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Senators want presidential transition to start sooner

By Ed O'Keefe

At least four senators admitted Wednesday that they're thinking about 2012.

No, not the presidential election, but the potential transition of power.

A bipartisan quartet introduced the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act, designed to remove the stigma of presumptuousness or inevitability surrounding transition efforts undertaken during the heat of a presidential campaign, they said, adding that national security and economic concerns also justify their efforts.

The bill -- cosponsored by Sens. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- would require the General Services Administration to provide eligible presidential candidates with office space, communication services, training and expedited security clearances once they secure their party's nomination. Eligible candidates would include any deemed eligible by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The bill would allow eligible presidential candidates to establish tax-exempt transition accounts that could receive donations of up to $5,000 per person to cover transition-related expenses.

“Fortune favors the prepared,” said Kaufman, who consulted the Obama-Biden transition team before his appointment to Biden's Senate seat.

"It must become the norm for any major party nominee to begin making arrangements for a transition long before Election Day. We can’t afford to leave something this important to chance," he said.

The quartet applauded the Bush administration's smooth transition efforts but acknowledged that future administrations may be unwilling or unable to match them. The legislation establishes a transition coordination council of top White House staffers and officials from GSA, the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management. A similar council of career agency staffers would handle transitions across the rest of the government. An incumbent administration also would have to report to Congress six and three months before an election on the progress of transition activities.

The bill essentially embraces the recommendations in a a January report by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. The report called on the Senate to confirm a new administration's 50 officials at the departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Treasury on or shortly after Inauguration Day. The bill introduced Wednesday does not set a timetable on the Senate confirmation process.

But partnership chief executive Max Stier embraced the new bill.

"We live in volatile times with countless national security threats, economic woes and an increased demand on our government," Stier said. "A new president must be ready to govern with his senior leadership team in place on day one, which requires resources and planning well before the general election."

But Stier's report found that Barack Obama and John McCain's presidential campaigns quietly began their transition efforts in the Spring of 2008, well before the party conventions. Obama's campaign spent at least $400,000 on its planning while McCain budgeted about $30,000. Officials quoted in the report differed on when the transition should start, with some suggesting efforts should begin at the start of a campaign while others said planning should stay secret to avoid potential political headaches and inevitable lobbying efforts for top jobs.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 14, 2010; 1:29 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Congress  
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Posted by: wpjunk | April 14, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Don't the senators have enough on their plate as it is? Is office space for candidates really that important? Why can't the campaigns foot the bill? Must be a slow day, I guess.

Posted by: clanton28 | April 14, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Our transition process is indeed profoundly broken: it takes forever to get the 6,000 Presidential appointees in place.

The answer isn't to start earlier. The answer is to have fewer Presidential appointees. Cabinet secretaries and their immediate staff, sure. But do we really need to change 6,000 top staffers every time we get a new President?

This is cronyism run rampant. We shouldn't further institutionalize it.

Posted by: 12008N1 | April 14, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

Ridiculous, I agree. A waste of money too.

Posted by: mebyrns | April 14, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

If they need more time, move the Inauguration back to March. I question their motives, and must infer racism as their motive, that they would be looking towards a 2012 transition and not 2016.

Posted by: jiji1 | April 14, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

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