Focusing On Presidential Transition Planning Now Isn’t Presumptuous; It’s Necessary

Our guest blogger is P.J. Crowley, a Senior Fellow and the Director of Homeland Security at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Yesterday, the Obama campaign acknowledged that it is already focused on transition planning. The retort from the McCain campaign was to call this an example of “poor judgment.” On the contrary, it demonstrates a campaign that really understands the complex world and pressures that the next president will face.

This interesting exchange between the McCain and Obama campaigns says a lot about not only which candidate has experience, but what he is actually doing with that experience. What is interesting is that the action and reaction is contradicted by current political perceptions.

With apologies to Jules Verne, you may be able to go around the world in 80 days, but you cannot form a government in such a short time. The British have a formal concept of a shadow government, since in a parliamentary system, transitions can occur fairly rapidly. The United States does not, and the period between November 4 and January 20 is hardly enough time for a president-elect to win, celebrate, recruit and vet a substantial senior leadership team that he knows will work effectively together and ensure that his essential policy pillars are on realistic footing.


If we learned anything from 9/11, it is that world events won’t wait for the new president to get his feet on the ground. The Bush administration was unfocused. Only a fraction of its leadership was in place, and it was seriously divided on major policy questions and governing philosophy. Policies were made up as events went along. Major mistakes were made, such as a trillion dollar conflict in Iraq largely unrelated to al Qaeda.

Here at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, we have launched a Homeland Security Presidential Transition Initiative to help the president-elect, regardless of who wins, assess what will need to be done during the transition and in the first year to keep the country safe. We hope to create a dialogue on these issues before November. The campaigns must be thinking and planning as well, even if homeland security is not a major campaign issue.

Why is this important? Attempted attacks have become a staple of groups like al Qaeda. Given this heightened risk, one of our earliest conclusions was that the two candidates cannot wait until November to focus on this challenge. Advance work will be necessary to have an effective leadership team ready, establish relationships with key stakeholders across the country, prepare the public for what lies ahead and outline concrete priorities for the first 100 days and first year in office.

This is not being presumptuous. Actually, it is being presidential.