Introduction to Our Work

“And then the president-elect realizes: I’m going to be taking an oath right from the Constitution and it says, preserve, protect, and defend…. But, the president cannot keep that oath without other people keeping their oaths. And those people who took the oath to follow are very young. Some of them too young to vote. Others of them may not have voted for you. But they’ll all keep their oaths, giving up life, limb, they give up joy, all because the president said, ‘I need help keeping my oath.’ And that becomes the greatest presidential burden that is carried. And you realize that the night before you take the oath.”
–former Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Jr., describing the pre-inauguration briefing on the nuclear codes.

“There’s nothing that can completely prepare you for the job of being President… You know, that first day after…they walk you into the Oval Office, then everybody leaves, and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, man, now what?!’
— President Barack Obama, 2016

A letter to the White House Transition Project:
“You were a big help to the Transition Coordinating Council and the overall transition effort both in 2001 and 2008. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise.”
–- President George W. Bush, 2010


Since 1997, the White House Transition Project has provided non-partisan expertise in all phases of democratic transitions, from constitution-building in emerging democracies to regularized, statute driven transfers of power. This page previews those services, beginning with highlighted essays or reports of special interest.

Headlines:
  • (1/8/2020) Updated Transition Pace: As a measure of how the transition proceeds, the WHTP maintains its Transition Pace monitor. On it, the Biden transition maintains its momentum as they stand up the new government. Click here to jump to the monitor.
  • (1/5/2020) The Plum Book (US Government Policy and Supporting Positions) has arrived…and, as usual, too late to be useful in guiding preparations for the smooth transition. To download a free copy, click here. You’ll also find no details for Trump’s Office of Director of National Intelligence, for the Kennedy Center Board, and for the Postal Service.
  • (12/10/2020) In testimony before the House SubCommittee on Government Operations, WHTP Director Martha Joynt Kumar emphasized the importance of transition preparation for national security and public acceptance of a new administration. To see more of that testimony, click here. To see a brief statement about this testimony, click here. To view the actual testimony and committee hearing, click here.
  • (11/29/2020) WHTP releases a report entitled Planning for Presidential Continuity. To see brief statement about this report, click here.
  • (11/29/2020) WHTP releases a new report on presidential activities during the 100 days. To see brief statement about this report, click here.
  • (11/29/2020) WHTP releases a synopsis version of its briefing book on the Chief of Staff. To see brief statement about this report, click here.
  • (10/29/2020) WHTP releases a new briefing book on the Vice-President. To see brief statement about this report, click here.
Our Current Partners:
UM Kinder Institute 
National Democratic Institute


Transition Resources of Current Interest

Transition Pace Monitor

Transitions are about four things: adopting the right attitude to prepare a president’s team for the scale and scope of a White House (see more on this topic here); finding, vetting, and nominating personnel to critical positions (more here and here and here); developing a daily routine to maximize the time and voice of a new president (more here); and identifying the policy details necessary to flesh out and realize the electorate’s mandate.

We begin our tracking of personnel decision-making with our pace monitor (for more of what we do on appointments, click here,). The WHTP maintains records back to the Carter Transition on how quickly the new team stands up, both in its White House staff and in its Cabinet. Where we have enough observations, these figures report how far ahead the new President-elect has gotten or how far behind of the average past seven transitions.

Currently, the Biden pace standing up the government remains well ahead of that from previous transitions. Moreover, Biden’s transition strategy has produced 30% more completed nominations than the median of his predecessors and with a pace twice the Trump transition. The Republican majority has scheduled hearings on only a few of the 34 nominations announced so far.

As of start of business 1/14/21      
Pace of Staffing
by Category
Presidents
39-45

[days after election]
Biden Pace
[earlier(-)/later(+) than average]
Status of
Assessment
Median of Big 3 WH Staff
(COS,NSA,Press)
25
-20%
Final
Median, Filled All Key WH Staff
44
-47%
Final
Median, Completed Art.II Cabinet
(filling State,Def,Justice,OMB)
30
5%
Final
Median, Completed Cabinet
37
-2%
Final
Next measure is (+)greater or (-)lesser than the median of his predecessors.
Median, Announced PAS
27
28%
Developing

Naming the Cabinet – Check, plus

In addition to naming key members of the government ahead of his predecessors, most of the Biden cabinet nominations came with a range of subordinate nominations as well which advances the government stand up beyond what predecessors have accomplished. Biden’s naming of White House senior staff also reflects this “depth chart” approach, naming whole offices at the same time as naming the office head. Proof positive that advance planning has results in getting ready quickly. The fastest stand up: Obama’s which Joe Biden participated in.

Confirmations Next: No Scheduled Senate Action

Since the beginning of the current appointments system, no president has been inaugurated without having the Senate conduct pre-inauguration hearings on the president-elect’s cabinet nominees. Every president has had the Senate confirm Cabinet appointments on inauguration day, after having had those hearings. Despite the speed of the Biden’s transition, the current Senate majority leader has no schedule for hearings on these nominees. That will leave the new President with no functioning head of government in key Cabinet posts.

Follow the Transition

President-elect George W. Bush starts his inauguration day at an early morning White House reception.

Congressional Testimony on Presidential Transitions
Dante Fascell’s goal of institutionalizing a transition process based on access and cooperation has worked for almost all the presidential transitions
Since 1964, Congress and the President recognized then and continue to acknowledge the importance of an effective transition to a good start for a new President and his team. Having a well-organized operation developed early in the election year benefits a President. Organizing early with an experienced and knowledgeable staff, an incoming President can seize the political momentum and establish his brand of leadership at a time when the public is paying attention. See the complete testimony of WHTP Director Martha Joynt Kumar by clicking here. To view the actual testimony and committee hearing, click here.

Planning for Presidential Continuity
Can the Congress replace the President? Can the Vice-President? This new briefing book outlines the requirements under the 25th Amendment. For a copy of this report, click here.

Presidential Activities During the 100 Days
On day 1, new presidents step onto the thin ice of history, alone. What do they do all day, who do they see, and what choices affect both? A new report from WHTP describes answers to these questions. It summarizes the distribution of time dedicated to responsibilities, what do presidents trade-off to increase their engagement in communications, and with lots of “senior advisors” who gets cut out of the room. For a copy, click here.

Laws Governing the Transfer of Power
The peaceful transfer of power has a statutory basis. The rules governing presidential transitions covers the history and the details of U. S. statutes and procedures governing how the White House moves from one administration to another and how the government prepares for those changes. For a copy, click here.

The Potential For Presidential Leadership
The challenge of a new transition inevitably involves how to lead. Now, more than ever, a new president will face that challenge. In an essay on how opportunity and persuasion shape the potential for leadership, renown presidential scholar George Edwards suggests “Staying private is likely to contribute to reducing gridlock, incivility, and public cynicism and deserves a more prominent role in the president’s strategic arsenal.” For a copy, click here.

WHTP’s Public Information Events

Office of Management & Budget, An Insider’s Guide – September 30, 2020

On September 30th, The White House Transition Project and its partners at the National Academy of Public Administration hosted a Zoom event to highlight publication of WHTP’s new Insider’s Guide to OMB. To see the event, click here.

Former OMB Director and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten hosted a discussion of this new briefing book and its subject, the Office of Management and Budget. Bolten recalled that he experienced greater challenges at OMB day in and day out than he later experienced working every day as the President’s White House Chief of Staff. When he arrived at OMB, the first conversation he heard in the hall was one staffer saying to another, “Here comes another one we will have to train. I wish I had had this brief then.”
The round table, co-sponsored with the National Academy of Public Administration, included former OMB officials, all coauthors of the new OMB briefing book.

Newest Briefing Materials

See all of our briefs here.

The Chief of Staff, in Brief

This synopsis summarizes the WHTP briefing book on the White House Chief of Staff, click here.

Office of the Chief of Staff, in full

In the end, every chief of staff is a servant of the president, and the more independence they ask for or try to carve out for themselves, the more likely they are to fail.
It once was possible to argue that the White House could be run without a chief of staff. Those days are gone. The complexity of the modern White House requires discipline and coordination that can only be achieved if there is a central coordinating point, someone other than the president to oversee the operation. If independence and authority are both the necessity of a White House and a recipe for failure, then how do White House Chiefs of Staff proceed. This new brief brings the wisdom of experience to bear on this question from the advice of those who have borne the responsibility. Click here for a copy.

Office of the Vice President

Once the epitome of a spare part, the Vice Presidency has become a central element of every administration’s successes or failures.
“Two brothers went off to make their fortunes. One went to sea and the other became Vice President. Neither was ever heard from again.” No other job in the American constitutional system has seen a greater transformation than the Office of the Vice President. This new briefing book on the vice-president outlines the dimensions of that change and how to manage the opportunities and responsibilities of this newly defined position in the White House.

See all of briefs here.


Technical Aspects of Peaceful Transitions

The New Government Stands Up


The Senate’s “Nuclear Option” has slowed confirmations, …again
A new WHTP study analyzes deployments of the “nuclear option” in the Senate, along with other Senate changes affecting appointments, including the use of “blue slips.” Senate leaders of both parties intended these changes to promote faster consideration of the president’s judicial nominees. That hasn’t happen. Here’s why, what did happen, and how to strengthen the appointments process before the next time. These changes will also reduce partisanship.

Appointments Strategies

WHTP’s Research Summary on Appointment Politics outlines in memo form what research tells us about how to get ready for and then improve the appointments process.

Presidents and the Press

Trump press conference
Trump in Comparative Perspective
Using her unique data on press interactions, Martha Joynt Kumar compares President Donald Trump to his five predecessors showing how each used the strategies that brought them to the presidency. In that way, President Trump mirrors his predecessors. But in other ways, those five predecessors had more in common with each other than with President Trump. See this analysis how by clicking here.

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 and manage their responsibilities in governing. WHTP scholars who specialize in the various operations of a White House, use these interviews to provide a guide for the new presidential team.

Best Practices in 13 WH Offices
Organization Charts for WH offices, Six Months intervals

Original Interview Foundations for Office Briefs

In addition to these basic resources for US Presidential Transitions, WHTP maintains a collection of its basic interview, through our long-standing partner, the US National Archives. For a sample of these interviews currently in the public domain go here.

Essays on Running Transitions

To adjust critical attitudes about presidential transitions, WHTP maintains a collection essays on how transitions work and how others have learned the lessons about how to prepare. See the drop down menu under the banner for general essays on transitions.

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 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.

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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 Reports on Presidential Appointments

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.
Our personnel trackers report on deliberations across the entire appointments process:

  • 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.

WHTP’s Personnel Trackers follow the pace of appointments in the new administration by comparison with administration’s dating to the rise of the modern appointments system during President Reagan’s first year. The trackers cover two groups: a common set of 220 “critical” appointments and a larger, more diverse group of 980 presidential nominations.

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