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FCW : February 2016
Transition 2016 Presidential transitions have often been plagued by delays as a new team unwinds the prior admin- istration’s initiatives and political-appointee slots go unfilled for months or years. Fortunately, folks inside and outside government are lin- ing up to help. The General Services Administration has a $10 million budget to host transition work out of its Washington head- quarters. The agency launched a Presidential Transition Direc- tory website at the end of November 2015 and, thanks to the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010, will be able to jump in to support candidates immediately after each party’s nominating convention. Another piece of legislation that could help formalize tran- sition processes — the Edward “Ted” Kaufman and Michael Leavitt Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015 — passed the Senate in July 2015 but lacks a House counter- part. Experts could not say whether companion legislation would be introduced in time to make a difference in the upcoming transition. But the Partnership for Public Service and other nongovern- ment groups are facilitating much of the preparatory work. “A presidential transition is basically a massive, epic take- over — and your top 4,000 employees all quit,” said David Eagles, director of presidential transition at the partnership. Preserving valuable knowledge and initiatives from the current administration and speeding up the new administra- tion’s appointments are top priorities. On the technology side, the partnership will be working with Accenture to help nominees address “how technology can effectively enable your campaign promises,” Eagles said. “We don’t want technology to be an afterthought.” On the people side, the Brookings Institution will help the partnership hash out position descriptions for senior presi- dential appointments. Boosting confirmations A major partnership goal is doubling the typically low number of senior positions that get filled in the first few months of a presidency. Eagles said Congress usually isn’t the problem. Instead, jobs go unfilled for too long because of the paper- work involved and presidents’ failure to nominate people quickly. “This period [at the very beginning of a new presidency] is the moment you seize,” said Eagles, who stressed the impor- tance of boosting both nomination and confirmation numbers. The trick is balancing old and new appointees and hav- ing as many talented people in their jobs as possible when the new president is making big initial decisions, he added. “Historically, these administrations have come in and said, ‘I’ve been elected, I want it all new,’” Eagles said. That can be good because it forces agencies to let go of unproductive projects, but it can also prove counterproductive if healthy projects get axed along with the duds. Agencies have been “very inconsistent” in preparing for transitions, he said. But that should come as no surprise because transitions have long been poorly managed and documented. Shortly after each presidential election, Congress publishes “U.S. Government Policy and Supporting Positions,” commonly known as the Plum Book, listing the thousands of positions subject to presidential appointment. However, until the 2009 presidential transition, the Plum Book only listed job titles, with no position descriptions, said John Kamensky, a senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government who served as deputy director of former Vice President Al Gore’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government. “It’s amazing that some of this stuff didn’t exist before,” Kamensky said. He added that filling jobs has also been a mess because presidential appointees had to undergo security clearances, answer extensive and probing presidential questionnaires and then field different, equally probing sets of slightly different questions from each congressional committee reviewing them. “Oh my gosh,” Kamensky said in the voice of a foreign observer. “Greatest country in the world, and that’s how they do their transitions to power?” Making transitions less haphazard The fact that transitions have historically been hap- hazard affairs is helping drive the outside involve- ment in the upcoming transition. “A PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION IS BASICALLY A MASSIVE, EPIC TAKEOVER — AND YOUR TOP 4,000 EMPLOYEES ALL QUIT.” 0216fcw_013-015.indd 14 1/27/16 12:08 PM
March 15, 2016