Bill would help smooth presidential transitions

(J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
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By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 20, 2010

At least four senators are thinking about 2012 -- not so much the elections themselves, but the practical logistics of the transfer of power that is always a possibility in presidential elections.

Sens. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) -- four longtime advocates for better government management -- have introduced the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act, which would adopt several recommendations from a January report that called on the Senate to confirm a new administration's 50 officials at the departments of defense, homeland security, justice, state and Treasury on or shortly after Inauguration Day.

Though the new bill does not set a timetable for the Senate confirmation process, it would require the General Services Administration to provide presidential candidates deemed eligible by the Commission on Presidential Debates with office space, communication services, training and expedited security clearances once they secure their party's nomination. Candidates also could establish tax-exempt accounts that could receive donations of up to $5,000 per person to cover transition-related expenses.

"It must become the norm for any major-party nominee to begin making arrangements for a transition long before Election Day. We can't afford to leave something this important to chance," Kaufman said last week as the bill was introduced. He consulted the Obama-Biden transition team before his appointment to Vice President Biden's former Senate seat.

The senators applauded the efforts of George W. Bush's administration toward a smooth transition but acknowledged that future administrations might be unwilling or unable to match them. The legislation would establish a transition coordination council of top White House staffers and officials from the GSA, the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management and a similar council of career agency staffers.

The report by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service found that the campaigns of Barack Obama and John McCain quietly began their transition efforts in spring 2008, well before the national party conventions. Obama's campaign spent at least $400,000 on its planning and McCain budgeted about $30,000. Officials quoted in the report differed on when transitions should begin, with some saying the start of a campaign while others said planning should stay secret to avoid potential political headaches.


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