Federal Agencies

December 18, 2018


The various departments and agencies in the executive branch must be prepared for the significant policy and personnel changes that will occur with the election of a new president. In order to do this, agencies should designate a senior career official to serve as a transition coordinator in January of a presidential election year.

The agencies should begin to plan for the large number of vacancies in senior leadership positions that will likely occur during the handoff between presidential administrations. This will begin well before the inauguration, as many political appointees will leave throughout the administration’s final year. Career officials must be identified and prepared to assume the responsibilities of vacated positions, which may require additional training.

The turnover in political appointees means that each agency’s ethics, records and human resources officers must adequately prepare for the departure of personnel and the massive influx of new appointees following the inauguration. This will require guidance from the Office of Government Ethics, the National Archives and Records Administration and the Office of Personnel Management.

Agencies should gather information to be handed over to the incoming agency review teams after the election. At a minimum, these materials should include a brief summary of the department’s basic organization, current mission and performance goals, and identification and summaries of major policies and internal management, legal and infrastructure challenges.

The agency’s transition coordinator should participate in meetings of the Agency Transition Directors Council once that is organized by the White House. This venue can serve as a forum to share information and best practices between agencies, and to standardize what each agency prepares for the incoming administration.

Provisions of the Edward “Ted” Kaufman and Michael Leavitt Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015 would require the standup of the council as a matter of law and require that a representative of both major party candidates participate in the council.

Agencies also must prepare for the arrival of agency landing teams—members of the incoming president’s transition team tasked with gathering information about their assigned agency—after Election Day. In general, agencies should follow the guidelines that are laid out in the memorandum of understanding signed by the outgoing White House and incoming transition chairman that will govern interactions between the agency landing teams and federal employees. Agency transition coordinators should consider leveraging this opportunity to tailor their briefing materials to what would be most useful to incoming teams.

Finally, agencies must be prepared to follow White House guidance on when, or if, to halt regulatory activity. In May 2008, Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten sent a memorandum to agency leaders attempting to limit the issuance of “midnight regulations” by requiring all new rules to be proposed by June 1, 2008, and issued by November 1, 2008. Future administrations may choose to take similar actions in their final year in office.

The career federal workforce remains in place regardless of who occupies the White House, and ensures that federal government continues performing many of its most vital functions. However, the near-complete turnover in senior political leadership necessitates significant planning by each agency to ensure a secure and efficient transfer of power.