Transition teams for Mitt Romney, President Obama start planning early

Al Kamen
Columnist July 20, 2012

Mitt Romney’s transition team has been quietly meeting in recent weeks with General Services Administration officials to talk about planning for a Romney White House.

Stop! Do not start tweeting, “He’s measuring the drapes!” and other such nonsense. Early transition planning is essential. And President Obama’s team also has touched base with GSA, we’re hearing.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The Presidential Transition Act of 2010, in play for the first time, encourages, almost mandates, that candidates begin transition plans in earnest starting right after the party conventions at the end of August and early September.

Congress passed the legislation because, especially in a post- Sept. 11 world, presidential transitions — with hundreds of staff members and major policy, personnel and other tasks to be completed in a limited time — have become too important to wait until the dust settles in November.

Under the law, GSA is going to do pretty much what it would normally do after the election: provide office space, secure communication, printing and binding, furniture and equipment, and other assistance, said former senator Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), who sponsored the 2010 measure.

What it doesn’t do is pay for staff salaries, consultants, mail, travel and so forth. The campaigns have to raise money for that.

Obviously, Obama would have an easier time in transition.

“They can talk to people and ask them to stay in their jobs for a while longer,” said Clay Johnson , who ran George W. Bush’s transition team in 2000. “There is less ‘new’ that has to be dealt with and fewer incoming job-seekers and advice-givers,” he added, “and more time to deal with it.”

John Podesta , who worked on President Bill Clinton’s 1996 transition and headed the 2008 Obama transition, recalled the 1996 operation was “not a far-flung effort,” although there was plenty to do.

“There’s some continuity in personnel,” he said, but you have to decide “who to keep, who to walk to the exits, who you beg to stay. And you have to do this in the context of a lame-duck session” and the possible fiscal cliff. “It’s also a time to set the priorities and tee up the strategies for the key policy initiatives of the second term,” he said.

In contrast, Romney’s transition, headed by former Utah governor and Bush II Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt , would bring in a new Cabinet and thousands of political appointees, plus a new budget.

The team can’t really do all that needs to be done in the 75 days from election to inauguration, Johnson said, “so they have to start early, doing more work and early work to be really prepared. This [jump-start] is a very good thing.”

Both sides “believe in their hearts that they are going to be elected,” he noted, so “they should be working very hard to be ready — or we shouldn’t take them seriously as candidates.”

Policing body art

If you notice that your friendly Capitol Police officer appears a little more clean-cut, you might thank (or blame, depending on your aesthetics) proposed new rules governing the tattoos, piercings, brands, etc., that the Hill’s cops may show.

Under the regulations, first reported by National Journal, tattoos or other body markings may cover no more than a third of an officer’s exposed flesh. Previous rules encouraged officers to cover their body art whenever possible. We assume the higher-ups will tote tape measures to enforce this.

Flashing offensive and profane ink also would be a no-no, including art that indicates “criminal gang affiliation, depictions of sexually explicit art, nudity, or violence, etc.”

Guess that would make them the fashion police as well.

The rules, contained in a larger manual on internal policies under the heading “Personal Grooming,” are typical for many police forces, Lt. Kimberly Schneider, a police spokeswoman, tells the Loop. And lest any officers feel caught off guard, “Acting Chief Tom Reynolds has delayed implementation of some directives while he continues working with the union about any concerns they might have,” she added.

It seems officers with tattoos that might put them on the wrong side of the rules have a few uncomfortable options: tattoo removal (ouch!) or wearing long sleeves and pants in the brutally hot Washington summer (ugh).

Bad guys (P)R us

Are you a foreign government with a stubborn image problem? Wondering how to spin those crackdowns on free speech or your propensity for jailing your critics? We might have the PR firm for you!

New York-based Brown Lloyd James just picked up the Washington Embassy of Ecuador as a client, to the tune of $30,000 a month, as noted in the PR industry bible O’Dwyers.

Brown Lloyd James sounds like a good fit for the job. It has experience, after all, in working with bad-guy governments whose reputations need considerable help. The firm fearlessly flacked for Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, pitching American media stories — such as the profile of Assad in Vogue magazine — even as her husband’s military was cracking down on dissidents. It also once helped promote the regime of now-deceased Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. The head of the Public Relations Society of America called the work for Syria and Libya “distinctly against the ethical tenets of modern public relations.”

Ecuador’s Washington presence is clearly in need of some glass-half-full messaging as the country faces a host of what PR folks euphemistically call “challenges.” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seeking political asylum there; it looks like the country will defy Western sanctions to buy Iranian oil; and then there’s the matter of President Rafael Correa’s heavy-handed attempts to silence his critics in the media.

Brown Lloyd James took pains to distinguish Ecuador from less savory nations.

“We believe in the importance of broadening relationships with countries that are recognized by official U.S. diplomacy,” the firm said in a statement. “The U.S. and Ecuador enjoy strong security, commercial, and cultural relations. With more than 1.5 million Ecuadorians living in America, thousands of Americans living in Ecuador, and thriving business and civil society interactions, deeper understanding is essential. We are happy to play a role in that.”

According to filings with the Justice Department, the firm plans to help Ecuador with general public relations, “particularly regarding the US-Ecuador relationship.”

Good luck with that.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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