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Early transition plan a must, former presidential aides say

by Frank E. Lockwood | October 2, 2016 at 3:20 a.m. | Updated October 1, 2016 at 3:20 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Whoever wins the presidential election will need a strong transition plan and can't afford to wait until after Election Day to start drafting it, officials with the Center for Presidential Transition said Friday.

Speaking at the National Press Club, former White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty and Clay Johnson, the director of George W. Bush's 2000 transition team, agreed that procrastination is not an option. McLarty worked for then-President Bill Clinton.

McLarty, a Hope native like Bill Clinton, said transition time is "a critical period" and the handoff of power is "a monumental undertaking."

And the importance of the task has become clearer since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he said.

Before 9/11, "there was an understandable feeling on almost every presidential candidate, certainly on the part of Gov. Clinton [in 1992], that if you started the transition too early, it was viewed as certainly off-key, arrogant, measuring the proverbial drapes," he said. "Every presidential candidate had a natural tendency to be very careful in putting too many resources and focus on a transition. 9/11 changed that."

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "clearly changed the psyche of our country and our people," he said. "Particularly in this day and time, you've got to be ready Minute One."

Max Stier, the president of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, said the task is enormous, essential and never easy.

"We all learn as children that the peaceful transfer of power is one of the great things about our country. You're told it's peaceful, but no one tells you it's ugly," Stier said.

Seventy-some-odd days is not enough time to prepare for taking over "the most important, critical organization on the planet," he said.

There are millions of employees, a $4 trillion budget and 4,000 political appointees, including 1,100 who require Senate confirmation, he said.

Being prepared for the transfer of power on Jan. 20 is "a national security imperative. It's the moment of maximum weakness for our government," he said.

Sometimes, months elapse between the appointment of a Cabinet secretary and the confirmation of the political appointees who surround him.

The system must be sped up, and the U.S. Senate must work with the new administration to help make that happen, he added.

Johnson said the transition process has been transformed since he handled the task for Bush in 2000.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton have large transition teams in place that are planning for the handoff from President Barack Obama to his successor.

"Now they're causing the candidates to have 200 people to 300 people work on transition matters," Johnson said. "At this point in the election cycle, [Bush] had one person working on transition."

Obama's proposed fiscal 2016 budget included $13.3 million for activities authorized by the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010. The fiscal 2017 budget included another $9.5 million, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The advance work is needed, Johnson said.

"The complexity of our world, the challenges, the opportunities that we face domestically and internationally are so astounding. ... We, the American people, we deserve to have assurance that our president is going to be capable of leading whatever needs to be led the minute he or she is sworn in."

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