March 04, 2020

GSA will lend more help to presidential transitions under new law

Transitions between different presidential administrations might be slightly easier in the future, under a new law signed by President Donald Trump March 3.

The Presidential Transition Enhancement Act requires agencies to establish plans for the changes in senior leadership positions in advance of the election, codifies the disclosure of transition ethics requirements and ensures that the General Services Administration will plan in advance with each presidential candidate.

Under the law, GSA will enter into a memorandum of understanding Sept. 1 with each presidential candidate that establishes the conditions for administrative support services and facilities. The agency will also provide office space and support for the transition team for 60 days after inauguration, to ensure that such teams can focus on recruiting and hiring for top administration positions as early as possible.

“Presidential transition legislation has always been nonpartisan because it is about the effective function of our government, not any one presidential candidate,” said Kristine Simmons, vice president of government affairs at the Partnership for Public Service, in a statement.

“The president and members of the House and Senate deserve credit for working across the aisle to ensure that the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act continues that nonpartisan tradition. This is ‘good government’ legislation that clarifies existing law based on lessons learned in the 2016 transition.”

Although most evident when a new president is elected, transitions occur after every election and bring with them change and upheaval at agencies.

“One important provision of this bill requires that by Sept. 15 in any election year, each agency must have a succession plan in place for senior political positions so that the administration is prepared for turnover in those positions,” Simmons said.

“Turnover is likely to occur even if the president is re-elected. The Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition analysis of the last three two-term presidents shows that from Election Day through the first six months of the second term, an average of 43 percent of secretaries, deputy secretaries and undersecretaries left their jobs.”

In addition to ensuring that executive branch employees plan effectively for the transition, the law also provides for the detailing of legislative branch employees — who will be reimbursed — to office staffs designated by the President-elect or Vice President-elect, so long as they obtain consent of the supervising member of Congress.

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