Light: Five tips for the next president

The president-elect will face the toughest transition between administrations in the last century because he will be handed numerous concerns, one expert said today.

Paul Light, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, said the United States is wrestling with a faltering economy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and growing entitlement programs, among other problems.

“You inherit all of these issues,” Light said at the Transition 2009 conference in Washington.

He offered five pieces of advice for the next president:



  • Be careful what you say. What a president says in the first few days has a significant affect on expectations for a long time. President “Bill Clinton was a talker” and some of his comments, such as those about gays in the military, remained with him, Light said.





  • Be careful about appointments. President George W. Bush had problems with several appointees such as Michael Brown, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. After hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, the agency's problems were revealed. As important, the next president has to remember to appoint key officials quickly because the Senate, which handles the confirmations, works slowly, he said.





  • Be careful how you walk and talk. In his parade from the Capitol to the White House on his Inauguration Day, President Jimmy Carter tried to project a certain style by walking with his suit coat tossed over his shoulder. Light said he should have donned the mantle of presidential authority because presentation clings to the a new president.





  • Be careful how you manage. Light said Clinton was chaotic in how he managed from the outset of his presidency.





  • Inspire and embrace the public servants. As in transitions past, the incoming administration’s officials — of either party — have to learn anew the value of public servants. They don’t arrive on the job recognizing career employees' knowledge, Light said. However, President George H. W. Bush took time to talk with the government’s senior executives. Light said that was inspiring and reassuring.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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