Transition on Hold: A Transcript – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
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Transition on Hold: A Transcript

BROOKINGS INSTITUTION PANEL DISCUSSION with President Mark Gearan

Official Transcript from: “TRANSITION ON HOLD: WILL THE ELECTION DEADLOCK HANDICAP THE NEW ADMINISTRATION?”

November 15, 2000

PARTICIPANTS:
PAUL C. LIGHT, VICE PRESIDENT AND DIRECTOR, GOVERNMENTAL STUDIES,
THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION

MARK GEARAN, PRESIDENT, HOBART AND WILLIAM SMITH COLLEGES;
FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF THE CLINTON TRANSITION TEAM

C. BOYDEN GRAY, PARTNER, WILMER, CUTLER & PICKERING;
FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF TRANSITION COUNSEL, BUSH TRANSITION TEAM

Held at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, November 15, at THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION, WASHINGTON, D.C.

MR. LIGHT: (In progress) — all been involved, in one way or another, with our Presidential Appointee Initiative, which is designed to help presidential appointees get into office a little faster, certainly much better informed, perhaps a little less exhausted by the process itself.

To my immediate right is Mark Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith College. Mark is the former head of the Peace Corps, and Boyden is the former — no? Who on our —

MR. : Al Kamen.

MR. LIGHT: Al Kamen.

MR. : Donna Shalala.

MR. LIGHT: Also Donna Shalala. We have an event tonight to launch “The Survivors' Guide for Presidential Nominees.” And let me tell you, given the current state of affairs, the title of “The Survivors' Guide” is quite appropriate.

Anyway, Mark is former head of the Peace Corps. He's former White House deputy chief of staff. He's former deputy transition director for the Clinton administration and has a depth of knowledge about what the next administration is up against.

To his immediate right is C. Boyden Gray, who was White House counsel under President Bush. He's former transition counsel. He's former counsel to the vice president of the United States and also has an intimate knowledge of what this next transition is up against.

And our job today is to talk a little bit about what's going to happen when the election is declared, the role of the transition, what the next president-elect needs to accomplish over the next 60 or 58 or 53 or whatever days are left in the transition.

I'm going to start with just a brief overview of four simple facts about the transition, and then we'll segue into more of a conversational style, with Mark and our colleagues giving five or so minutes on the transition

Four simple facts I want to review.

Number one is that the transition itself is a historical convenience. That's all it is. We created the transition because we needed time to assemble votes and count votes, gather votes, and gather our leaders to Washington. It just took time, and the Founders understood that it would take time to assemble administrations, but more importantly, to move bodies across a country that was linked primarily by horse-drawn carriage.

Secondly, the transition did not become a significant moment, we did not start paying attention to the transition, until relatively recently. It was only 40 years ago that the federal government actually began funding, providing funding, for transitions. It was not until 1963, with passage of the Presidential Transitions Act, that the federal government actually allowed the General Services Administration to pay for some of the costs associated with beginning a government. That piece of legislation, which became law following Kennedy's assassination, was also designed to help the outgoing administration leave.

So there was a lot involved in the original Transitions Act of helping the incoming arrive; covering the costs of the staff, covering the costs of all of the activity, the travel and so forth, associated with coming to Washington, and also to help the outgoing administration leave. And in fact, the history of the Transition Act is more to help the outgoing than help the incoming. Now, that's changed over the last 40 years, but the origins were to help the president leave.

Today, the General Services Administration has been charged with the transition. The transition headquarters have already been designated and wired — it's 1800 G Street. And the federal government will provide about $5 million in support for the incoming administration.

The third issue is that the transition has become a key to a successful start. We have this moment of time, and over the last 40 years, we have filled it with a lot of activity. More than just planning the inauguration ball, we launch the presidential appointments process during the transition, and we also make a series of key policy decisions. And we'll have a little bit of conversation about that.

It's clear to us that the Presidential Appointments Initiative, that one of the big impacts on transition is on helping start the appointments process; that the president-elect begins the process of naming key people, the forms start to be filled out. This is best analogized to a concrete pipe. The transition itself is not infinitely expandable to accommodate large bodies of possible appointees, it's best handled in a sequence under which you're loading and sending forward names for vetting, and you're going through the process in a staggered fashion, not a balloon that can be expanded to accommodate huge numbers of people. And that's why we've written and published “The Survivors Guide”, in collaboration with the Council for Excellence in Government, to help nominees understand what's happening to them; to help them help themselves, or so to speak.

Finally, the transition is best understood as a finite resource; it can't be expanded after the fact. The transition this year was already going to be short because we had a late election. We had a 73-day transition designed here before inauguration. We're now down to about 65 days, and assuming that things get resolved this weekend, perhaps early next week, we're really talking about a transition that lasts 45 to 50 days rather than the planned for 73. I mean, we all know in Washington that on Wednesday the town will shut down. Even if there is a president-elect, there's nobody to talk to in the administration.

And under the 1988 Transition Act Amendments, there is now a process in place for clearing the names of people who are allowed to have contact with the executive branch. There were concerns in 1988 regarding the 1981 Reagan transition that there were some people here in Washington who were making contact with executive departments not on behalf of the Reagan transition, but perhaps on behalf of their own interests. And a process was set into place that requires transition aides to declare themselves, make themselves visible to the departments. And that's a process in which you must declare your name, your address and the source of income that's covering your costs as a member of the transition team, and that has to be declared to the departments and agencies that you're visiting. You can't do that if everybody is on Thanksgiving break.

The best of circumstances, this transition, this next transition will likely occur, assuming everything gets resolved in Florida and Iowa and New Mexico — (laughter) — and Wisconsin, Oregon, we might have a transition starting on November 27th; we just don't know.

I'm going to stop here and basically turn to our guests to talk a little bit about their experiences in transitions. I want to remind people who are watching this that if you're thinking of being a presidential appointee, if you want to know what the process looks like, there's one place to go; that's www.appointee.brookings.org. You'll get every bit of information, the links you need as well as a downloadable copy of the “Survivor's Guide for Presidential Nominees,” and believe me, anybody out there who wants to be a nominee past the Cabinet level dow