The 2008-2009 Presidential Transition: Preparing Federal Agencies
Johnson, Clay, Presidential Studies Quarterly
By most accounts, the George W. Bush administration did more to help prepare its successor to govern than any previous administration, and for the first time in recent memory, the administration actively helped federal agencies prepare to ensure that our homeland was secure and that our citizens were continuously well served during the three to four months when few outgoing or incoming political leaders would be in place. This essay summarizes this latter effort, to help illuminate how future outgoing administrations can effectively organize and implement this important transition activity.
President Bush charged Josh Bolten, his chief of staff, with making the outgoing transition the best ever. In turn, Bolten charged me, in April 2008, with preparing federal agencies for the transition. As deputy director for management (DDM) in the Office of Management and Budget, I was the chair of the President's Management Council (PMC), made up of the chief management officers from the largest 22 federal agencies who guided and coordinated all government-wide performance and management reform activities, which would include such efforts as the transition to a new administration.
On May 14, 2008, the PMC met to begin defining the givens, goals, timeframes, and tactics for preparing the agencies for the transition. At that meeting, the PMC members agreed that the goals should be the following:
* To help prepare senior career employees to maintain continuity of services during the transition. The senior career employees were highly motivated to perform well during the transition period, but they needed help understanding what "performing well" actually meant.
* To help current noncareer employees successfully exit their employment with the federal government.
The PMC members also agreed that agencies needed to particularly ensure the following:
* The greatest possible preparations were made to secure the homeland
* Career leadership were qualified to run every government function in the short term, in the absence of political leadership
* Every federal program was ready to be led by the new administration, with clarity about the program's goals, performance, future plans, and who was responsible for accomplishing what
* The exiting noncareer employees understood the ethical rules associated with their departure from government service
* The new administration's support needs were met (i.e., phones, Blackberries, parking)
* All preparations were completed before the presidential election, as the preparations were to be the same regardless of the election's outcome
Then I introduced Gall Lovelace to the PMC. Gail served as the senior career transition lead at the General Service Administration, the agency formally responsible for assisting the new administration to prepare to govern. Gail and I effectively co-chaired the agency preparation transition effort, and she became the primary contact person for the career transition leads in each agency.
On July 18, 2008, after working with the PMC members on what the detailed agency guidance should be, I distributed the following official directive to agencies:
Agency Transition Goal 1: Help ensure continuity of public services during the transition to the new administration
* By August 1: Identify a knowledgeable, capable career official to lead/coordinate the transition at every agency, and inform agency employees and key stakeholders.
* By October 15: Identify the career official who will be responsible for acting in place of the departing political official for each major bureau and office of the department/agency, and inform agency employees and key stakeholders. Ensure compliance with your agency's delegation of authorities and the Vacancies Act.
* By November 1: Ensure all COOP (Continuity Of Operations) and NRF (National Response Framework) procedures are tested and understood by the senior career officials referenced above. …