The White House Transition Project provides non-partisan expertise in all phases of democratic transitions, from constitution-building in emerging democracies to regularized, statute driven transfers of power. This homepage previews those services.

Transition Resources of Current Interest

US Presidency Operations Research

Emerging Democracy Transitions

US Constitutional Transitions


WHTP’s Basic Transition Services

Since 1997, the White House Transition Project has interviewed a wide range of Assistants to the President about the best ways to carry out the president’s transition to governing. These interviews and the briefing materials from these interviews, compiled by scholars who specialize in the various operations of a White House, provide a guide for the new presidential team based on the experiences of those who have borne the burdens of White House duty.

Best Practices in 13 WH Offices
Organization of the WH every Six Months

Original Interview Foundations for Office Briefs

In addition to these basic resources for US Presidential Transitions, WHTP maintains a collection of its basic interviews on which it relied to build its briefing series. WHTP maintains these with our long-standing partner, the US National Archives. For a sample of these interviews currently in the public domain go here.


WHTP’s Original Research

To supplement our basic transition resources, WHTP maintains robust research agendas on topics of interest to the US Presidential transition and to normal White House operations. Some of these studies result from requests originating with previous White House staffs as they try to improve their governing operations. This section previews some of these studies.

Current WHTP Studies on White House Staff Turnover – High Volatility

“The group of approximately two dozen White House staff titled assistant to the president form a president’s core leadership team making turnover at this level particularly important for the stability and direction of the presidential decision-making process. Among the assistants to the president group, President Trump’s White House had the highest turnover of top-ranked staff experienced by any recent president. At 20 months, two-thirds of assistants appointed by President Trump in his first year in office left or announced their imminent departure. At two years, the number rose to 73% of his first year Assistants staff member who left their position. That level of turnover led to leadership changes in the dozen White House offices that are key to the processing of presidential decisions; to the policies a chief executive develops, initiates, and implements; and to those units charged with managing a president’s relationships with those outside of the administration. Without a team working together, it is difficult for a president’s staff to coordinate its plans and work as well as develop and articulate commonly shared presidential priorities and goals.”
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Current WHTP Studies On Presidential-Press Relations

In one of our periodic reviews, Martha Joynt Kumar reviews presidential interchanges with the press over the last six presidencies and as of 30 months into their administrations. Read the report: Six Presidents Interchange’s with Reporters at 30 Months – Kumar. Some of the highlights:

  • President Trump answers 50% more questions from the press than the average for the last five presidents.
  • Presidents have expanded their press relations into forums they believe are their strong suit.
  • While most presidents aim their communications to the average citizen, President Trump aims at his supporters alone.

Additional Information on Presidential-Press relationships:
Press Numbers at 18 months.
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Current WHTP Studies on Presidential Work Routines

The use of time represents the president’s most valuable asset. A commitment to one responsibility necessarily precludes commitment to another. And as a president faces changed circumstances, changing commitments creates trade-offs between responsibilities. Using the daily minute by minute logs of presidents, WHTP builds a picture of typical presidential commitment and trade-offs. These studies focus on two topics: the transition period through to the 100th day and crisis management. See for example, Presidential Work in the First 100 Days.
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WHTP Report on Presidential Appointments at Two Year Mark:
The average presidency filled almost twice as many positions as Trump

See our appointments page for more information on appointments. There you will find basic tracking information on the pace of appointments in the Trump administration by comparison with administration’s dating to the rise of the modern appointments system, effectively President Reagan’s first year. Two headlines from that analysis: Trump delays in critical positions outstrips previous administrations by an ever larger margin. The Trump administration performance on appointments now lags the average administration by eight and half to ten months, depending on the topic. In NASCAR terms, previous administrations are getting close to “lapping” the Trump performance. Some already have.
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The pace of appointments in both the executive and in the Senate accounts for the ability of any administration to carry out its responsibilities to the electorate and to the nation. Appointments fulfill the president’s agenda set by the election and they also stand up the critical functions of the national government, from transportation to space to global economics and national defense.

The analysis reported here concentrates on the pattern of deliberations across the entire appointments process, all four stages, rather than the central focus of most press reports, the president’s recent complaints, and most scholarly research — solely, the Senate’s deliberations on nominees.

The four stages:

  • WH Identifies: The White House search for appropriate nominees from available candidates. Typically, this stage culminates in an announcement of the “president’s intent to nominate” a candidate.
  • Executive Review: The executive branch conducts vetting of the candidate. This stage culminates in sending credentials to the Senate as an official nominee.
  • Sen Comm Vetting: The first of two Senate stages, a committee investigates the nominee, culminating in a committee report and recommendation to the full Senate.
  • Sen Floor Process: The final disposition of a nominee in the Senate, culminating in floor vote to confirm the nominee.

Additional Measures: We summarize the data on nominations with three averages relevant to concerns about delays in the Senate stages. Note, that (100-% total in Senate) equals the percent of time an appointment takes to clear the executive for referral to the Senate for consideration.

  • Avg Length: The average length of appointments from the start in the White House to the final disposition in the Senate.
  • Avg Senate: The average time a nomination is in the Senate.
  • % of Total in Senate: The average time in the Senate divided by the average length.

Brief Headlines on Pace of Filling out the Government

  • Overall, President Trump’s nominations continues to trail previous administrations, now by seven months, the worst performance in 40 years.
  • Overall, President Trump has filled a bit more than one-third of the 980 positions WHTP tracks. This pace also continues to trail the average administration but by a bit more than 11.5 months; again, the worst performance in 40 years.
  • On nominations, the Clinton administration has pulled a full year ahead of the Trump performance, “lapping” the Trump team. The Clinton administration also lapped the Trump administration. The Obama and Reagan administration finished the two years eight months ahead of the Trump team.
  • On filling positions, the average presidency has filled almost twice as many positions as President Trump.

Brief Headlines on Pace of Deliberations on Nominations

  • Overall, the largest part of delayed deliberations occurs in the executive branch. On average about 80% of the time between the occurrence of a vacancy and the final Senate disposition of a nomination for that position occurs in the Executive search and vetting processes. President Trump’s executive deliberations amount to around 70% or under the average for all previous presidencies.
  • The length of deliberations on critical and normal positions have begun to converge. Earlier, critical positions received more prompt deliberations.
  • President George H. W. Bush’s administration represents the inflection point in lengthening deliberations. For example, the increase in Senate deliberations in the Bush ’41 administration amount to a 9 point increase over that of the Reagan presidency just six years earlier. The Trump experience amounts to another 10 point increase over the HW Bush experience – a 10 point increase in nearly 30 years.

This table covers all those positions that WHTP tracks. The numbers do not include most ambassadorships, US Attorneys, Military Officers, and US Marshals. WHTP considers these to execute policy not make it. (See below and our appointments page for a description)

Locus of Deliberations (980 positions)
President WH
Identifies
Exec
Review
Sen Comm
Vetting
Sen Floor
Process
Avg
Length
Avg
Senate
% of Total
fr Senate
Reagan 355 32 44 5 436 49 11%
HW Bush 348 20 56 6 430 62 14%
Clinton 240 36 47 9 332 57 17%
W Bush 289 34 62 13 398 75 19%
Obama 304 10 66 34 414 100 24%
Trump 374 11 71 55 512 126 25%

This table covers those positions that WHTP considers critical to the national government meeting its critical responsibilities — “standing up” the American national government. (See below and our appointments page for a description)

Locus of Deliberations (critical positions)
President WH
Identifies
Exec
Review
Sen Comm
Vetting
Sen Floor
Process
Avg
Length
Avg
Senate
% of Total
in Senate
Reagan 240 31 19 4 293 23 8%
HW Bush 218 28 42 4 292 46 16%
Clinton 182 39 33 14 268 47 18%
W Bush 179 35 40 9 264 49 19%
Obama 226 15 48 19 308 68 22%
Trump 280 17 59 52 409 112 27%

See our Appointments page for more detailed information and projects out to the end of the first year.

The White House Transition Project documents the pace at which a new administration fills out the American executive branch through its appointments power. WHTP measures the pace of appointments in four ways.

  • First, we track 980 presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation (known as “PAS” positions). For these appointments, we track the pace of nominations and the pace of confirmations, measuring both against a projected historical average based on the three previous administrations.
  • Second, on these 980 PAS positions, WHTP measures the differences between the vetting process in the White House and the process in the Senate to assess the contributions of each to the overall process. For the White House, we clock the time from an announcement that the president intends to nominate someone to the day that persons credentials show up at the Senate. This measures how long the Executive vetting takes. Then WHTP considers two separate measures of Senate deliberations. Both track nominations from the moment the Senate reports receiving credentials to the day the Senate makes a decision (confirm, deny, or return). WHTP reports that processing in two ways: a 10 day average for how long nominations received during that ten day period have taken (called “processing pace”) and a 10 day average for how long it has taken the Senate for nominations decided on during that period (called “processing time”). The first (pace) looks forward from the moment of nomination and the second (time) looks backward from decision points.
  • Third, WHTP identifies and tracks a core of 213 leadership positions critical to the functions of government. These positions include those concerned with national security, managing the economy, managing the executive agencies, and carrying through on key agenda items.  We believe that successfully filling out this second group of positions effectively “stands up” the American executive.
  • Fourth, WHTP assesses the pace of fully standing up the critical leadership positions, including both presidential nominations and those already in place on inauguration day, using a direct comparison with President Obama’s performance.

WHTP reports these results in 10 day increments during the first two years. See our Appointments page for more detailed information.

WHTP Public Programs

Beginning with the 2001 transition cycle, the White House Transition Project has sponsored a series of public events designed to improve public awareness of efforts to improve transitions. These events inform the public and help establish a common appreciation for such transition planning on the part of presidential campaigns. For the 2017 cycle, the White House Transition Project and our partners at Rice University’s Baker Institute and the National Archives presented the “Moody Series” of public conferences covering a range of issues associated with presidential transitions, national security challenges, and crisis management.

MoodyBanner_Scaled

In 2018, WHTP continued its 20-year commitment to critical transition-related issues for emerging democracies (including the Ukraine) by cosponsoring a conference in Montreal, Canada, with our long-time partner the National Democratic Institute. To see this conference, click here.
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