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Presidential transition bill passes the Senate

By Ed O'Keefe

Republicans presidential candidates aren't the only politicians thinking about 2012: The U.S. Senate today spent a few minutes thinking ahead two years and approved a bill that provides federal assistance to presidential candidates to prepare for a White House transition.

As The Eye detailed in April, the bill calls on the Senate to confirm a new president's top nominees on or shortly after Inauguration Day.

It also would instruct the General Services Administration to provide presidential candidates with office space and equipment and security clearances to start planning for a possible presidency. Candidates also could establish tax-exempt accounts that could receive donations of up to $5,000 per person to cover transition-related expenses.

Lead sponsor Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) said the measure "will help remove the stigma that all-too-often dissuades candidates from taking the responsible step of early transition planning before Election Day."

But no word if the House can remove the stigma of gridlock and get the bill passed anytime sooner.

By Ed O'Keefe  | September 24, 2010; 4:50 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Congress  
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Posted by: shoestrade28 | September 24, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

I don't see this as actually solving many of the transition problems. All it will probably do is waste taxpayer money but opening up federal office space to campaigning candidates.

And what will qualify a candidate for such federal transition support? Do only the top two candidates get this? Or do the candidates from the Green Party, Constitution Party, Libertarian Party, etc., etc., all get security clearances, office space, and other amenities, too?

Couldn't it be a security risk, too, handing out security clearances to anyone who merely is able to get on the ballot?

The real problems are that the incoming president can't actually move into the White House and have staff start integrating fully into new jobs before the inauguration. As they come in, new passwords, voicemails, e-mails, and everything else need to be set up. Some of this can be done in advance, but the White House also cannot buy entirely new computers and phones and whatnot for every incoming staffer. A lot has to happen after the inauguration.

Mostly, though, the problem is that Congress is slow approving nominees. Allowing Congress to start hearings on nominees before the inauguration could be a help, but only if Congress chooses to vote on nominees in a timely fashion. With a few top posts, such as Cabinet spots, Congress generally doesn't waste too much time, but with all of the others...remind me again, how many open spots in the administration does Obama still have? Partly, this is the Senate being slow approving nominees. Partly, it is Obama being slow nominating them. No candidate will announce nominations before an election, so we will still face a 2-3 month window between the election and inauguration when nominations will start happening. Not much will change.

Setting up transition teams before the election won't help much either. All of the most trusted, capable people will be working on the campaign. A transition team means nothing if the candidate doesn't win, so nobody is going to invest energy and time in a transition team as long as the election race remains close. Pre-election transition teams will be hobbled and ineffectual as a result, so why even bother?

I'm sure that the Washington establishment will love this, though. From the Washington perspective, mid-level staffers and office space paid for by the government is always a good thing, isn't it?

Posted by: blert | September 24, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

In Britain, they routinely change governments with only a few weeks' notice. Why can't we?

Oh, that's right: the 6,000+ patronage jobs (aka "Presidential Appointees") that each new administration must fill. If we got rid of this corrupt political spoils system, we wouldn't have this crazy year-long transition trainwreck every time we change presidents.

Sure, the President should appoint his own people for cabinet positions, but does he also need to replace the top several thousand people in the executive branch?

We should be cutting back the number of Presidential Appointees, not further enshrining this corrupt system into law. And funding the whole thing with corporate "transition donations" is just layering corruption upon corruption.

Posted by: vfr2dca | September 25, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

This is absolute foolishness. How much money did the front runners raise in the last presidential campaign? They need to pay for their own stuff. It's the cost of doing business, and as we have seen they believe the sky's the limit when it comes to campaign funding.

And how can the Senate be compelled to confirm any nominee on inauguration day? Potential cabinet members need to run the gauntlet in order to sort out problems, and the public needs to be able to watch this process.

Posted by: redd1 | September 25, 2010 10:37 AM | Report abuse

This is basic good government and a good example of why Senator Ted Kaufman and other temporary seat-holders without political agendas in terms of re-election can be effective. It does not score political points, but simply recognizes and solves a problem.

The problem: effective presidential transitions nowadays, for both parties, really have to start about June/July, several months before the election. This does look presumptuous and is always cause for the knee jerk criticism by the political opponent that so-and-so is "measuring the drapes" before the people have spoken. Yet in modern elections, BOTH sides (if professional, competent, responsible) have to do this that early because the process has become so cumbersome due to the level of scrutiny of appointees.

I am surprised to learn the House hasn't passed this yet and hope it will happen either before or after the election. Good government shouldn't get the short end of the stick. The number of management and good-government studies that have recommended something like this is seemingly endless and yet it still needs to get over the finish line.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter1 | September 25, 2010 10:40 PM | Report abuse

This article highlights the fact that - unlike most other countries - the vast majority of the American Civil Service in the Managerial range are Political, not Civil. Elsewhere, only the top level changes with the administration, with everyone else continuing to serve regardless of the political affiliation they belong to. Of course we'd never go for that here, but it is still a fact of life.

Posted by: cseon | September 27, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

Smaller govt. = quicker and easier transition.

Posted by: dcharlson | September 27, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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