Welles: Be patient as transition unfolds

Some proven advice can help federal employees weather the changes a new administration brings

I have gathered some tried-and-true tips about presidential transitions from long-term federal workers, retirees and my own experiences. I’ve included some of them in my blog postings, but here they are in a nutshell.

  • Don’t hold your breath. New appointments and new directions take time. Transition does not happen overnight; it can take a year for newly confirmed program leaders to take their places. In the interim, high-level civil-service employees usually serve in an acting capacity, and normal operations continue without pause, although hiring is sometimes put on hold. Nothing new, no change of any kind, will take place until several months after a new program leader is in office.

  • Ignore rumors. When information is scarce, rumors will fly. Not until new bosses come on board will any changes take place. Some staff changes might occur — mostly among political appointees — but other changes take a while. Why waste time and energy worrying when most rumors are wrong?  

  • Don’t be paranoid. If you don’t know what is going on and your boss is not telling you much, it has nothing to do with you. There will be times when no one has information. Other times, there will be snippets of news that later change. At some point, there will be information, it will be shared, and you’ll know.

  • Be flexible. Don’t hang onto past ways of doing things. Accept that programs and policies might change. It might not happen when or where you think it should, but be ready to help make the change — whatever it is — successful. Isn’t that what federal workers do best?

  • Listen and learn. Should you make yourself known to the new team or sit back and wait to be asked?  Presenting ideas before you know the new agenda can backfire. Understand new leaders’ priorities and new appointees’ experience so you can give positive support. At the same time, be available to help newcomers find their way around if they ask for your help.

  • Avoid gov-speak. When briefing or talking with transition staff, avoid acronyms, tech talk and, above all, war stories of past administrations.   

If you are a manager, your leadership is needed during these uncertain times. Be open with your staff members. Encourage them and, most of all, listen to their concerns. Your reassurance and steady hand will help keep your team on course.

Finally, remember that appointees who have been in leadership positions are now leaving offices they held for many years and the projects and associations they have developed. Regardless of how you feel about those people, it doesn’t hurt to extend a friendly word or hand when they depart.

Welles (jwelles@1105govinfo.com) is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md., and writes about work/life topics for Federal Computer Week. 

About the Author

Judith Welles is a retired federal employee who has also worked in the private sector. She lives in Bethesda, Md.

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