On election day 1988, Vice President George H.W. Bush asked me to co-chair his Presidential Transition team. Joined by my close friend, the late Bob Teeter, we celebrated a successful election with the knowledge that a very intense 75 days between the election and the Inauguration were ahead of us.
Neither presidential challengers nor incumbents talk much about a Transition. However, what happens leading up to the election and in those 75 days following it may be among the most determinative periods of time relative to the success of a President’s four-year term in office.
While the election is this coming Tuesday, people both in the White House and on Joe Biden’s team have been engaged in a pre-election transition process. Yes, an incumbent President considers a transition in victory as well as in defeat.
Federal law requires offices be established for the Transition. Phones, computers and other systems are in place should there be a President-Elect Biden needing to prepare himself and a team to take office. And, a team is already quietly at work (read more here).
And, this is a very good thing!
Consider that a President presides over a government that will spend $4 trillion a year with 2 million civilian employees and over 2 million military active-duty and military reserve members. To do this, a President will appoint over 4,000 individuals, with over 1,200 that will require Senate confirmation.
Within just a few weeks of the Inauguration on January 20th, the President presents a State of the Union address and then submits a budget that lays out the Administration’s priorities and spending plans for programs throughout the government.
Beyond all of these metrics, the most senior members in an Administration must clearly understand the critical challenges confronted over the prior four years. Security threats, standing classified agreements with allies and others, relationships with the world’s actors must all be explained to individuals stepping into new roles.
And, this happens even if the President is re-elected because historical experience suggests that over 40% of the appointees from a first term will leave their positions in a second term.
I know of no other organization that would see the highest levels of a management team replaced in under three months. But, this is what an election can bring. And, whether it’s a president-elect or the incumbent who is returning, the placement of key people throughout the administration often determines the success of the administration one, two and three or more years down the road.
So, as the saying goes, once the outcome of the election is known, we will not be experiencing the beginning of the end, we will experience the end of the beginning of new presidential four-year term in office.
Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore.