Staffing a New Administration: A Guide to Personnel Appointments in a Presidential Transition

The transition to a new administration is as much of a challenge for journalists as it is for the president-elect and his team. When the new president takes office, thousands of people will join him to staff the senior positions in the executive branch of government. As former Secretary of State William Rogers once said, “Each appointment is a little drama of its own.” So there are many stories to report.

But many journalists have never covered a presidential transition before, and no two transitions are the same. It’s a challenge to know where the most interesting stories are likely to occur and often a bigger challenge to bring the necessary context and understanding to reporting those stories.

One of the goals of The Presidential Appointee Initiative is to ensure that Americans know who is being chosen to lead their government, how those choices are made and why some people were selected and others were not. Assisting journalists in their efforts to cover the new administration’s staffing activities is one of the best means of accomplishing that goal.

There are important long-term questions here as well. Are the American people well-served by the contemporary appointments process? Does it ensure and abet a steady flow of the most talented and experienced citizens into government at the highest levels? Does it work with enough efficiency and rationality to permit the winner in the presidential election to impose his own sense of direction and policy priorities on the federal government and to do so without undue delay?

This paper is an effort to distill several decades of study and analysis into a concise package of factual and historical information about previous presidential transitions and to add some context for understanding the one that will begin in the fall of 2000. We hope this will help journalists to see the current transition, and especially its staffing activities, more clearly and to report its events fairly and accurately. That is the sole purpose of this paper.

The Presidential Appointee Initiative (PAI) is a project of the Brookings Institution funded by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. PAI has three primary goals: (1) to serve as a nonpartisan, full-service resource for the next class of presidential appointees; (2) to seek pragmatic, fundamental reforms that will lead to a faster, more supportive and more efficient appointments process; and (3) to renew America’s commitment to the ideal of public service. PAI is led by a distinguished advisory board, co-chaired by Franklin D. Raines, Chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and former Senator Nancy Kassebaum Baker.