Second, if transition planning does occur discretely, as it did at a North Virginia Bob’s Big Boy in the summer of 1980 for Ronald Reagan, the public will likely be shut out from that process. This could result in numerous early decisions being influenced by interest groups and lobbying with no accountability or public oversight. Unlike many aspects of campaigning, transition planning is only weakly regulated by the federal government, meaning that most transparency measures are self-enforced by candidates. Candidate Obama held quite open meetings to plan his transition with dozens stakeholders during the summer of 2008. This did not guarantee public input, but assured a level of discourse that secrecy largely precludes. By taking the pre-election transition from the shadows, a critical element of the campaign process can be made much more democratic and permit citizens greater access to early decision making.
The 2008 transition to power of President Obama was lauded by many as efficient, effective, and transparent. Credit for that transition should also have been shared with President Bush, who recognized that the demands of governance and national security meant that he had to be gracious with the opposition party and rise above partisan politics. President Obama would demonstrate presidential leadership and a deep concern for this country by clarifying that his opponent’s transition planning is necessary, responsible, and to be encouraged.
Brown is an assistant professor of political science at Seton Hall University and the author of the book, Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition. He served as the policy and research director of the Council of Graduate Schools from 2004-2006.