WASHINGTON – On Jan. 20, 2017, a new president will be sworn in. Along with the job of president, 4,000 other positions need to be filled. Historically, the process has been slow, with new administrations starting from scratch.
A new program launched Wednesday, the Center for Presidential Transition, plans to make future presidential transitions as effective as possible. It is a program of the nonprofit and nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.
Joshua Bolten, chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and Thomas “Mack” McLarty, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, are members of the center’s advisory board. They were joined at a discussion about the new project by Cokie Roberts, NPR senior news analyst, and Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service.
“The truth is, bluntly, it has not been done very well. Every administration has started off slowly,” Stier said. “Our proposition is that it can be done better, and a lot better.”
Candidates focus a majority of their effort on getting elected. Few spend time on what will happen once they take office. According to the center, on average, it takes 50 days between Senate confirmation of the first presidential appointment and the second. After 200 days, only 30 percent of the positions have been filled.
Candidates who create transition plans before being elected can draw voter disapproval. Concerned with their image, new presidents sometimes make sweeping changes instead of adopting some effective practices of their predecessors. Candidates don’t want the names of possible appointees to leak.
McLarty said Clinton did not focus on a transition plan until two weeks before the election.
The center wants to encourage outgoing and incoming staffs to work together and earlier than they have previously.
“There’s always been an attitude of cooperation between outgoing and incoming administrations,” McLarty said. Clinton feared people perceived he was too eager to take office.
“But, candidate Clinton was concerned about transition, about measuring the drapes. … So that very much influenced the transition process. So it was very, very chaotic,” McLarty said.
Bolten said Bush wanted a better transition for whoever followed him in office and told Bolten a year in advance to make sure it happened, in part because of threats to the country. On Inauguration Day, instead of turning responsibilities over to new people at noon, old and new Homeland Security staff officials worked together.
“The point of the story is there was no template for this,” Bolten said. “We were making it up as we went along.”
The center has “process maps” and other transition planning material available to candidates in hopes of smoother, more effective presidential transitions. The sooner the new administration can get settled, the sooner it can get to work.
“Instead of having to start from scratch, you can actually look at what’s been done before and build again on top of that and make it better,” Stier said. “It’s going to be an ongoing resource that we hope gets better and better.”
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Download photos: Transition.zip