July 11, 2024

Tips for federal agencies when creating transition briefing materials 

By law and tradition, the creation of agency briefing materials for an incoming administration is one of the critical parts of a presidential transition.  

However, federal law does not specify what contents should be included in these materials. The tips below—informed by best practices and advice from career leaders and teams involved in previous transitions, including those summarized in our agency transition guide—are designed to help agencies make these materials as useful as possible. 

An overview of agency transition requirements 

During an election year, much of the nation focuses on presidential campaigns.  

Behind-the-scenes, however, career civil servants must manage and carry out an agency’s transition activities. According to the federal transition law, this means completing several major tasks prior to Election Day: 

  • Naming a point of contact to assist with agency transition efforts by May of an election year. 
  • Creating a succession plan for senior leadership positions by Sept. 15. 
  • Compiling agency briefing materials by Nov. 1 to assist new administration officials or second-term leadership.  

To date, around 155 agencies, boards and commissions have established transition leads—a senior career official— supported by career employees, to lead this work.  

4 tips to maximize the effectiveness of agency briefing materials 

The briefing materials noted above are especially important. They function as the “agency 101” of key facts, figures and issues, enabling new leaders to get up to speed on their organizations quickly and hit the ground running. 

Here are four key recommendations for creating helpful content. 

Tip 1: Provide a baseline understanding of the agency 

Recipients of briefing materials—whether they are review teams for an incoming administration or newly appointed leadership for a continuing administration—will have varying degrees of familiarity with the agency before arriving. Some may have prior experience with an agency’s operations, while others may be experts in policy or program areas.  

Briefing materials should provide appointees with a summary of the agency, including: 

  • Organizational charts that include key positions 
  • Recent budget history and current budget proposals 
  • Top issues and challenges, including policy and internal operations  
  • Congressional oversight committees and issues  
Tip 2: Be succinct 

Agencies should focus on the top issues and 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 produce crisp, informative and digestible briefing materials that reflect the transition team’s time-sensitive mission. During the 2020-21 transition, Federal Transition Coordinator Mary Gibert recommended that agencies develop materials to be timely, concise and answer a single question: “What does the incoming team need to know and do when they walk in the door on Day 1, and what is coming up in 30, 60 or 90 days?” 

Tip 3: Include key insights 

Excellent materials go beyond agency statistics and conventional issues to provide insights into challenges and opportunities facing new leaders.  

For the 2020-21 transition, the Treasury Department held more than 100 virtual briefings where agency review team members could assess how specific information might impact policy priorities and other governing issues, enabling officials to focus and process information incrementally.  

Key insights should include:  

  • The agency’s current top priorities 
  • The parts of the agency’s budget most impacted by major events (e.g., global pandemics) 
  • Significant changes in workforce demographics such as the number of employees eligible for retirement. 
Tip 4: Use digital formats 

Historically, briefing materials have been delivered as paper reports in thick binders. However, developing briefings in digital formats make it easier to distribute highly detailed and specific information to intended recipients, especially when many federal officials and transition leaders work remotely and employ different technology tools to communicate.  

For example, the increase of virtual meeting platforms available in 2020-21 meant agency transition teams could engage more easily with staff across their department and with incoming agency teams. 

To learn more about briefing materials and other aspects of the federal agency transition process, check out our Agency Transition Guide. For additional information on the transition process as a whole, see our Presidential Transition Guide.  

This blog post was authored by Chantelle Renn, a senior manager at the Center for Presidential Transition®, Troy Thomas and Ryan Ordway, managing directors and partners at Boston Consulting Group and Isaac Silberberg, a consultant at Boston Consulting Group.  

Chantelle Renn