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Stoddard: Trump, Clinton getting ready for change

Stoddard: Trump, Clinton getting ready for change
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You may not be able to recall the last time the presumptive nominee of either party spoke of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Iranian aggression or the dangerous ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, this last week having been entirely consumed — in both parties — by the topic of Trump University and Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpUSAID administrator tests positive for COVID-19 Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year DOJ appeals ruling preventing it from replacing Trump in E. Jean Carroll defamation lawsuit MORE’s attacks on the presiding judge in that civil case.

Yes, as Republicans fret over their candidate’s mistakes and what they see as a fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants campaign unprepared for the five months ahead, they should take comfort that the Trump team is doing the real work required to protect the country, should he prevail on Election Day.

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Both Trump and Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFederal workers stuck it out with Trump — now, we're ready to get back to work Biden soars as leader of the free world Intercept DC bureau chief says Biden picks are 'same people' from Obama years MORE have assigned people to collaborate quietly with the Obama administration on a transition plan to secure the country in a time of “maximum vulnerability,” according to Max Stier of the Partnership for Public Service. The Partnership, a nonprofit organization founded to modernize and improve what had been until 2008 a haphazard and dangerously inadequate process, is helping to oversee and advise the campaigns not only for the 72-day hand-off period between the election and inauguration but also for the critically sensitive first months, when most of the 4,000 most important jobs will need to be filled.

Stier, founder and president of the Partnership, describes the issue as an urgent matter that lies completely beneath the radar screen of the public and the press. He says he’s working to repair a process that’s been done “incredibly poorly in the past,” and something “we can’t afford anymore.”

While campaigns historically have focused on the goal of winning and avoiding appearing presumptuous, the post-9/11 reality demands detailed advance work that campaigns must begin at least half a year before Election Day.

“The world has become a much faster paced and dangerous environment. You have both the national security implications and a very real issue about whether the promises made on the campaign trail can actually be delivered,” Stier said. “If you don’t manage the government effectively, you can’t deliver on your promises.”

Though it is “still in early days,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in charge of Trump’s transition, and “he’s doing his homework,” Stier said. Clinton’s team is arguably well ahead in the process — not only was her husband president, but her campaign chairman, John Podesta, handled President Obama’s transition. 

But Obama’s administration has made the next transition a top priority, as it benefited from the comprehensive effort the George W. Bush team made to prepare its successors. Bush’s administration had focused intently on the project because 2008 was the first transition after the 9/11 attacks, and the Obama administration worked closely with Mitt Romney’s transition team in the event of him beating the incumbent president in 2012.

While many of the Partnership for Public Service’s reform ideas have passed Congress, Stier’s next goal is to reduce the number of Senate-confirmed positions the executive branch requires — 1,100 — because the confirmation process extends the window of vulnerability. An average 50 days spanned in 2009 between the confirmation of secretaries and their No. 2 positions, and effectively nothing meaningful gets accomplished. Stier said the campaigns should aim to have 100 of the top positions confirmed by the inauguration, with at least hearings concluded, while the other 400 critical leadership positions should be confirmed by the August recess of 2017. The current system, Stier insists, discourages the best talent from joining the government, because “a lot of people aren’t going to do it, or they will start and drop out.”

It’s good news for taxpayers that Stier is keeping the campaigns focused on this critical task, no matter what the candidates will be talking about next week.

Stoddard is an associate editor of  The Hill.