President Obama may have nearly another 11 months in office, but under a new bill that passed Congress on Monday, his administration will have to begin preparing to turn over the keys as early as May.
The legislation, which the House approved by voice vote on Monday evening following passage by the Senate last year, requires the president to establish a pair of transition councils six months before the election. The goal is both to help the government withstand the departure of hundreds of political appointees before Obama’s term ends and to assist the major candidates with the Herculean task of staffing the government upon taking office. What it also means in practice is that the Obama administration could be meeting with advisers to both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump—or Marco Rubio or Bernie Sanders—long before they formally accept their party’s nominations in July.
The bill is the outgrowth of a 15-year effort to improve the presidential transition process, and it builds upon a law enacted in 2010 that required the government, through the General Services Administration, to offer transition services to the major-party nominees before the election. “An outgoing administration, even under current law, is in essence required to do nothing to hand off in an effective way. This legislation changes that,” said Max Stier, founding president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, which last month established a Center for Presidential Transition to help candidates navigate the process.