Presidential Transition Work Has Already Begun

Presidential Transition Work Has Already Begun
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Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, their parties’ nominations secured, are now out on the campaign trail boasting that they are well-equipped and highly prepared to step into the Oval Office next January 20 and run the country boldly and successfully.

 But are they? Probably not.

Despite Clinton’s four decades of service in government and politics at the highest levels, and Trump’s extensive vitae as a business mogul and mega-dealmaker, the winner is going to need all the help he or she can get to be ready to govern on Day One.

Staffs have to be recruited, vetted and appointed. Cabinet secretaries have to be chosen and confirmed. A gigantic federal budget has to be submitted to Congress one month after inauguration. The candidates and their top aides have to receive top-secret security and intelligence briefings. The list goes on.

To get the process started early and help make transition easier, the Obama administration will on Monday hand over the keys to taxpayer-funded, fully furnished and equipped Washington offices. There, Trump, Clinton and their transition teams will work and learn from current and former White House and administration insiders how to plan for taking over the reins of government.

“It’s too late to start planning after Election Day. The work has to start now,” says Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

Through its Center for Presidential Transition, Stier and his extensive staff of experienced government technicians are partnering with the Obama White House and the Clinton and Trump campaigns to help the eventual winner prepare and ease into the job as smoothly and effectively as possible.

“The world has changed so much, and the risks are so great that an incoming president doesn’t have the luxury of getting it only half right. ... There are so many uncertainties,” says Stier.

In 2016, uncertainties facing the next president abound. U.S. combat troops are on the ground in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. The economy is limping along. The pain of income inequality is being felt by millions. Race relations have hit a rough patch. Terrorism is a constant threat. Immigration is a major worry. So are disappearing jobs, costly health care, shaky retirement security, burdensome student debt, and mounting trade deficits.

The candidates know all this, and are eager to get to work. Trump named New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to head his transition team. Clinton has not yet appointed an official transition team leader, but is expected to do so shortly.

“Both candidates have aggressive transition teams and are off to the races,” says Stiers.

Mounting world uncertainties were the impetus for getting the transition process moving much earlier than after the election. In 2008, outgoing President George W. Bush, concerned that the incoming president would be taking office with the nation under threat, told his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, to make transition planning a priority. Bolten, a true believer in the process, is now a director at The Center for Presidential Transition, as is former Bill Clinton chief of staff Mack McLarty.

David Eagles, director of the center, says the outgoing Obama White House is already hard at work on easing the next president into the job. Stier, Eagles and their staffs have met several times with transition representatives of Clinton, Trump and President Obama. But with the political conventions over, and the new transition offices opening up, the pace of meetings will now accelerate.

Much of the transition process is guided by federal statute. The 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, for example, allows presidential nominees to get interim security clearances for themselves and key transition staffers so they can have access to national security and intelligence information well in advance of taking office. The Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 mandated providing the major party candidates with office space and services immediately after the nominating conventions. Before that, support was not available until after the election.

With only 73 days between the election and the inauguration, the new administration needs all the time and help it can get to be ready to govern in January.

 “Campaigns are about winning,” says Stier. “But we want to do everything we can to make sure the winner doesn’t come in on January 20 and ask, ‘Now what?’”

Richard Benedetto is a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist. He teaches politics and journalism at American University and in The Fund for American Studies program at George Mason University. Follow him on Twitter@benedettopress.

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