Bush Creates Council for Transition

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 10, 2008

President Bush created a special council yesterday to guide the transition to a new administration, another step toward the end of Bush's eight tumultuous years in office.

Under an executive order signed by Bush, a newly created Presidential Transition Coordinating Council will meet Wednesday to begin mapping out an orderly handoff to Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama.

The McCain and Obama campaigns have already begun preparations for a possible transition. The White House said the administration has been working with representatives from both sides since the summer and has provided security clearances for key aides.

"It has probably never been more critical that a transition from an administration, from one to the next, is as seamless as possible," said Dana Perino, White House press secretary. "Our nation is at war, we are dealing with a financial crisis and we are trying to protect ourselves from terrorist attacks."

The team will be chaired by White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and will include at least 14 other senior officials such as the attorney general, the national intelligence director and the national archivist, according to the order.

"It shall be the policy of the Council to provide appropriate information and assistance to the major party candidates on an equal basis," the order stated.

Presidential transitions have often proved chaotic, particularly in late 2000, when public and political attention were riveted on the disputed election between Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore. Senior officials often take months to be appointed, and chronic delays in the government's security clearance procedures only exacerbate the problem, according to government officials and outside experts.

In its landmark 2004 report, the 9/11 Commission found that widespread vacancies and a slow appointment process hampered the government's national security apparatus before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Paul C. Light, a professor of public policy at New York University, said he is concerned that the size and complexity of Bush's transition council "could do much more harm than good," in part by creating extra layers of bureaucracy.

"My view is that it's pretty a much restatement of what presidents have historically always done, but it's longer," Light said of the order. "Basically it says if you want some help, you can call us. . . . But it also creates a lot of bureaucracy."

In 2000 after the November election, then-President Bill Clinton established a similar council. Perino said the Bush administration is "doing more than has been done before," in part because of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the financial crisis, and other pressing issues.

New provisions in an intelligence reform law have allowed the administration to work more directly with presidential candidates before the election, Perino said.

"Each candidate's designees have been treated equitably," Perino said. "All information that is shared with one is shared with the other and at the same time."

Neither presidential campaign has been eager to talk about its transition plans, in part to avoid appearing overconfident. Obama was criticized by Republicans as "presumptuous" after he began making transition plans over the summer.

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