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Second Terms are for Second Chances


Presidential second terms are for second chances. They provide the least awkward chance for presidents to redirect their mission, update their goals, and rearrange key advisors and positions. Second terms also solidify agendas and the way forward, giving Congress assurances about where the next four years are going—thereby making compromise more tenable.

Of course, new political issues and catfights will emerge. Martha Kumar, professor in the department of political science at Towson University and director of the White House Transition Project told the Government Business Council (GBC), “Presidents end up with issues that are often the leftovers that didn’t get enacted in the first term. A couple of issues that come up in most administrations are immigration and social security. They come up because they are so hard to get through”. Importantly, she notes, second term presidents are more experienced and wise to the ways of Washington .

In a recent study seasoned political appointees were surveyed about their relationships with career executives. Eighty-nine percent of appointees reported that working with career executives is either important or very important. When asked to list three things they would recommend to their successor, the appointees recommended listening, trust, and communication as the key things that are important for any transition process. Appointees undoubtedly have an appreciation for the necessity of working with career federal employees; however times of change can make the process more complicated. The Government Business Council (GBC) has combed through its archives of case studies, reports, focus groups, and surveys to identify important tips that will help federal managers through any presidential transition. In concert with expert interviews and secondary research, the following areas were identified:

  • Show Your Worth: Many federal managers have concerns about taking credit for their accomplishments for fear of appearing pugnacious. However, how will your new leader know your previous contributions if you don’t make them known? Don’t be afraid to take credit for the successful projects you played a key role in. In doing so, make sure to give credit where credit is due. Your colleagues likely helped you on your path to success. Demonstrate that you are a team player by advocating on behalf of your peer’s contributions too.
  • Write your resume: Martha Kumar, director of the White House Transition Project, also offered some advice to federal managers. “Amid any transition, federal managers should write their resume and send it to their new leaders,” says Kumar. In doing so, new leadership will get a sense for your previous experience and recent accomplishments. It will also be a good way to get some (virtual) face time with your new manager.
  • Work with your leaders, not against them: You will not succeed in spite of your leader. No matter if you are working in an agency or a company, being successful virtually never happens in spite of your manager—it usually happens with the help of him or her. John Acton, Director of DHS’s Leadership Development program, told GBC, “it is very important that any [career] executive has the perspective to help the new administration. Their job is not to change minds necessarily, but to find the best way to move ahead with new agendas.”  Helping your leader succeeding is akin to helping you succeed. During a transition or not, work with your leader to achieve your mission.

This is just a preview of an upcoming report from the Government Business Council on How to Manage through a Presidential Transition. Look for a preview in the print edition of the December issue of Government Executive and the full report online in the beginning of December.

What advice do you have for getting through a transition?


Dana Grinshpan is the Research Manager for the Government Business Council (GBC), the research division of Government Executive, where she specializes in primary research development and survey instrument creation. Prior to joining GBC, she worked for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), assisting in the research and writing of work on South Asian regional cooperation. She has a Master of Arts in international security and political economics from the University of Chicago and graduated magna cum laude from Ohio State University where she holds a B.A. in international studies with a minor in Arabic.

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