Presidents are responsible for about 4,000 political appointments, about 1,200 of which require Senate confirmation. This paper includes a comparison of how President Joe Biden’s pace of appointments and confirmations compares with the previous three presidents at the August recess.

For a detailed list of many key nominees and their statuses, see the Biden Political Appointee Tracker which is updated daily by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post.

Presidents are responsible for about 4,000 political appointments, about 1,200 of which require Senate confirmation. This paper includes a comparison of how President Joe Biden’s pace of appointments and confirmations compares with the previous three presidents at the 200 days mark.

For a detailed list of many key nominees and their statuses, see the Biden Political Appointee Tracker which is updated daily by the Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post.

Despite unprecedented challenges, President Biden oversaw one of the most well-planned presidential transitions in U.S. history. The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition supported this process behind the scenes, providing key insights to the Biden team as it prepared to potentially take office and working with stakeholders across government to facilitate an effective transfer of power.

The Center for Presidential Transition examined the transcripts from the Senate confirmation hearings of 23 Cabinet-level and agency head positions. We isolated and categorized questions from the confirmation hearings of the two most recent officials confirmed for each selected position.

The guide for incoming Cabinet secretaries is designed to support a new secretary lead effectively from day one and make an impact as the leader of a large and complex organization. Informed by insights from senior federal leaders, it outlines best practices to build an effective team, advance the administration’s agenda, and work effectively with key stakeholders.

Further delays by the General Services Administration in recognizing the outcome of the Nov. 3 election could impede the ability of President-elect Joe Biden to make timely and critical appointments for key COVID-19 and national security-related positions, thereby weakening the government’s ability to protect our nation and distribute life-saving vaccines. 

 November 8, 2020 

The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition is the nation’s premier nonpartisan source of information and resources designed to help presidential candidates and their teams lay the groundwork for a new administration or for a president’s second term. The Center has been active in transition activities on a bipartisan basis for four cycles. 

We congratulate Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris on their successful and historic campaign for the White House. In our role we have observed the seriousness with which they have taken the transition planning process. They embraced transition planning early, recruited a seasoned and disciplined team and resourced their transition effort commensurate with the challenges that President-elect Biden will face on January 20. While there will be legal disputes requiring adjudication, the outcome is sufficiently clear that the transition process must now begin. 

As candidate Biden becomes President-elect Biden, he and his transition team will quickly shift from campaigning to governing. To build an effective government ready to address the urgent needs of our great country, the new president will have to recruit 4,000 political appointees, including 1,250 who require Senate confirmation; prepare a $4.7 trillion budget; implement a strong policy agenda; and assume leadership of a workforce of 2 million civilian employees and 2 million active duty and reserve troops. 

We want to also applaud the two other key stakeholders necessary for a successful transition – the White House staff and the career officials throughout the federal government with responsibility for transition planning under the Presidential Transition Act. The White House staff took implementation of the Presidential Transition Act seriously, met every statutory milestone and worked closely with the career officials responsible for transition planning. The career federal officials with responsibility for transition planning, led by the GSA, did exactly what one would expect from highly qualified, experienced career officials – they planned and prepared methodically for either eventuality – a Trump re-election or a Biden win. 

Now the real challenge begins. We urge the Trump administration to immediately begin the post-election transition process and the Biden team to take full advantage of the resources available under the Presidential Transition Act. This was a hard-fought campaign, but history is replete with examples of presidents who emerged from such campaigns to graciously assist their successors. “Your success now is our country’s success,” George H.W. Bush wrote in 1993 to the incoming president who involuntarily retired him, “I am rooting hard for you.” 

Josh Bolten, White House Chief of Staff and Director of the Office of Management and Budget, George W. Bush Administration (Republican) 

Michael Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services and Administrator, Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush Administration, Governor of Utah (Republican) 

Thomas F. (Mack) McLarty, White House Chief of Staff, Clinton Administration (Democrat) 

Penny S. Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce, Obama Administration (Democrat) 

Previous presidential transitions have occurred during times of crisis. During the 2008-2009 transition, the two sides closely cooperated to hand over management of the government during the financial crisis.

Following the election, a president-elect traditionally engages in limited outreach to foreign leaders. Building relationships with key foreign leaders is critical and can help determine the success of the new president’s foreign policy. During the transition period, however, it is important for the president-elect and the staff to ensure the government is always speaking with one voice, particularly on matters of national security and foreign policy. As a result, the State Department traditionally has helped coordinate phone calls between a president-elect and foreign dignitaries. Best practice would be for the president-elect to avoid commitments that might undermine the current administration.

In the case of President-elect Barack Obama in 2008-2009, engagement with foreign leaders began with a series of phone calls placed shortly after Election Day to close American allies. This list included the United Kingdom, Israel, Japan, Canada and Mexico. This engagement was strategic and intended to emphasize the importance of these nations to the United States.

Two days later, Obama placed calls to leaders in Russia and China, countries with more complex relationships with United States. The chart below, compiled by the Center for Presidential Transition and the Boston Consulting Group, illustrates the calls placed by Obama and offers a rough roadmap for what we can expect from Vice President Biden should he win the election.

INTRODUCTION

In passing the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, Congress explained: “Any disruption occasioned by the transfer of the executive power could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States and its people.” To promote the orderly transfer of power, Congress established a framework for the federal government to prepare for a transition from one president to another.

With strong bipartisan support, the Act has been amended over the years to recognize the increasing complexities of presidential transitions.[1] The law requires the General Services Administration to provide office space and other core support services to presidents-elect and vice Presidents-elect, as well as pre-election space and support to major candidates.  The Act also requires the White House and agencies to begin transition planning well before a presidential election, benefitting both first and second term administrations.

WHAT ARE AGENCY AND INTER-AGENCY TRANSITION PLANNING REQUIREMENTS? 

The Act establishes an early and organized cadence for the federal government’s transition planning: 

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION? 

The Act requires GSA to provide office space and administrative support (such as information technology and communications capabilities) to a president-elect and vice president-elect. Recognizing a growing need for transition activities to start well before election day, the Act also requires GSA to offer office space and support to major candidates in the months preceding the election, following the political conventions. In the post-election period, GSA is also authorized to pay expenses for staff, experts, postage, and travel for the transition team of the president-elect, if the president-elect is not a president who has been re-elected. Use of government aircraft also may be provided on a reimbursable basis. 

GSA also serves a liaison between transition teams and the federal government, helping, for example, to ensure that a president-elect’s initial round of appointees are cleared to enter each agency and be on the job immediately after inauguration of the new president. The law requires the GSA Administrator to designate a senior career official to serve as the Federal Transition Coordinator, who coordinates transition planning across agencies. GSA is also required to compile a report on modern transitions and create a transition directory with comprehensive information on the officers, organization, and responsibilities of each federal agency. GSA also provides support to help outgoing presidents as they depart the White House. 

Also, recognizing that incoming political appointees face unique challenges and requirements coming into federal service, the Act allows GSA to expend funds of training for new appointees during the entire duration of a president’s term, not just during transition or at the beginning of the term.  

HOW DOES THE ACT HELP WITH TRANSITION RELATED TO NATIONAL SECURITY? 

The Act directs the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies responsible for conducting background investigations to conduct those investigations expeditiously, with the goal of providing appropriate security clearances before inauguration for the individuals that the President-elect has identified for high level national security positions, including secretaries and undersecretaries of cabinet-level agencies. The law also requires that the president-elect be given a classified summary as soon as possible after the election on threats to national security, covert military operations, and pending decisions on possible uses of military force. The White House Transition Coordinating Council is tasked with conducting interagency emergency preparedness and response exercises. 

Separately, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 20043 allows each eligible candidate, before the election, to submit security clearance requests for prospective transition team members who will need access to classified information. The law directs that background investigations and security clearance determinations for these individuals be completed, to the fullest extent practicable, by the day after the date of the election. 

WHAT REQUIREMENTS ARE PLACED ON RECIPIENTS OF TRANSITION ASSISTANCE? 

As a condition of receiving office space and related services, eligible candidates, the president-elect and the vice president-elect are required to disclose to GSA all non-federal contributions received for transition activities. The transition teams must also disclose to the public the identities and sources of funding of individuals who enter federal agencies after the election as part of the President-elect’s transition team. Also, GSA, to the greatest extent practicable, must enter memoranda of understanding with each eligible candidate which includes the conditions for the services and facilities provided by GSA, designation of a transition representative to receive inquires related to transition team documents, conditions for access to agencies by the president-elect’s transition team, and agreement by transition teams to implement, enforce and publicly disclose ethics plans for transition team members.  

HOW ARE PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITIONS FUNDED? 

Presidential transitions are funded through a combination of federally appropriated funds and private funds. For the 2020-2021 transition cycle, Congress provided $9.62 million for transition activities in fiscal year 2020 and   $9.9 million in fiscal year 2021. 

To accept private funding, an eligible candidate must establish an entity that is legally separate from the campaign and that qualifies under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code.  An eligible candidate may transfer into this entity contributions received for his or her general election campaign and may also solicit and accept donations directly into it. Contributions per person or organization may not exceed $5,000. As noted above, contributions must be disclosed to GSA.  

WHAT HAPPENS IF A PRESIDENT IS RE-ELECTED? 

In the event that the president-elect is the incumbent or where the vice president-elect is the incumbent, federal transition funds for post-election transition activities are returned to the Treasury. The law does allow, though, for GSA to use funds for training of new political appointees throughout a president’s term. 

WHAT HAPPENS IF THE RESULT OF THE ELECTION IS UNCLEAR? 

The law provides that an eligible candidate has the right to the facilities and services provided to eligible candidates until the date on which the Administrator is able to determine the apparent successful candidates for the office of president and vice president. 

Also, under legislation passed by Congress in 2022, the law now provides that if GSA has not ascertained the winner within 5 days of the election, equitable post-election transition assistance will be provided to candidates until there is a clear winner.4 The 2022 law also lays out discretionary factors that the Administrator of GSA should look to in determining a winner (e.g., certified state results) as well as mandatory factors (e.g., a majority of pledged electors based on state certifications of their final canvass and conclusion of related administrative/legal actions). 

Timeline of Requirements

Ongoing

12 months before election

6 months before election

Post-Conventions through Election

Post-Election (if there is a change in administration)

Post-Election (if results are unclear)

 

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