July | August 2017







Preparing for the Presidential Transition

By Kristine Simmons,vice president of government affairs, Partnership for Public Service
During this unpredictable presidential primary season, one thing is certain: Our nation will welcome a new president in less than one year. Any presidential candidate still in the race in April should start preparing to assume responsibility for managing the federal government, arguably the largest and most complex organization in the world.
The new president and his or her team will need to set priorities, stay ahead of looming crises and fill roughly 4,000 political appointments with talented people who are well-qualified and able to work in partnership with our government’s career civil servants. This is a big job that requires help—and lots of it.  
Congress and President Obama are already lending their support. In March, in bipartisan recognition of the importance of a smooth presidential transition, Congress passed and the president signed S. 1172, the Edward “Ted” Kaufman and Michael Leavitt Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015, officially launching the 2016-17 presidential transition.
This bipartisan legislation codifies many of the best practices of the 2008-09 Bush-Obama transition, which observers regard as one of the smoothest in modern history. The new law also builds on legislation passed in 2010 that promotes early transition planning by providing major party candidates with office space and services immediately following the nominating conventions. Prior to 2010, transition services were only offered to a president-elect after the general election—far too late to start transition planning.
 Consistent with the new law, the Obama administration will launch a White House Transition Coordinating Council and an Agency Transition Directors Council in May to help the agencies prepare and ensure greater coordination between the incoming and outgoing administrations. Under the new measure, federal agencies must identify a senior career executive to oversee transition activities by May, and designate career officials by Sept. 15 to serve in an “acting” capacity when critical political positions become vacant.
This new framework for presidential transitions presents fresh opportunities for state governments to inform, educate and influence the incoming team on the issues important to the states and the people they serve. The to-do list for states starts here with a few simple but important action items:
The presidential transition is an opportunity to refresh and reset relationships between the states, federal agencies and the incoming administration. By supporting early transition planning and communicating regularly with both political and career officials, state leaders can help the next president’s team acquire the people and the information they need to hit the ground running on day one.
Kristine Simmons is the vice president of government affairs at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The Partnership’s Center for Presidential Transition seeks to bring together the administration, candidate transition teams, federal agencies, Congress and outside experts to ensure smooth and safe presidential transitions.
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