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Best-Selling Author Takes on Trump’s Rocky Transition

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Celebrity author Michael Lewis has already written about a lack of experience among Energy Department appointees. Celebrity author Michael Lewis has already written about a lack of experience among Energy Department appointees. Evan Agostini/Invision/AP file photo

Celebrity author Michael Lewis, whose influential financial titles include “Moneyball,” “The Big Short” and “The Blind Side,” is immersing himself in President Trump’s handling of the change in administrations.

At this weekend’s National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Library of Congress, Lewis was asked about his next project. He riffed on how the carefully planned presidential transition process that involves naming 4,000 new appointees and mandatory departures of the outgoing administration’s political appointees, was mishandled by a seemingly apathetic Trump.

At the Energy Department, “I got the briefing Trump didn’t get,” he said, referring to his reporting that ended up as a June Vanity Fair article titled, “Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming from Inside the White House.” 

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In that piece, Lewis wrote in his entertaining style that “the period between the election and the inauguration has the feel of an A.P. chemistry class to which half the students have turned up late and are forced to scramble to grab the notes taken by the other half.”

This Saturday, he warned that the shortage of experienced appointees at Energy “is a bomb with a long fuse, and we’re going to pay a price.”

The Energy Department responded to the Vanity Fair piece on July 28 by demanding a correction and publishing that demand in a press release. Lewis’s article “incorrectly states the Department of Energy inspector general was asked to resign by the Trump White House,” the release said. “The acting inspector general at Energy, April Stephenson, was not contacted by the White House and asked to resign. The current acting inspector general is the principal deputy inspector general, a career position. She will remain in an acting capacity for as long as requested to do so by the administration.”

Martha Joynt Kumar, the Towson University political scientist who has written widely on presidential transitions, told Government Executive that she too is writing a book on the Obama-Trump transition, a follow-up to her 2015 volume “Before the Oath: How George W. Bush and Barack Obama Managed a Transfer of Power.”

But she suspects she and Lewis “will be looking at it from somewhat different perspectives as I will be setting it in the context of other transitions, the legislation that framed the federal government effort, what the government did to prepare for the transfer of power, the operations of the two candidates, the Trump transition operations, as well as what the transition meant for the shape of the Trump presidency.”

Max Stier, president of the Partnership for Public Service, applauded the Lewis's plan: “Michael Lewis is a maestro at bringing to life complicated and important topics. It’s exciting to see someone of this capability to focus the attention of the broader public on the importance of government and presidential transition.”

Charles S. Clark joined Government Executive in the fall of 2009. He has been on staff at The Washington Post, Congressional Quarterly, National Journal, Time-Life Books, Tax Analysts, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the National Center on Education and the Economy. He has written or edited online news, daily news stories, long features, wire copy, magazines, books and organizational media strategies.

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