American Presidential Transition Information

A big help to the Transition Coordinating Council and the overall transition effort. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise.
- President George W. Bush

A wealth of information...a wonderful road map to a job
- I. Ari Fleischer, White House Press Secretary

Since 1997, the White House Transition Project has combined the efforts of scholars, universities, and policy institutions to smooth out the American presidential transition. WHTP bridges the gaps between the partisan forces engaged in settling elections and the decision processes essential to governing by providing non-partisan information about the challenges of the American presidential transition and the strategies for overcoming those challenges. It provides these and other resources to presidential campaigns, to the president-elect, and to the new administration. These resources include three separate report series providing a White House institutional memory, perspectives on past transitions, and advanced research covering special aspects of transitions and governing. The WHTP also provides unique analysis of the appointments process and a clearinghouse on other transition resources.

Permission to cite freely from these materials is granted provided the following credit is retained: Taken from the White House Transition Project archives,, ©1999-2014.

WHTP Resources include:

Click here for expert commentators from the White House Transition Project.

						Director Martha Kumar presents briefs to Bush transition directorThis series provides the essential information needed to assure a smooth transition. Reports in this series detail organization and operations in a range of offices critical to a properly functioning White House. These reports rely heavily on the extensive interviews conducted by WHTP's White House Interview Program, an innovative program that has given practitioners a useful way to pass on their experiences to those that follow, regardless of party. Pictured at left, WHTP Director, Martha Kumar reviews with Bush Transition Director Clay Johnson one of the briefing books WHTP provided for each of the offices covered by the 2001 series: Chief of Staff, Staff Secretary, Director of Personnel, White House Administration, White House Counsel, Press Secretary, and Office of Communications. Mr. Johnson had served as the Bush for President Transition planner and had worked with WHTP staff for almost two years by the time the new administration took office. He would go on to serve as Director of Presidential Personnel in the new White House.

The institutional memory series office descriptions detail basic organizational structures, as well as typical work routines, identify what those who have done the job commonly think has worked and what has not.

The series for 2009 begins with updated descriptions for each of the seven offices covered in the original and highly acclaimed 2001 series. In addition, this series includes organizational charts for many offices typically running from 1978 through 2000 at six month intervals.

Organization Charts

A shortcut to the Institutional Memory Series, The White House World gathers and digests the same material provided to the Bush White House staff in 2001.

White House World
For access to the 2001 version of these reports in the institutional memory series, along with access to organizational charts, select the WHTP - 2001 Institutional Memory Series .
To reach any of the authors of our office studies, download the WHTP Expert Registry or see the brief listings under the "News from WHTP" section.

This series details general challenges to previous transitions. The reports here come from authors and practitioners alike. Click here to jump to the General Transition Series or select one of the individual studies listed below for the specific report. This series has two sets of reports, covering past transitions and the general topic of transitions. [All in PDF Format]

General Guides

Presidential Transition Discussions
A Partnership with the Council on Excellence in Government

A Special Symposium of the Public Administration Review (reprinted here by permission PAR)

Evaluating Past Transitions

Howard Baker, Jr., 
						Terry Sullivan, and James A. Baker III (left to right)

These briefing papers concentrate on issues and resources identified in discussions with past White House staff, including those attending the WHTP and James Baker Institute's meeting of the former White House Chiefs of Staff.

The series exploits new databases focusing on travel, the 100 days, organizational routine, crisis management, press, the White House budget, and other matters. It also includes taking advantage of earlier databases produced for the 2001 transition plans, including information on presidential appointments.[All in PDF format]

New Institutional Data

Appointments Database and Analysis

  • The 2012 Plum Book. OPM's guide to presidential appointments. WHTP makes it available by download (pdf): click to download here.
  • The Details of Inquiry — Fixing the Presidential Appointments Process by Terry Sullivan Revised!
  • The Real Invisible Hand: Presidential Appointees in the Administration of George W. Bush by G. Calvin MacKenzie

Special Report: The View from the Nerve Center

Nerve Center jacket

In its first book in the special studies series, WHTP and its partner The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University focus on the specific operational problems faced by the White House Chief of Staff. The book, Nerve Center: Lessons on Governing from the White House Chiefs of Staff is published by the Texas A&M University Press.

Nerve Center compiles the collective judgments of 12 of the 14 living former White House Chiefs of Staff who convened to discuss the challenges that present every White House trying to move the nation's agenda forward. "Some of us have tried to oust others of us from office," noted James A. Baker III in his remarks opening the conference, "but on many issues about how to do the nation's business, we are all agreed there is no partisan answer. Every new administration deserves a chance to realize the electorate's will without stumbling through the simplest mistakes. We've all been there and regardless of who steps into this job on the twentieth of January, we want the best for them."

Those involved in the conference and covered in the book include:

  • Former Congressman, Sec. of Defense, and Vice-President Richard Cheney
  • Former Sec. of Treasury and of State James A. Baker III
  • Former Senate Majority Leader and Ambassador Howard Baker, Jr.
  • Former Congressman, Ambassador, and Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
  • Former Congressman, OMB Director, Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta
  • Former Governor John Sununu
  • Former Sec. of Transportation Samuel Skinner
  • Erskine Bowles
  • John Podesta
  • Jack Watson
  • Thomas "Mack" McClarty
  • Kenneth Duberstein, and
  • Former Sec. of Commerce Andy Card

Click on headline to see story.

Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu
headlines program on Before the Oath

September 30, The National Academy of Public Administration hosted a discussion on presidential transitions focusing on Martha Kumar's new account of the Bush to Obama transition, Before the Oath. Current Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu (former executive director of the Obama transition) led the discussion and keynoted the event.

Later Martha, WHTP's Director, posed for pictures with Secretary Lu and when he had the chance, Secretary Lu tweeted out:
"Enjoyed discussing Presidential transition plannning with @mkumar38 at NAPA in Washington. Highly recommend her new book."

Before the Oath and Presidential Transitions Work
WHTP Director Kumar Talks with
MTP Press Pass

July 26th, the NBC News program Meet the Press aired an interview with WHTP Director Martha Kumar in its "Press Pass" segnment. Chuck Todd's interview covered Professor Kumar's new book on the 2008-2009 Bush/Obama transition, Before the Oath, and her role working for the White House Transition Project.


To see the interview, click here.

This interview follows:

Cover BTO
  • A special event (July 9) at the Partnership for Public Service, a panel organized around Before the Oath, including participation by Clay Johnson, former Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget and George W. Bush's chief transition planner, and Chris Lu, Deputy Secretary of Labor and Barrack Obama's chief transition planner.
    See this panel at:
  • A panel program (July 17) at the National Academy of Public Administration focussed on Director Kumar's analysis of the 2008-09 transition. The discussion brought together various federal managers as part of NAPA's commitment to the 2017 presidential transition: see its "Presidential Transition 2016 Initiative."
  • A luncheon and panel discussion at the White House Historical Association on Before the Oath.

Not Just Sharks and Jets
WHTP Supports Steps in Appointments Reform

In accordance with S. 679, a bill to reform the presidential appointments process, the President's Working Group on Streamlining the Nominations and Appointments Process reported to the President and Senate leadership on a series of potentially useful reforms. Get the report here.

One of WHTP's primary missions focuses on promoting better understanding of the presidential appointments process, particularly the details of inquiry. "Until WHTP got into it," noted Terry Sullivan, who directs WHTP's project on appointments, "no one really understood the breadth or depth of the questioning that nominees faced [NB: WHTP research shows they must now provide some 6,000 details]." WHTP has published research on reforming the appointments process since 2000. The Senate Committee report accompanying S. 679 quoted several passages from WHTP's Details of Inquiry citing a version of the WHTP study that appeared in the Public Administration Review.

S. 679 Background. In March 2011, a bipartisan leadership task force announced proposed changes to the appointments process that it hoped would lay the foundation for more extensive reforms. The recommendations, found in S. 679, called for a reduction in the numbers of executive positions which carry a PAS designiation (Presidential Appointee Senate confirmable). These positions typically involve operational rather than policy-making responsibilities and typically include legislative affairs and public affairs officers in the line agencies. In an earlier decision, the White House had dropped its use of the White House Personal Data Statement, a questionnaire which greatly increased unnecessarily duplicative inquiry. "On appointments, a common flashpoint in gridlock politics, both these steps represented good faith attempts to find a common ground," Sullivan commented, "In Washington and on appointments, it's not just sharks and jets any more."

Having passed in the House in July 2012, the President signed the bill August 10. The Senate bill also initiated a review of the inquiry process, long called for by a number of commissions and supported by WHTP. The review included consolidating nominee information and outlining a plan for developing a "Smart Form" modelled on WHTP's Nomination Forms Online, software developed for the 2000-2001 transition. "We are particularly pleased with this last part of the bill," reported Terry Sullivan, director of the WHTP NFO program, "as it takes significant steps to improve the inquiry process along the lines WHTP has advocated for more than a decade."

The report from the President's working group underscores the need for a "common core" of questions, a process to easily transfer this common core from the Executive to the Senate and a process to adapt current electronic information gathering to facilitate a "smart form" approach to inquiry. The report now goes to the Senate. In May, the Working Group issues a final report on a detailed plan for implementing its smart form approach.

Access WHTP's report on rationalizing inquiry and other reports in the Institutional Anatomy Series on this site by clicking here.

Transition Briefs
A News Service of WHTP

A new WHTP study uses WHTP's data on presidential nominations for the last three presidencies during their first year, tracking the differences in how long it takes the Senate to make a decision. The study distinguishes between two groups identified by the National Commission on Reform of the Federal Appointments Process: nominations for "time sensitive" positions (gold trend) or those for not time sensitive (red). The former positions include national security and other sensitive management and policy making positions in the US Executive.

Basic findings, illustrated in the graph above by looking at the trendlines: the longer the administration takes to nominate someone, the longer it takes the Senate to reach a decision. That result suggests that time sensitive appointments would profit from a strategy of "front loading:" issuing a considerably larger number of nominations during the first 100 days should generate a 30% improvement in Senate processing. In addition to the efficiency improvement, this strategy suggests a reasonable first step in substituting "efficiency" for partisanship, polarization, and rancor in the appointments process.

Transition Quote:

I came in to the White House for an interview at 9PM. The next morning, they called me in and in less than 12 hours, I was sitting in a White House office. I told my assistant that I wasn't even sure I actually had a job. But, on my new desk, I already had a four inch stack of phone messages and every one of them already had my name on it.

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