The White House Transition Project provides 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.
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Transition Resources of Current Interest
WHTP’s Public Information Events
SAVE THE DATE: Office of Management & Budget, An Insider’s Guide – September 30, 2020
Please join us on September 30th from 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM Eastern time, when the White House Transition Project and its partners at the National Academy of Public Administration will host a Zoom event to highlight publication of WHTP’s new Insider’s Guide to OMB.
Former OMB Director and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten will host a discussion of our new briefing book and the Office of Management and Budget. The round table, co-sponsored with the National Academy of Public Administration, will include include former OMB officials, all coauthors of the new OMB briefing book. For more information and registration, click here.
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 of late has seen a greater transformation than the Office of the Vice President. This new brief outlines the dimensions of that change and how to manage the opportunities and responsibilities of this newly defined position in the White House.
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 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.
Alexander Hamilton call presidential appointees, “the intimate connection between…the executive magistrate in office and the stability of the system of administration,” the muscle that turns elections into government action. This brief describes the White House office responsible for those appointments, how it works and what lessons a new administration needs to learn from those who’ve done the job. See it here.
Life in OMB is not in the fast lane. Life in OMB is in the oncoming lane.
A host of major issues will face the Nation’s leadership following this November’s election, including the continued response to and recovery from COVID-19 and ongoing policies to drive economic growth. The Administration in office after January 2021 will face extraordinary demands to address these and other economic and societal pressures.
To help new leaders succeed, anyone arriving in the West Wing or named to another senior policy position needs to quickly understand the workings of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and what it does for the Presidency. But few people arrive with this critical knowledge. As Paul O’Neill, a former OMB deputy director, once said: “One of the interesting things about OMB is that it is inexplicable to everyone who lives outside of the Beltway and misunderstood by nearly everyone who lives inside the Beltway.”
Twenty-one former, senior OMB officials outline all that one needs to know about this critical government agency. See the details of this agency and how it shapes governance by clicking 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 the last two 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 didn’t happen. Here’s why, what did happen, and how to strengthen the appointments process before the next time while reducing partisanship.
Presidents and the Press:
Trump is the same and new
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.
Follow the Transition:
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.
A Research Summary on Appointment Politics outlines in memo form what research tells us about how to ready for and then improve the appointments process.
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.
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 White House Staff Turnover – High Volatility
“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.
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 Report on Using the Nuclear Option in the Senate:
It made things worse for both Obama and Trump nominees
A new WHTP study analyzes the last two implementations of the “nuclear option” in the Senate to promote faster consideration of the president’s judicial nominees. It didn’t. In fact it made things worse. Here’s why.
WHTP Report on Presidential Appointments at End of the Transition:
The average presidency filled almost twice as many positions as Trump
See our appointments page for more information on appointments. There you will find basic tracking information on the pace of appointments in the Trump administration by comparison with administration’s dating to the rise of the modern appointments system, effectively President Reagan’s first year. Two headlines from that analysis: Trump delays in critical positions outstrips previous administrations by an ever larger margin. The Trump administration performance on appointments now lags the average administration by eight and half to ten months, depending on the position. In NASCAR terms, previous administrations are getting close to “lapping” the Trump performance. Some already have.
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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.
The analysis reported here concentrates on deliberations across the entire appointments process, all four of its stages, rather than on the last two stages, the central focus of most press reports, the president’s recent complaints, and most scholarly research, the Senate’s deliberations on nominees.
The four stages:
- 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.
Additional Measures: We summarize the data on nominations with three averages relevant to concerns about delays in the Senate stages. Note, that (100-% total in Senate) equals the percent of time an appointment takes to clear the executive for referral to the Senate for consideration.
- Avg Length: The average length of appointments from the start in the White House to the final disposition in the Senate.
- Avg Senate: The average time a nomination is in the Senate.
- % of Total in Senate: The average time in the Senate divided by the average length.
Brief Headlines on Pace of Filling out the Government
- Overall, President Trump’s nominations continues to trail previous administrations, now by seven months, the worst performance in 40 years.
- Overall, President Trump has filled a bit more than one-third of the 980 positions WHTP tracks. This pace also continues to trail the average administration but by a bit more than 11.5 months; again, the worst performance in 40 years.
- On nominations, the Clinton administration has pulled a full year ahead of the Trump performance, “lapping” the Trump team. The Clinton administration also lapped the Trump administration. The Obama and Reagan administration finished the two years eight months ahead of the Trump team.
- On filling positions, the average presidency has filled almost twice as many positions as President Trump.
Brief Headlines on Pace of Deliberations on Nominations
- Overall, the largest part of delayed deliberations occurs in the executive branch. On average about 80% of the time between the occurrence of a vacancy and the final Senate disposition of a nomination for that position occurs in the Executive search and vetting processes. President Trump’s executive deliberations amount to around 70% or under the average for all previous presidencies.
- The length of deliberations on critical and normal positions have begun to converge. Earlier, critical positions received more prompt deliberations.
- President George H. W. Bush’s administration represents the inflection point in lengthening deliberations. For example, the increase in Senate deliberations in the Bush ’41 administration amount to a 9 point increase over that of the Reagan presidency just eight years earlier. The Trump experience amounts to another 10 point increase over the HW Bush experience – a 10 point increase in nearly 30 years.
See our Appointments page for more detailed information and projects out to the end of the first year.
The White House Transition Project documents the pace at which a new administration fills out the American executive branch through its appointments power. WHTP measures the pace of appointments in four ways.
- First, we track 980 presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation (known as “PAS” positions). For these appointments, we track the pace of nominations and the pace of confirmations, measuring both against a projected historical average based on the three previous administrations.
- Second, on these 980 PAS positions, WHTP measures the differences between the vetting process in the White House and the process in the Senate to assess the contributions of each to the overall process. For the White House, we clock the time from an announcement that the president intends to nominate someone to the day that persons credentials show up at the Senate. This measures how long the Executive vetting takes. Then WHTP considers two separate measures of Senate deliberations. Both track nominations from the moment the Senate reports receiving credentials to the day the Senate makes a decision (confirm, deny, or return). WHTP reports that processing in two ways: a 10 day average for how long nominations received during that ten day period have taken (called “processing pace”) and a 10 day average for how long it has taken the Senate for nominations decided on during that period (called “processing time”). The first (pace) looks forward from the moment of nomination and the second (time) looks backward from decision points.
- Third, WHTP identifies and tracks a core of 213 leadership positions critical to the functions of government. These positions include those concerned with national security, managing the economy, managing the executive agencies, and carrying through on key agenda items. We believe that successfully filling out this second group of positions effectively “stands up” the American executive.
- Fourth, WHTP assesses the pace of fully standing up the critical leadership positions, including both presidential nominations and those already in place on inauguration day, using a direct comparison with President Obama’s performance.
WHTP reports these results in 10 day increments during the first two years. See our Appointments page for more detailed information.
WHTP Public Programs
Beginning with the 2001 transition cycle, the White House Transition Project has sponsored a series of public events designed to improve public awareness of efforts to smooth transitions. These events inform the public and help establish a common appreciation for transition planning and the smooth functioning of governing. For example, in the 2017 cycle, the White House Transition Project and our partners at Rice University’s Baker Institute and the National Archives presented the “Moody Series” of public conferences covering a range of issues associated with presidential transitions, national security challenges, and crisis management.
In 2018, WHTP continued its 20-year commitment to critical transition-related issues for emerging democracies (including the Ukraine) by cosponsoring a conference in Montreal, Canada, with our long-time partner the National Democratic Institute. To see this conference, click here.
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