Time to start planning for the 2020 presidential transition

Time to start planning for the 2020 presidential transition
© Greg Nash

With the election behind us, we are onto the 2020 campaign — yes, it happens that fast. You may have forgotten Jeb Bush began organizing his presidential campaign in December 2014, shortly after the midterm election (although he didn’t announce until June). There’s no reason to think candidates didn’t start thinking hard about running late Tuesday night.

As ambitious Democratic — and even a few intrepid Republican — candidates begin the hard work of preparing to run, they should also start to plan for a possible victory and transition to the White House. The 11-week presidential transition period before the Inauguration is simply not enough time to vet thousands of potential appointees, organize a complex White House, and prepare to govern. Planning must start early, long before Election Day or risk a serious economic or national security calamity.

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Some candidates have disregarded this organized approach in the past.Based on Michael Lewis’ new book, this seems to have been the case for the Trump campaign. Though they did dispatch Gov. Chris Christie to begin preparing in the summer of 2016, Christie’s work was summarily ignored after the election. The transition started from scratch, resulting in a level of chaos and disorder that only benefited the industry lobbyists well-placed on the transition team. So many of the Trump administration scandals can be traced back to the chaotic transition period after the election.

While no preparation is a definite problem, preparation in secret is also worrisome. Historically, many candidates have preferred this discrete approach, fearing an open planning process would draw calls of presumptuousness from opponents. This is a problem because the public deserves to know about transition planning.

How a candidate prepares to govern is an indicator of leadership skills and policy priorities. Just as voters should know about who is funding a candidate’s campaign, they should also know who has an inside track on key appointments.

There are several things that can be done to address this situation as we move toward 2020.

First, candidates should resist the urge to focus solely on campaigning or planning for a presidential transition in secret. Even though President TrumpDonald TrumpRealClearPolitics reporter says Freedom Caucus shows how much GOP changed under Trump Jake Ellzey defeats Trump-backed candidate in Texas House runoff DOJ declines to back Mo Brooks's defense against Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit MORE will surely accuse his opponents of arrogantly assuming victory (Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain on Pelosi, McCarthy fight: 'I think they're all bad' Democrats seek to counter GOP attacks on gas prices Biden nominates Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey MORE (R-Ariz.) did exactly this during the campaign in 2008), preparing for governance is too critical to ignore and transparency is too important a democratic value to sacrifice.

Second, in order for candidates to do this, it is important that the news media not take the bait. A candidate who openly begins to plan for her transition need not be accused of “measuring the drapes” as candidates have been in the past. Early transition planning is prudent and necessary, not a sign of presumption

Third, it’s very important that Congress take its oversight responsibilities serious on this issue. Regular hearings on how the federal government is preparing for a possible transition should be held. A good first step is to make sure the White House and General Services Administration (GSA) are adhering to the Presidential Transition Improvements Act of 2015, including preparing to name a White House transition office and federal transition coordinator in May of the election year. Such hearings would also offer an opportunity to reflect on what transpired during the transition in 2016 and reach consensus on how to do it better.

The reality of the 2020 campaign will not make any of this easy. Unlike 2008 and 2016, when a transition was guaranteed, Trump is going to be running as an incumbent, meaning there will be no transition if he wins re-election.

Nonetheless, Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyMichelle Obama to Simone Biles: 'We are proud of you and we are rooting for you' Aly Raisman defends former teammate Biles: 'I'm proud of her' Mitt Romney praises Simone Biles following withdrawal from team event MORE’s 2012 campaign offers a useful model. His team began planning early, carefully, and transparently. He was ready to govern on day one, even though he ultimately lost the election. In fact, Sen.-elect Romney (R-Utah) is the perfect person to lead Congress in ensuring the lead up to 2020 is just as organized and the country just as safe. Failing to do this, places us all at too great a risk.

Heath Brown is the author of “Lobbying the New President." Brown is an associate professor of public policy at City University of New York, CUNY Graduate Center and John Jay College.