In-Depth: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) introduced this bill to help ensure well-organized and effectual transitions from one presidential administration to another. When he originally introduced this bill alongside Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) in 2015, Sen. Johnson said:
“Regardless of what party wins an election and takes the White House, it is imperative that the transition of power is as smooth as possible. Handing over the keys to the entire $3.5 trillion federal government is a colossal undertaking. I am pleased to cosponsor legislation.. that will make modest but important improvements to streamline the transition process.”
In 2015, Sen. Carper added that the peaceful transition from one administration to another is one of the greatest virtues of American democracy, and that it’s important for Congress to help ensure this process’ success:
“One of the great virtues of our nation is the peaceful transition of power from one president to the next, regardless of political affiliation. When a new president takes the oath of office, the new administration must be as prepared as possible to hit the ground running from day one. Given the challenges facing our country, both at home and abroad, Congress has a critical responsibility to help ensure an orderly transition from one administration to the next. This bipartisan legislation, which builds on work spearheaded by my former colleague Sen. Ted Kaufman, would help ensure that the roles and responsibilities for a well-organized transition between administrations are clear. This piece of legislation offers some common-sense improvements to the Presidential Transition Act of 1963 and outlines the shared responsibilities between outgoing and incoming administrations to prepare for a smooth transition to the White House for new presidents.”
The Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition notes the importance of a good presidential transition:
“Preparing to take over the presidency of the United States of America is highly complex and extremely important. Done well, it will set up a new administration for success for the next four years; done poorly, and it will be difficult for a new administration to recover… New administrations often have faced a major crisis within their rst few months in o ce, from the economic meltdown that confronted President Barack Obama as he took the reins in January 2009, to the September 11th terrorist attacks that occurred nine months after President George W. Bush’s inauguration, to the lingering savings and loan crisis that required the early attention of President George H.W. Bush in 1989. Candidates cannot wait until after the election to begin thinking about how they will organize and prepare to deal with such emergencies. This work must begin well in advance of Election Day so the new administration is ready to govern—and prepared for any possibility—on day one.”
The Congressional Research Service contends that there’s growing recognition that well-planned transitions are needed to ensure smooth transfers of power:
“Growing recognition of the necessity of a well-planned, organized, and coordinated transition to a new Administration's ability to assume responsibility on inauguration day for governing has shifted stakeholders' perspectives. Contributing to the impetus for a more robust transition with a longer lead time (i.e., pre-election planning) was the realization that the period of time between the date of the general election and inauguration day is insufficient for accomplishing necessary tasks and activities given the complexity of a presidential transition and the federal government.”
Chris Lu, who was part of President Barack Obama’s transition team, calls the process “a little bit like planning the D-Day invasion,” pointing out that “you can’t start planning on the day after Election Day. You have to have a battle plan in place beforehand.”
This bill passed the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs with an amendment, without any cosponsors.
Of Note: About 75 days after the election, the entire leadership of the executive branch is replaced. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville called the American presidential transition a revolution caused by law.
Although some form of transition of power has been carried out for over 200 years, it wasn’t until 1963 — during the Kennedy administration — that Congress enacted the Transition Act to provide money for the next transition. After its passage, Kennedy’s assassination and Lyndon B. Johnson’s assumption of the presidency and subsequent re-election meant that the first formal transition wasn’t until 1968, when Richard Nixon became president.
In March 2016, then-President Obama signed the Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015, requiring the government to set up transition councils, identify agency leaders responsible for transition planning, and make sure that career civil servants are ready to step in for the previous administration’s political appointees, who are expected to leave the government long before the formal inauguration of the next president.
The Trump administration’s transition was notably rocky. President-elect Trump’s hands-off approach to transition preparations and belief that it was bad karma to start planning a presidency before he won the election meant that his team didn’t put enough work into planning the transition. Therefore, in April 2017, an administration insider said, “[the transition] went off the rails almost immediately after the election,” leading to an incomplete pipeline of appointees for the new administration, poorly-delineated lines of authority, and nominees whose backgrounds hadn’t been properly vetted.
Ken Nahigian, who played a central role in the pre-and post-election phases of the Trump transition, disputes the characterization of the Trump transition as chaotic, arguing that it was “as smooth and well executed as we ever could have expected.”
In some sense, Nahigian isn’t incorrect. The Trump transition team read almost 87,000 resumes, identified over 500 people to go into agencies after Inauguration Day, conducted hundreds of interviews of prospective nominees, and established new procedures that could benefit future transitions. However, the transition operated as two units: one in Washington, D.C., where the bulk of the staff was based, and the other at Trump Tower, where the president-elect and his top campaign advisers were located.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / lucky-photographer)