End the stigma of transition preparation

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Unfortunately, Governor Romney’s team is also drawing on some of the worst lessons of transition planning of the last fifty years. Politico reported that a campaign spokesperson declined to comment on a story about the “Readiness Project” and that they prefer these transition activities to remain sotto voce. Such concerns about “drape measuring” and “chicken counting” have prevented nearly every Presidential candidate from openly discussing their necessary and appropriate planning. President George H. W. Bush said to the Republican National Convention in 1992: “I half expected . . . to find [Clinton] over there measuring the drapes. . . . I have a message for him: Put those drapes on hold. It is going to be curtain time for that ticket.” These traditions are petty, potentially harmful, and unnecessary.

For one, secrecy limits public discourse about what the Romney cabinet and administration might look like. Reports indicate that many Washington insiders have already been privately solicited for personnel recommendations. If you have not yet been tapped yet for your advice, you may already be out of luck.

Additionally, the lack of transparency opens a back door to special interests. While lobbyists are not permitted to lead agency review teams, they appear free to informally advise the Romney transition team, offering recommendations on the behalf of clients with a vested interest in a Romney victory. Not ironically, fifty years ago, Clark Clifford used his position on the Kennedy transition to launch a multi-decade career as one of the most influential lobbyists in Washington.

Again, this would be much less troubling if the Romney transition team was more open about who they were speaking to and what they were actually speaking about. It would also be more understandable if members of the team had not all considered a more open approach. The New York Times reported in August that members were given copies of a report by the non-partisan organization, The Project for Public Service. “Ready to Govern: Improving the Presidential Transition” was published in 2010 and was crucial in the passage of the 2010 Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act. The very first recommendation of the report suggests that: “Starting the transition process earlier and making it more transparent so there is no longer a stigma on preparing.”

Instead of heeding the advice of the Partnership, the Romney transition team holds steadfastly to the outmoded Washington mores. An open, participatory process that engages interests of all varieties in public deliberation is much more compatible with thoughtful and careful planning. More importantly, it would signal that a Romney administration would govern with a faith in debate and transparency, rather than a preference for secrecy.
All is not lost; we still have a month before the election. It is not too late for the Romney transition team to open the dialogue on their planning and make transparent what to this point remains opaque.

Brown is an assistant professor of political science and public administration at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. He is the author of the recent book, Lobbying the New President: Interests in Transition, published by Routledge.