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And now the transition begins

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2016 Election - And now the transition beginsFew predicted it. President-elect Donald J. Trump now begins to lead the process for which he has been quietly preparing, though somewhat in the shadows, for the past several months — the presidential transition. Although our country has peacefully transitioned presidencies for over 200 years, the quest to make them smoother is ongoing.

This year, our government benefits from the impact of the recently enacted Presidential Transitions Improvements Act (Public Law 114-136). The law requires:

  • The establishment of a White House transition coordinating council and agency transition directors council
  • The appointment of a Federal Transition Coordinator, a career executive responsible for managing the presidential transition across agencies and overseeing General Services Administration-provided transition services
  • Designation by agency heads of senior career executives to oversee transition activities
  • Negotiation of memorandums of understanding with each presidential candidate so each can access agency personnel, facilities and documents in preparation for the transition

The law also provides for training of new appointees throughout the new president’s first term.

What this means is that since the summer, president-elect Trump, as well as Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, made plans to assume office with as little disruption as possible to the machinery of government. Campaign proposals were translated into implementation plans, and transition teams were selected to “parachute” into agencies and begin turning over management to the new president’s team. The transition teams also began gathering names and résumés of candidates for the more than 4,000 political positions the new administration will have to fill.

Details of political appointments  
View the Plum Book for a comprehensive listing of “plum” executive branch jobs, appointment details and pay grade.
Making appointments is one of the key and most visible responsibilities the new president will fulfill. With announcements for White House chief of staff expected any moment, the steady flow of announcements will proceed well into next spring. Only some of those positions — about 1,200 — require Senate confirmation. All of them must clear a political background review to ensure loyalty to the new president and a criminal background check to ensure they pose no risk to national security.  

The process is famously long. Except for the most important positions, which are likely to be in place soon after the inauguration, it can take many months to navigate the labyrinthine road to appointment to a political position. Efforts to reduce the timeline have been somewhat successful  — Congress has eliminated confirmation requirements for some positions, and forms are easier to complete. But the time it takes to get a security clearance has become longer, not shorter. So if you’re counting on that highly sought-after presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, be patient.

Gain insight into the new administration’s agenda
If you’re viewing the presidential appointments process either with morbid curiosity or to gain understanding of policy implications, you’re better off. In fact, there’s no better chance to find what the new administration is planning than during a transition. Each individual going before the Senate for confirmation is required to answer copious questions, both in writing and in person. The Q&A’s offer unparalleled clues to the administration’s policy preferences and where there may be areas of disagreement between committees of jurisdiction and the new appointees. Find the committee of relevant jurisdiction at the Senate Committees site, and monitor the schedule of confirmation hearings for the nominees’ required answers. It’s a treasure trove of insights into the new administration’s agenda.  

“The American people have elected an outsider to shake things up in Washington. All evidence points, though, to a professionally run transition preparing to take the reins of government. You can expect agencies and their dedicated career staff to help steer the ship of government so it continues to serve citizens and accomplish critical missions.”Robert Shea, Principal, Grant Thornton Global Public SectorFor regular news updates, sign up for Your Transition Brief, produced by Grant Thornton LLP and Government Executive magazine. There you’ll find news, events and tracking of new appointments to the Trump team. Transitions happen only once every four to eight years; as always, it will be fascinating to watch our democracy in action.

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