Introduction to WHTP

“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.

Recent Updates:
  • (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.
  • (11/25/2020) WHTP begins its regular feature “transition pace monitor” — a easy to understand measure tracking the Biden transition progress as they stand up the new government. Click here to jump to the monitor.
  • (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.

Our pace monitor begins our tracking of personnel decision-making. 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 behind or in advance of the average past seven transitions have current transition appointments gotten. Currently, the Biden team is well ahead of the pace in previous transitions.

As of 11/28/20
Pace of Staffing by Category
Average for
Presidents
39-45
Biden Pace
(-)faster or (+)slower than average
Median of Big 3 WH Staff
(COS,NSA,Press)
30
-38%
Median, All WH Staff
89
-66%
Completing Art.II Positions
(filling all of State,Def,Justice,OMB)
35
tbd
Median, All Cabinet Positions
42
-32%

Follow the Transition:

President-elect Barack Obama and President George W. Bush discuss the transition.

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.

Why is There an Electoral College?
WHTP releases an original essay on the Electoral College and its relevance. It’s a compromise to limit Presidential Power. 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 WHTP2021 – 05 Rules Governing Presidential Transitionshere.

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 Study on Trump White House Staff Turnover

“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.

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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 tracker reports 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.

The Personnel Tracker follows 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.

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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