Incoming Administration: Operations
Design the organizational structure for each operations and support team (operations, legal, president-elect support, communications, public liaison)
Create a 501(c)(4) entity to raise and spend private funds for transition activities
Develop a budget and fundraising plan
A president-elect should anticipate raising and spending a significant amount of money on the transition, a months-long process from initial planning through to the Inauguration. In 2008, the cost of Obama’s transition was roughly $9.3 million. About $4 million was raised by Obama from private donors and rest came from federal funding approved by Congress. An additional $2.2 million in federal funding was set aside for the outgoing president. In 2012, GSA was allocated $8.9 million by Congress to spend on the transition after Election Day if Governor Romney had won the election—an amount that will increase with inflation in 2016 in accordance with the Presidential Transition Act. Given the substantial resource requirements, and technology and security needs of a modern transition, expenses will likely increase with each future presidential transition, and the president-elect will need to raise additional private funds to cover all expenses outside of GSA’s contribution, including events, website development and travel.
Secure pre-convention office space for the transition team
Contact the campaign for its vendor list, including accounting/finance, bank accounts, donor processing, exchange email hosting, website development/hosting, HR/payroll outsourcing and resume database
Work with the legal team to draft internal policies while ensuring consistency with the campaign, including a code of ethics, lobbying policy, digital communication policy and expense-reimbursement policy
Select members for each operations and support team (through June)
Design the governance structure for the operations and support functions, and appoint the heads of each (April–May)
The transition’s operations manager oversees office space, human resources, information technology and day-to-day coordination of resources. The manager also is responsible for developing the overall budget and tracking spending throughout the transition. The budget must account for a variety of factors, including the number of paid staff versus volunteers, stipends for travel or housing (should the transition decide to offer them), and expenses not covered by the General Services Administration (GSA) during the pre-election period such as travel and consultant costs. It can be costly to conduct a presidential transition that goes from early transition planning through to the Inauguration. Based on dollars appropriated for the most recent presidential transitions, federal support from agencies such as GSA may cover only a portion of the total cost, requiring the transition teams to raise millions of dollars. The operations manager, therefore, must work with the campaign fundraising staff to identify sufficient private funding to cover the additional transition costs. The ideal operations manager should be comfortable tracking finances for a large organization and coordinating large amounts of time-sensitive resources.
Congress is a critical stakeholder. A transition team needs an experienced hand to help the new administration establish relationships with members of Congress and important external policy and opinion leaders, whether they are organizations or individuals. This legislative affairs person also needs to set up the president-elect’s legislative and policy goals for success down the road. He or she serves as the transition’s point of contact for rank-and-file members and party leaders in Congress; tracks the multiple Capitol Hill suggestions and requests regarding policy and personnel; establishes paths for early legislation and nominations; and builds a critical base of support that will help the president-elect advance his or her agenda.
The transition’s general counsel will be responsible for supporting a number of important activities. These include incorporating the transition team as a separate legal entity (as a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization); ensuring that the transition is following all relevant ethics laws and regulations in terms of fundraising and external communications; reviewing contracts and agreements; and providing legal advice to the transition leadership. The ideal transition legal counsel should have a strong background in the federal environment, especially campaign finance and ethics law.
The communications manager is responsible for handling interactions between the transition operation and the media, while coordinating with and, when necessary, deferring to the campaign and its separate communications staff. This position ensures that the transition can get its message out to the public and help them understand the importance of early planning, while also abiding by the all-important rule that the president-elect is not president until noon on January 20. This person should bring significant public affairs and messaging experience to the transition and be able to explain and reflect the new administration’s goals and priorities. The communications manager may also be responsible for managing the transition’s and the president-elect’s presence on social media, which could take a significant amount of time and personnel to manage effectively.