Election 2008

presidential transition, presidential transitions
The White House, Eric Draper/AP

Bush, Obama Focus on Smooth Transfer of Power

November 18, 2008 07:59 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
Unlike presidential transitions in the past, observers say President-elect Obama and President Bush are working together to make this a relatively smooth one.

Paving the Way for the Obama Administration

As President-elect Obama prepares to assume leadership of the United States in January 2009, the help he has received from President Bush’s administration has been “remarkably civil,” according to Nancy Gibbs of Time magazine.

In fact, efforts to help this year’s presidential transition go smoothly have been several months in the making. In September 2008, reports surfaced that the government was working with the presidential candidates to facilitate an easier transition from the Bush Administration to the administration of the election’s winner. “[T]he feds, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the presidential campaigns are considering a plan to keep on two or three key aides in agencies like the Pentagon, CIA, Treasury, and Homeland Security to pass the baton,” Paul Bedard wrote.

Presidential transitions have historically been long and drawn out, according to NPR, and the tradition is not without its problems. Despite Obama’s assertions that the country only has one president at a time, he has already urged Bush to help “the foundering auto industry.” Obama is also under additional pressures from within and outside the United States, as economic concerns remain serious.

As of Nov. 11, French President Nicolas Sarkozy had already spoken with Bush and Obama, requesting action on economic issues within 100 days. “The president-elect presumably told him about one president at a time—which probably did not thrill the European leader, who has let it be known that he regards America's deregulation excesses as instrumental in bringing about the global economic collapse,” NPR stated.

Historical Context: Past presidential transition troubles

Not every presidential transition has gone as well as incoming and outgoing administrations might have hoped.

President Hoover to President Roosevelt

In 1932, the four months between the end of Hoover’s administration and the beginning of Roosevelt’s saw the nation’s economy and banking system falter. John F. Cooney of The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Hoover tried to get Roosevelt to support his ideas for handling the economic crisis. Roosevelt refused, fearing prior commitments would limit him when he was actually in office, and because he disagreed with Hoover’s policies.

By the time Roosevelt was inaugurated, banks had closed in 32 states and the New York Stock Exchange had shut down. Roosevelt had to act fast to start addressing the issues immediately facing his administration.

President Clinton to President George W. Bush

Clinton’s staff was accused of destroying office equipment and committing acts of vandalism in the White House at the end of his administration. However, a manager of the General Accounting Office called the allegations “significantly overblown,” according to Christopher Marquis of The New York Times.

Reports from anonymous sources claimed Clinton’s staff had overturned desks, stolen glassware and defaced walls. Clinton officials denied the more serious reports but did, however, admit to smaller pranks like removing the “W” from computer keyboards. Even Bush minimized the vandalism stories. “There might have been a prank or two,” Marquis quoted Bush as saying. “Maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s O.K.”

Reference: Presidential transition acts

There are laws regarding presidential transitions. The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 was enacted “To promote the orderly transfer of the executive power in connection with the expiration of the term of office of a President and the Inauguration of a new President,” according to the Web site of the U.S. General Services Administration. The act chiefly provided funding and other support—for example, office space—for the incoming and outgoing administrations. There was no mention in the act of training or overlap between two administrations.

Clinton wrote a second act, the Presidential Transition Act of 2000, into law in light of the increasingly “complex and cumbersome” transition process from one administration to the next. The second act focused on training members of the new administration and was modified to reflect research by groups including the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.

Bush also signed a presidential transition initiative to assist in the transition between his administration and Obama’s. Basically an amendment to the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, Bush’s initiative seeks to provide “information relevant to facilitating the personnel aspects of a presidential transition.”

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