Obama moves to appoint transition team

President-elect Barack Obama has begun effectively forming the foundation for his administration, a best practice according to groups that advocate for effective government.

The president-elect has named his initial appointees, and his transition team has moved into its transition offices, demonstrating the discipline of staying on message that was apparent during his campaign, said Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the Council for Excellence in Government. The Office of the President-Elect launched its Web site at www.change.gov

“The Bush administration also has done a great job of enabling the transition, doing more than what’s been done before in other transitions,” she said at a transition event sponsored by the council Nov. 6.

“What is different this time is that all levels of government have made a commitment to the transition,” said Martha Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan organization that would provide research and reports to support the new administration, and a professor at Towson University.

The widespread commitment to the transition comes as the result of findings from the 9/11 Commission on the importance to accelerate the appointment of critical members of the administration to reduce the appearance of national vulnerability during the transition, Kumar said. To support the federal commitment to transition, President Bush issued an executive order in October creating a transition coordinating council, while the Office of Management and Budget published a memo in July with guidelines and deadline for agencies on information that needed to be collected for the transition.

Putting the major White House team members in place is important for the decision making process and for establishing the ground rules for vetting and reviewing nominees, said Harrison Wellford, a transition adviser for the president-elect, who also participated in the transitions of former Presidents Carter and Clinton.

“We’re already ahead of the past with the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff this early,” he said.

It is important to have benchmarks by which to measure the progress of the transition, he said. Wellford has encouraged the transition team to define and make clear what the benchmarks are and communicate their progress, the most important one being making critical appointments, he said.

Other benchmarks would be how efficient Obama will be in making a “down payment” on campaign promises and how he projects the image of the kind of leader he wants to be, Wellford said. He said Obama would emphasize transparency and teamwork in a broad sense as president.

A benchmark that the council’s McGinnis said she would like to see are the naming of the Cabinet members by Inauguration Day and 50 sub-Cabinet members in a month after Jan. 20.

For agencies, it may take time to fill vacancies, said John Kamensky, senior fellow at the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

“Home alone can sum up the situation for agencies,” he said.

Agency hiring, contracting and administrative decisions may slow down during that time, but policy and budget decision-making will have to speed up, he said.

“We haven’t had a transition before between two administrations of two parties when there is a continuing resolution,” Kamensky said. The new administration will have to complete this year’s and next year’s budget quickly, he said.

Kamensky said career executives will have to work at helping incoming officials avoid problems.

“They won’t trust you. You can say ‘I have the expertise’ or ‘here’s another approach’ to help identify land mines,” he said. He suggested that career executives provide new appointees with resumes or a notebook of skills so they know the subject experts that exist in the agency. Kamensky also recommended that agency appointed and career executives work on joint teams.

The day after the election, the General Services Administration turned over the keys to the offices that GSA provides for the incoming administration’s transition team under the Presidential Transition Act. GSA has furnished and equipped 120,000 square feet of office space with computers, BlackBerries and telephones for up to 500 individuals on three floors of a downtown Washington office building.

“This is an historic moment for our nation and for GSA,” said Gail Lovelace, GSA’s chief human capital officer and senior career executive for the presidential transition. “Our team has worked more than two years to complete this headquarters and help facilitate the orderly transfer of executive power,” she said.

GSA is also responsible for publishing a transition directory that provides an overview of each federal agency and arranging orientation briefings for new appointees, she said. The act also directs GSA to authorize the release of federal funds that provide for the day-to-day support of transition activities for the president-elect, she added.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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