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 https://brook.gs/33bJrHE 

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 https://brook.gs/39GZ4sY 

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 https://bit.ly/2TSaLXa 

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 https://ampr.gs/39KtpXx 

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 https://bit.ly/2vUN2xJ  

Terry Sullivan, “Passing Through the Maelstrom: The Inquiry of Presidential Nominees and Reform, 2001-2012,” Feb. 2014. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2TIJo2S 

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 https://bit.ly/2ICVXq9 

By Sen. Ron Johnson and Sen. Tom Carper

As a businessman from Wisconsin and a former governor of Delaware, we came to the U.S. Senate with different backgrounds, but a shared interest in promoting smart policies that make government work better. On this front, we have found much common ground, including our sponsorship of legislation to ensure that, every four years, the federal government is prepared for the actual or potential transition of leadership from one president to another. Transitions – to a new president or a second term – involve high stakes and important work critical to our nation’s national and economic security.

In enacting the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, Congress stated: “The national interest requires that such transitions in the office of President be accomplished so as to assure continuity in the faithful execution of the laws and in the conduct of the affairs of the Federal government, both domestic and foreign. Any disruption occasioned by the transfer of the executive power could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States and its people.”

These words ring as true today as they did in 1963. Handing over the keys to a 4.7 trillion dollar enterprise is a colossal exercise. During the pressure cooker of a presidential campaign, and then during the short time between Election Day and Inauguration Day, a president-elect must be prepare to deal with a possible domestic or international crisis,  plan a strategy for working with Congress to enact administration policies, and identify candidates to fill roughly 4,000 political appointments — including over 1,200 which require Senate confirmation.  

And as shown by a recent study by the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition, transitions to second terms also merit intense preparations, with two-term presidents typically experiencing a high turnover of appointees as they approach the second inauguration.

Updates to the Presidential Transition Act over the years have been the result of bipartisan efforts to recognize the increasing complexities of presidential transitions. That is why we named the Presidential Transition Improvements Act of 2015 after former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and former Gov. Mike Leavitt (R-Utah), who were leaders, respectively, in 2008 and 2012 transition preparations. These fine public servants have shared their experiences in working on presidential transitions so that we can refine the process to best serve the public interest.

In that tradition, on March 3rd, President Trump signed into law another bill that we sponsored, the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act, which clarifies existing law and enshrines into law some best practices from previous transition efforts.

The evolution of the Presidential Transition Act has given our nation a framework ensuring  transition planning starts early — well before the general election — and, just as Congress envisioned in 1963, that serving and protecting the American people remains the priority of our government, even during transfers of executive power.

The passage and signing into law of the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act without a single dissent in either the Senate or the House of Representatives shows that, regardless of who we favor on the ballot in a presidential election year, we are united in making sure that every four years, the transition to the next four years goes as smoothly as possible.

Ron Johnson is a Republican Senator from Wisconsin and is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.  Tom Carper is a Democratic Senator from Delaware and is a senior member of the committee.

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.