Omega and Alpha

By Ed DeSeve

Ed_deseveAs we enter the new year, we realize that next year at this time we will – hopefully – have a new president-elect. He or she will be hard upon the process of transition and the hopes of a nation will be with them – at least those who voted for them.

The process of transition brings with it a boom in the binder industry. Every agency, every think tank, and many non-governmental organizations will trot out binders full of advice for the new Administration. At the Academy, we started this spring to prepare for the “Binder Wars” and will certainly join the fray although primarily electronically. 

Many of the Academy’s Fellows have gone through transitions and have strong points of view about how to approach the changing of the guard. I am among them. I was a little late to the Clinton party, but still remember that the George H.W. Bush Administration was less than cooperative with Bill Clinton’s team. I was on a couple of transition teams in 2008 and ultimately wound up on the inside implementing the Recovery Act.

My advice to the new administration is as follows:

  1. Keep it Simple – There is a tendency to over-complicate and over-organize transition teams. The campaign staff should plan immediately after the convention for the transition.
  2. Create Shadow Entities – Construct these around agencies and key policy goals and maintain them under adult leadership until after inauguration.
  3. Avoid Enthusiasms – This is a serious business and chasing rainbows isn’t going to help. The candidate/president-elect has priorities and these should be the focus of the effort. Implementation of these priorities is the hard part. Skills to manage implementation are not necessarily consistent with skills needed to manage a successful campaign.
  4. Reach out Broadly for Talent – Certainly there are individuals who should be used from the campaign team to fill positions. However, a broad search using experienced headhunters against a defined set of criteria – call them job descriptions – will be extremely helpful especially in technical and managerial areas.
  5. Create a “Learning Environment” – It is highly likely that new appointees will lack much of the necessary “knowledge, skills and abilities” to execute their potential jobs. At the outset and throughout the administration, reach out to academics and non-profit educational organizations to amass a variety of “Learning Programs” that will enable new appointees to polish existing skills in a government environment and fill in the gaps where they need to. Consider involving career executives in this learning process.
  6. Use the Whole Team – Career civil servants represent a vast store of institutional knowledge. The new administration should meet early with outgoing appointees (if possible) and with the senior career executives. Questions should be asked and answered in an environment structured to demonstrate trust on both sides.

As the title suggests, transition is the end of the campaign and the beginning of a new administration.  A solid foundation laid during the campaign, can pay dividends in the transition and for the long haul of the administration.


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