Transitions: Out With the Old and In With the New

Remember the old saying: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” It is our usual go-to answer when processes and programs are, at the bare minimum, functioning. However, within the next year we will have a new president and a new administration. With that comes new leadership across the federal government and ultimately leads to new ideas. David Eagles, Director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service, argues that while the transition is inevitable, it doesn’t have to be feared.

Eagles sat down with Christopher Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER to discuss the Center for Presidential Transition’s new role in helping ease the transition through proper research, guidance and open dialogue.

“With any new president there’s an inherent mandate from the American public to do something different. New teams have come in wanting everything new-that’s just human nature. Therefore, you see very little continuity,” Eagles said.

Potential new leaders need to be aware of the task that lies ahead. “The nature of presidential transitions has changed drastically. They’re much bigger and they’re much more complicated,” Eagles said. The next administration will be “inheriting a four million person workforce and a $3.7 trillion budget.” Unfortunately, management is often an after thought. Eagles shared some data on the matter: on average, less than 30% of the administration’s top level appointees are in place within the first 200 days after the administration has started. That is quite a lag time to start off any new administration on the right path. So, what can be done to change this?

First step is to consider how campaigns can implement their promises .“One of the most important things a transition team can do is to figure out how you’re actually going to implement those promises,” Eagles pointed out. He went on to suggest that “if your candidate has a viable chance of winning, if there is a pathway to victory” by early April, after the Super Tuesday elections, then open the dialogue for transition planning. But, how does the Center for Presidential Transition play a role in all of this?

Overall, the Center for Presidential Transition is meant to be an intermediary force between all involved parties. Both the current administration and potential leadership need to be on board-early on. “The Bush to Obama transition has been the best historically due to the willingness of the outgoing administration to cooperate. But the incoming teams have historically done a pretty poor job,” Eagles stated. Which is why the Center plans on engaging the transition teams soon to talk about the requirements they want, interview folks who’ve been through the process before to talk about what’s most useful, and, in the end, create a standardized approach to how agencies look at transition.

The Center will help connect the dots between agency career employees and the transition teams. “We can be much more proactive and we can really connect the dots much better between the resources and knowledge that the career folks have with what the incoming teams want. This will lead to a much better discussion, so that those new teams can really hit the ground running much more quickly,” Eagles said. As a result, the Center will urge the outgoing administration to send the initial guidance to the agencies about beginning the transition planning as soon as possible.

However, to fulfill this goal, the Center is also a resource to help with the transition planning effort. “This has never been done before, but we are the central hub for transition planning resources,” Eagles said. The Center hopes to get processes and programs set up by day one of the new administration so that they can actually “execute on their campaign promises and not just continue to plan how to execute them,” Eagles said. Through detailed research from recent administrative transitions: Bush, Obama and Romney, the Center has come up with various tactics so as to not have to “reinvent the wheel every time.”

Let’s hope we don’t have to reinvent the wheel anymore. This may be the first formal attempt to standardize the transition procedure that occurs every time a new administration comes in. But, Eagles is confident that the Center has what it takes to bring all the right players to the table and to get the planning started now. After all, it’s never too early to start planning.



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