Legislation aims to improve presidential transitions

Senators look to formalize and build on best practices from the last transfer of power.

On Tuesday, four senators introduced legislation aimed at ensuring smooth presidential transitions. The bipartisan bill would formalize many of the successful elements of the recent changeover between the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, and provide resources for candidates to begin transition efforts early.

Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act sponsors Sens. Ted Kaufman, D-Del.; George Voinovich, R-Ohio; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said in a statement the goal was to "address the historical reluctance of presidential candidates to initiate early transition activities, as well as to ensure incumbent administrations continue to make transition planning a priority."

The bill would require the General Services Administration to offer eligible candidates a range of assistance immediately upon nomination, including fully equipped office space, communication services, briefings, training and initiation of security clearances for prospective personnel.

The sponsors included a provision to ensure that all services and information would be provided on an equal basis and without regard to political affiliation. Candidates and their staffs would use the information solely for transition purposes.

The bill would authorize candidates to establish a separate fund of campaign money to cover transition-related expenses or supplement the GSA services.

"Candidates taking deliberate steps to ensure a smooth transition should not be criticized as arrogantly 'measuring the White House drapes' before Election Day," Voinovich said. "Such planning should be encouraged and supported."

The legislation also includes provisions to encourage incumbent administrations to prepare for the transfer of power. It would authorize appropriations to be used expressly to plan and coordinate agencies' transition efforts, including the establishment of a transition coordinating council. The council would be composed of high-level administration officials such as the president's chief of staff, Cabinet secretaries and the Office of Management and Budget director.

Career employees also would be rallied to lead transition efforts within their agencies. The bill would establish an agency transition directors' council composed entirely of senior career officials.

The measure would require the incumbent administration to report on transition planning progress to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee six and three months before the election.

"Fortune favors the prepared," said Kaufman, who served as a member of the Obama-Biden transition team. "The Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act will go a long way in removing the stigma that has historically caused candidates to hide or even delay important transition planning until after Election Day."