(Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Item: Mitt Romney’s transition team spent $8.9 million of taxpayer funds before disbanding a few days after the election.

Expected reaction: Look, another obvious example of government waste.

 

The truth: This happened under a new law authored by short-term senator and Joe Biden replacement Ted Kaufman, and it’s terrific. No, it didn’t matter this time, but it’s certainly an important national instrument to help new presidents to begin their administrations well-prepared. And that doesn’t always happen; Bill Clinton’s presidency, for example, was severely harmed by an inferior transition.

I know what skeptics are thinking: Other nations have an almost immediate transition; why does the United States need not just the two months plus between Election Day and Jan. 20, but even more (taxpayer-funded) transition time before that?

Ah, but the United States is different, and incoming presidents need the time. For one thing, parliamentary systems generally choose their candidates for prime minister long before the election, and since that candidate is also their leader in parliament, it’s always someone who is very familiar with pretty much every important national issue. That’s not always the case in the United States. Not only that, but the prime minister’s cabinet is also already in place, or close to in place, before the campaign begins, so there’s less to do later.

Moreover, the United States has far more political control of the bureaucracy than do most comparable nations, which involves thousands of presidential appointments. There’s also the White House staff and the rest of the Executive Office of the Presidency to set up, more or less from scratch. 

So, yeah, there’s a lot to do, and during the rush of the campaign there’s a very good chance it isn’t going to get done, or at least it won’t be a high priority. Using some public money to push candidates into doing it is a great idea. Yes, it means that it’ll be “wasted” many times, but if it prevents awful transitions and wrecked or harmed presidencies, that’s an excellent investment.