The peaceful transfer of power is a bedrock principle of our democracy. The President was grateful for the time and care put into the 2008 transition by President Bush’s Administration. That is why he directed his team last year to make a smooth transition between administrations a top priority of his final year in office even as he remained committed to using every remaining day of his presidency to deliver on his agenda for the American people.
Starting in early 2016, Administration officials began to map out the transition planning, including three key components: preparing for the incoming administration, ensuring this Administration’s records are appropriately archived, and facilitating the off-boarding of current Administration personnel. To coordinate the planning across government, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough convened the President’s Cabinet in March to give an overview of the transition process and set the expectation that the transition should be a top priority for every federal agency.
The President also established the White House Transition Coordinating Council (WHTCC) and the Agency Transition Directors Council (ATDC), which have met regularly throughout the year. The transition has also been a standing agenda item for the monthly President’s Management Council (PMC) meeting, comprised of Deputy Secretaries of major agencies. To coordinate government-wide activities, the Administration also established a regular meeting of agencies with special transition responsibilities, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), General Services Administration (GSA), Department of Justice (DOJ), Office of Government Ethics (OGE), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). These agencies play a unique government-wide role during a presidential transition, such as DOJ which processes security clearances for the incoming teams or OGE which reviews the ethics requirements for nominees.
After the nominating conventions, each candidate’s transition team began working out of GSA-provided space and began attending WHTCC and ATDC meetings and engaging regularly with Administration officials on their planning efforts. For example, the Administration and both candidates’ transition teams developed common expectations for engaging with agencies so agencies knew what to expect right after the election. This collaboration helped agencies better plan for and focus their efforts on what the transition teams would most likely need. Throughout this period, the Administration assisted both candidates’ transition teams in a non-partisan manner, providing equitable services and information to each.
Post-Election Transition Period
As with past presidential transitions, following the Election, the Federal government has begun to engage with the President-Elect’s Transition Team (PTT). This week, Agency Review Teams selected by the President-Elect, will begin to reach out to their designated counterparts at agencies across the government. The President-Elect’s Agency Review Teams will receive detailed, agency-specific briefings that have been prepared by current Administration officials. Those briefings include organizational charts, budget materials, briefings on key agency priorities and areas of responsibility, and other materials describing the essential functions of that agency. In addition to the initial briefings, designated employees across the Administration will work closely with their Agency Review Teams in order to facilitate open communication between the outgoing and incoming Administrations. Simultaneously, the President-Elect’s Transition Team will establish policy teams that will work out of GSA-provided office space in Washington, D.C.
The Administration is also taking steps to ensure the next President and his or her team is prepared from day one to protect our national security. As part of a longstanding tradition, building off the intelligence briefings the two candidates received before the election, the President-Elect and other senior officials will begin receiving daily intelligence briefings from the intelligence community. In addition, the Administration is hosting two interagency exercises to inform and familiarize the incoming administration on domestic incident management practices used by the current administration. These exercises are designed to provide a high-level perspective on a series of challenges that the next administration may confront and to introduce the key authorities, policies, capabilities, and structures that are currently in place to respond to major domestic incidents.
The Administration will also continue its work in the two other areas of focus: archiving records and off-boarding current Administration personnel. Thus far, the Administration has transferred roughly 283 million files to NARA, comprising 122,000 GB of data. In addition to the transfer of electronic records, NARA has also begun to facilitate the move of the President’s physical records to Chicago, Illinois, where they will ultimately be preserved at President Obama’s library. This move includes the transfer of textual, electronic, and audiovisual records, and tens of thousands of presidential gifts.
And, the Administration is committed to providing out-going appointees the information they need to plan for their own transitions. In support of the well-respected principle that the incoming President selects her or his own team, the President has asked appointees to submit resignation letters effective no later than the inauguration of the new President. In conjunction with this off-boarding process, Administration officials have been working with agency personnel offices to provide additional personnel and benefits information to appointees prior to the end of the Administration.
Modernizing the Transition
In undertaking the transition, the Administration has sought to streamline, formalize, and modernize the transition. Key improvements to the transition process that the Administration has implemented include:
Beginning Formal Transition Planning Earlier: Recognizing the significant challenge posed by a Presidential transition, the Obama Administration began the formal transition planning process at the beginning of this year. In May, the President signed an Executive Order appointing the first Federal Transition Coordinator to centralize transition planning across the agencies. The President also established the two transition councils, the WHTCC and ATDC – marking the earliest the Federal government has ever begun formal interagency preparations for the Presidential transition. To ensure agencies are prepared for the drastic personnel change that comes with transition, the Administration also began to prepare senior career officials who may serve in acting political positions for their new role earlier in the transition process.
In addition, recognizing the unprecedented volume of electronic data from this administration that needs to be preserved, Administration officials began monthly planning meetings with NARA in 2012 and commenced the first test‐runs of data transfers in April 2015. The Executive of the President (EOP) then began to transfer presidential records to NARA’s Electronic Records Archive in May 2016– the earliest that the EOP has ever begun transferring substantial quantities of electronic records to NARA in preparation for a transition.
Streamlined Transition Materials: In conjunction with the ATDC, the Administration hosted conversations on best practices for assembling transition materials for the next Administration. Drawing upon the expertise of individuals with previous transition experience, these conversations resulted in tailored and more concise briefing materials that more readily addressed the needs of the incoming teams. In addition, in some cases, agencies used modern technology including collaboration websites, tablets and apps to deliver that material. For example, the DHS pre-loaded materials onto tablets in a searchable format.
In addition, the White House has worked to better document the broader transition planning effort in order to hand the next Administration a step-by-step guide of how to manage a government-wide transition. This effort includes documenting the Agency Review Team process, collating guidance documents, establishing key milestones, and other metrics.
Developed Architecture for A ‘Digital Transition’: Recognizing the unique and unprecedented challenge of archiving and preserving the Administration’s digital infrastructure, the Administration set out several months ago to develop a plan that would: 1) ensure the proper archiving of all digital records, consistent with the Presidential Records Act; 2) where possible, allow real time access to the content the Administration created on the platforms in which the content originated; and 3) ensure that the next president and administration could continue to use and build upon the digital assets this Administration created to connect directly with the people they serve. As a result, the Administration developed and released a first-of-its-kind digital transition plan that meets these key goals.
Developed New On-Boarding Systems: One of the biggest challenges facing the incoming Administration is filling over 4,000 political appointee positions as quickly as possible. To better streamline this process, GSA working in conjunction with the Presidential Personnel Office (PPO) and White House IT collaborated with the candidates’ transition teams to design and develop an online human resources application for the collection, categorization, assignment, and processing of applications for positions in the new Administration. This approach combined the IT expertise of GSA and White House IT with the real-world experience of PPO who manages the appointee process from application through appointment. This new system can serve as a single tool for processing a candidate from application through appointment, rather than the multiple systems used at the beginning of the current Administration. In addition, PPO provided data on executive branch agencies, offices, and positions with which to populate the system, avoiding the need to duplicate the lengthy and labor-intensive data collection and entry conducted for the current system utilized by PPO. After the Inauguration, this new tool can be utilized by the incoming President to replace the legacy system currently used by PPO, allowing the incoming Administration to use the same tool and processes before and after the Inauguration. It can also be more easily tailored to the specific policies and processes the new Administration decides to adopt.
In addition, the OGE has developed a new e-filing system, Integrity, which allows nominees for Presidentially-appointed, Senate-confirmed (PAS) positions to enter their financial disclosure information online through a secure website and for ethics officials to review the forms and communicate back with the nominees via the automated system. In September 2016, OGE held orientation sessions on Integrity for each campaign’s transition team and has been working with each team so they are prepared to use the system to enter information of potential PAS nominees starting the day after the election and throughout the Presidential transition.
Engaged Agencies Not Traditionally Included In the Formal Transition Planning Process: In addition to the formal transition councils that the President established, the Administration, for the first time, has also held formal transition planning meetings with smaller agencies, boards and commissions across the government who are not otherwise represented on the two councils. This group, including more than 200 entities, has been engaged fully in the transition process from the beginning and has met regularly over the past several months. The Administration undertook this whole-of-government approach to transition planning in order to help these smaller agencies, board and commissions prepare for the upcoming transition by developing briefing materials for the incoming teams, ensuring continuity of operations as they off-board appointees, and have in place the necessary infrastructure to support incoming appointees.