United States presidential transition

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A presidential transition or presidential interregnum refers to the period of time between the end of a presidential election and the inauguration of a new President of a country. During this time the incoming President usually designates new government personnel, including selecting new Cabinet positions and government department or agency heads.

In the United States, during a presidential transition, the outgoing "lame duck" President has lost many of the intangible benefits of a Presidency (e.g., being perceived as the default leader on issues of national importance) but the incoming President-elect is not yet legally empowered to affect policy. This ambiguity in the roles of the President-elect and outgoing President creates the potential for a leadership vacuum, which may be most acutely felt during wartime or times of economic crisis.

The Presidential transition process for the United States culminates with the mostly ceremonial Presidential inauguration. The period leading up to the date and time of the inauguration provides time for agencies to consolidate and prepare for the transfer of both Federal and Presidential records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). NARA's mission for the American Presidency is to "preserve" and "present" Presidential records for historic purposes.[1][2]

Notable transitions

Perhaps the most known transition in US history was the 1860-1861 transition from the administration of James Buchanan to that of Abraham Lincoln. Buchanan held the opinion that states did not have the right to secede, but that it was also illegal for the Federal government to go to war to stop them. Between the election on November 6, 1860 and inauguration on March 4, 1861, seven states seceded and conflict between secessionist and federal forces began, leading to the American Civil War between the Northern and Southern states.

The Presidential transition period at the end of the administration of Herbert Hoover, prior to the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt (November 8, 1932 — March 4, 1933) was a difficult transition period. After the election, Roosevelt refused Hoover's requests for a meeting to come up with a joint program to stop the downward spiral and calm investors, claiming it would tie his hands, and as this "guaranteed that Roosevelt took the oath of office amid such an atmosphere of crisis that Hoover had become the most hated man in America".[3] During this period of essentially leaderless government, the U.S. economy ground to a halt as thousands of banks failed.[4] The relationship between Hoover and Roosevelt was one of the most strained between Presidents. While Hoover had little good to say about his successor, there was little he could do. FDR, however, supposedly could and did engage in various petty official acts aimed at his predecessor, ranging from dropping him from the White House birthday greetings message list to having Hoover's name struck from the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River border, which would officially be known only as Boulder Dam for many years to come.[citation needed]

On a more petty level, the transition between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush was marred by accusations of "damage, theft, vandalism and pranks". The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated the cost of those pranks at $13,000 to $14,000. However, they note that similar pranks were reported in prior transitions, including the one from Bush's father to Clinton in 1993.[5] Press secretary Ari Fleischer followed up the GAO report with a White House-produced list of alleged vandalism including removal of the W key from keyboards.[6] The Clintons were also accused of keeping for themselves gifts meant for the White House.[7] The Clintons denied the accusations, but agreed to pay more than $85,000 for gifts given to the first family "to eliminate even the slightest question" of impropriety.[8]

The transition between Bush and Barack Obama was considered seamless, with Bush granting Obama's request to ask Congress to release $350 billion of bank bailout funds.[9] At the start of his inaugural speech, Obama praised Bush "for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition".[10]

The White House website was redesigned and “cut over” at exactly 12:01pm, January 20, 2009. In addition to the January 20, 2009 at 12:01pm threshold, the Bush Administration successfully transferred all electronic records for the Presidential components within the Executive Office of the President to the NARA. Included in these records was more than 80 Terabytes of data, more than 200 million emails and 4 million photos.[11] Just as important however, the Information system was provided to the Obama administration without a single electronic record from the previous administration. Not only were emails and photos removed from the environment at the 12:01pm threshold, data elements like phone numbers of individual offices and upcoming meetings for the senior staff were also removed. This was described by some as a "new inaugural tradition spawned by the Internet-age".[12]

New Whitehouse Website at 12:01PM January 20, 2009


In the United States, the presidential transition extends from the day of the US presidential election (which occurs in November), until the 20th day of January as specified in the Twentieth Amendment. The presidential transition is regulated by The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 (P.L. 88-277),[13] amended by The Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1998 (P.L. 100-398) [14] and The Presidential Transition Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-293).[15][16] The Act as amended directs the Administrator of General Services to provide facilities, funding of approximately five million dollars, access to government services, and support for a transition team, and to provide training and orientation of new government personnel and other procedures to ensure an orderly transition.

The President-elect will also usually appoint a 'presidential transition team' during the campaign to prepare for a smooth transfer of power following the presidential inauguration. A law enacted by the United States Congress in 2016 requires the incumbent President to establish "transition councils" by June of an election year to facilitate the eventual handover of power.[17]

The National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), meanwhile, launched a new program called "Transition 2016" in 2016. Led by Ed DeSeve and David S. C. Chu, the program was described by NAPA as one which provide management and procedural advice to the leading candidates in establishing transition teams.[18]

List of US presidential transitions

Outgoing President Transition begins
(Election Day)
Transition ends
(Inauguration Day)
Incoming President
Barack Obama November 8, 2016 January 20, 2017 TBD
George W. Bush November 4, 2008 January 20, 2009 Barack Obama
Bill Clinton November 7, 2000
(December 12, 2000)[19]
January 20, 2001 George W. Bush
George H. W. Bush November 3, 1992 January 20, 1993 Bill Clinton
Ronald Reagan November 8, 1988 January 20, 1989 George H. W. Bush
Jimmy Carter November 4, 1980 January 20, 1981 Ronald Reagan
Gerald Ford November 2, 1976 January 20, 1977 Jimmy Carter
Lyndon B. Johnson November 5, 1968 January 20, 1969 Richard Nixon
Dwight Eisenhower November 8, 1960 January 20, 1961 John F. Kennedy
Harry Truman November 4, 1952 January 20, 1953 Dwight Eisenhower
Herbert Hoover November 8, 1932 March 4, 1933 Franklin Roosevelt
Calvin Coolidge November 6, 1928 March 4, 1929 Herbert Hoover
Woodrow Wilson November 2, 1920 March 4, 1921 Warren Harding
William Taft November 5, 1912 March 4, 1913 Woodrow Wilson
Theodore Roosevelt November 3, 1908 March 4, 1909 William Taft
Grover Cleveland November 3, 1896 March 4, 1897 William McKinley
Benjamin Harrison November 8, 1892 March 4, 1893 Grover Cleveland
Grover Cleveland November 6, 1888 March 4, 1889 Benjamin Harrison
Chester Arthur November 4, 1884 March 4, 1885 Grover Cleveland
Rutherford Hayes November 2, 1880 March 4, 1881 James Garfield
Ulysses Grant November 7, 1876
(March 2, 1877)[20]
March 4, 1877[21] Rutherford Hayes
Andrew Johnson November 3, 1868 March 4, 1869 Ulysses Grant
James Buchanan November 6, 1860 March 4, 1861 Abraham Lincoln
Franklin Pierce November 4, 1856 March 4, 1857 James Buchanan
Millard Fillmore November 2, 1852 March 4, 1853 Franklin Pierce
James Polk November 7, 1848 March 4, 1849[22] Zachary Taylor
John Tyler December 4, 1844 March 4, 1845 James Polk
Martin Van Buren December 2, 1840 March 4, 1841 William Harrison
Andrew Jackson December 7, 1836 March 4, 1837 Martin Van Buren
John Quincy Adams December 3, 1828 March 4, 1829 Andrew Jackson
James Monroe February 9, 1825[23] March 4, 1825 John Quincy Adams
James Madison 1816 March 4, 1817 James Monroe
Thomas Jefferson 1808 March 4, 1809 James Madison
John Adams February 17, 1801[24] March 4, 1801 Thomas Jefferson
George Washington 1796 March 4, 1797 John Adams

See also


  1. http://www.archives.gov/about/info/mission.html
  2. https://www.archives.gov/presidential-libraries/about/faqs.html
  3. Gibbs, Nancy (November 10, 2008). "When New President Meets Old, It's Not Always Pretty". TIME. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Rudney, Robert. "Lessons Learned from the 1932-1933 Presidential Transition". www.commondreams.org. Retrieved 2008-10-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Pear, Robert (June 12, 2002). "White House Vandalized In Transition, G.A.O. Finds". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Evans, Mike (June 3, 2001). "Bush aide details alleged Clinton staff vandalism". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on June 10, 2001.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Gifts Were Not Meant for Clintons, Some Donors Say". The Washington Post. February 5, 2001. Retrieved May 27, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Tripp: I was told not to record White House gifts". CNN. February 9, 2001. Retrieved May 27, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. [1][dead link]
  10. [2] Archived January 30, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  11. https://www.archives.gov/era/acera/presentations/bush-elec-records.ppt.
  12. "Topic Galleries". Courant.com. Retrieved 2012-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Presidential Transition Act of 1963". www.gsa.gov. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-28. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "The Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1998". www.gsa.gov. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-28. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Presidential Transition Act of 2000". www.gsa.gov. Archived from the original on November 21, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-28. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "S. 2705". www.senate.gov. Retrieved 2010-02-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Berman, Russell (March 1, 2016). "Congress Tells Obama to Start Planning His Departure". The Atlantic. Retrieved May 6, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Academy Launches Presidential Transition 2016 Initiative". National Academy of Public Administration. Retrieved May 6, 2016.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Date recount was halted by Supreme Court order.
  20. Date the contested election was certified by Congress
  21. Hayes took his inauguration oath privately on March 3 and publicly on March 5.
  22. Taylor was sworn in on March 5.
  23. Date Adams was elected by the House of Representatives
  24. Date Jefferson was elected by the House of Representatives