But now, Trump says he has “great respect” for the president. Obama didn’t return that compliment, but he does have respect for the peaceful transfer of power, even to someone he accurately recognizes is “uniquely unqualified to be president; is temperamentally unfit to be commander-in-chief.”
This transition is all the more important because Trump is so unprepared for the White House. With no governmental experience, his learning curve will be steeper than other presidents-elect. Plenty of assistance, starting with a gracious Obama, is available. He set a tone that many still reeling from election night will find difficult to accept.
“My number-one priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our president-elect is successful,” Obama said as the two met with reporters, a bust of Martin Luther King Jr. over Trump’s right shoulder.
To get a sense of what Trump should do to fill his deficits, the Federal Insider asked transition experts to suggest a to-do list for him. For an in-depth list of things to do, Trump can consult a wealth of materials published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Max Stier is president and chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, which created a Center for Presidential Transition. There are three main items on the center’s list:
- Prioritize key appointments: Get started on the 4,000 political appointees, especially the 1,100 requiring Senate confirmation. “President-elect Trump should have his White House staff and top 100 agency leaders in place immediately after Inauguration Day.”
- Prepare to turn campaign promises into policy: “The transition team should build out the new administration’s policy agenda and develop a management strategy for implementing those priorities.”
- Learn from career federal employees: Go beyond the rhetoric and recognize that the federal workforce “has many great and committed people,” as a Trump campaign statement said, is Stier’s advice. Trump should view federal employees, “the real engine of the government,” as “your most important asset,” he added by phone. But Trump would subject agencies to a poorly considered federal hiring freeze, his first 100-day “Contract With the American Voter” promises. “Job No. 1 is to bring in a qualified and effective team quickly,” Stier said. The transition “begins with people.”
The center’s 208-page Presidential Transition Guide should be required reading for Trump and his team. Its chapters cover everything from the “fundamentals of getting organized” to “transition planning for the first family.”
The Partnership for Public Service also offers “seven smart strategies” for the new administration, including creating “cross-agency teams required to make the promises real” and improving employee engagement.
Dan Blair, president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) and a former acting Office of Personnel Management director, said Trump should “turn from a campaign mindset to a governing mindset. Begin the process of building coalitions needed to establish a working majority for the president-elect’s agenda. This includes inviting leaders of the opposition party on the Hill to sit down privately with the President-elect.”
With Obama’s commitment to working with Trump and a law now facilitating the transition process, “the President-elect will find a much more Transition-prepared government than ever before,” Blair said by email. “This allows the act of governing, once the President-elect takes the Oath, to be potentially seamless, or at least avoid the mistakes of past Transitions.”
NAPA’s Transition 2016 initiative includes a report that, among other things, covers recruiting highly talented political appointees, a critical area especially for a president-elect who is a government rookie.
Another transition resource worth consulting is the human resources guide published by the Office of Personnel Management. It covers many in-the-weeds workplace topics that Trump probably won’t want to read, but somebody on his team should.
The GAO’s transition resources include a new smartphone app for easy access to many recommendations. The app and a website reflect GAO’s in-depth work in a variety of areas and provide information on key issues, high-risk problems and a proposed management agenda.
Obama promised Trump that the administration will do “everything we can to help you succeed — because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.”
If Trump succeeds at killing the Affordable Care Act, banning Muslims and overturning the president’s executive orders, Obama might rethink that last line.