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December 18, 2018


It is the job of the presidential transition policy team to prioritize the major issues and campaign promises that a candidate ran on and lay the groundwork for these policies to be implemented once the president-elect takes office.

Policies must be prioritized and built into a formal agenda and implementation plan for the new president’s first 100 to 200 days and through the first year of the administration. During the formal handover phase, the policy team must consider the views of outside stakeholders, develop a budget to support the major policy initiatives and determine how the prior administration’s executive orders and regulatory actions may affect the candidate’s policy priorities.

The transition team needs to coordinate closely with the campaign staff that helped the candidate develop the policy priorities. In some circumstances, a campaign may elect to have those working on policy continue with planning its implementation during the transition phase. Clear lines of responsibility benefit both the transition and campaign staffs, and can contribute to early policy success for the next president.

Although the roles of the policy and agency review teams are integrally linked, the policy team has a distinct set of responsibilities. Unlike the agency review team, which looks at each agency separately to explore the work they are doing and inform incoming leadership, the policy team must focus on developing the broad policy platform of the incoming administration and coordinating activities across multiple agencies and actors to ensure that the candidate’s policies are implemented. Nevertheless, the policy and agency review teams must share information throughout the transition.

There are a variety of approaches to structuring the relationship between the campaign and the transition team on policy development. The approach chosen by the Romney Readiness Project ensured that all policy initiatives originated with the campaign in Boston based on Romney’s public statements. The transition itself was charged with tracking these policy commitments in close coordination with the campaign headquarters and making the necessary preparations to implement them. Michael Leavitt, chairman of the Romney Readiness Project, took exceptional care to ensure that there were no “policy entrepreneurs” within the transition who were focusing on their own policy agenda over that of Romney.

The 2008 Obama transition team followed a similar model. The team catalogued the candidate’s campaign promises to help sketch the outlines of proposed administration policies that could be implemented after the election. The idea was to prepare a menu of options that would guide the post-election team and ensure that the president’s policies would be consistent with what was said on the campaign trail.