The routine and peaceful transfer of power from one presidential administration to the next is a hallmark of American democracy, and the process is on display again following November 4th's national elections. The 2008 presidential race was a long and divisive one, coming at a pivotal time in the country's history. The United States, however, has seen other such campaigns, and after all the votes were counted, Americans pulled together to move forward as one nation to meet the challenges facing them.
There are just over 9 weeks until President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20, 2009. During the transition, he must select his senior White House staff, 14 cabinet secretaries, and as many sub-cabinet and agency appointments as possible so he can begin governing on Day One.
Even before Election Day, and without knowing who would succeed him, President George Bush issued orders to his cabinet and staff to commit themselves to ensure a smooth and effective transition. Now that the votes are in, federal agencies and White House offices are preparing briefings for the President-elect's team on significant pending issues, as well as insight on how those agencies and offices work.
If President Bush's appointees leave office before Inauguration Day, career government public servants are ready to assume added responsibilities until new agency leaders are in place. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the State Department will do all it can to make the transition smooth in the execution of foreign policy.
The 2-month gap between Election and Inauguration days strikes some as cumbersome, given the urgency for addressing the economic problems facing the U.S. and indeed the world. The launch of a successful presidency and the programs aimed at addressing those problems require planning, however, and the American system of presidential transitions provides the time and opportunity to accomplish this.