The importance of chronicling presidential transitions
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The importance of chronicling presidential transitions

October 12, 2022 | Updated on October 11, 2022

The peaceful transfer of power is the cornerstone of American democracy that dates back to George Washington, who chose to step down after his second term and cede power to John Adams, his newly elected successor.

Seeking to preserve and strengthen this venerated tradition, the Partnership for Public Service has worked since 2008 to support transition teams and federal agencies in their work to execute the immense undertaking of sharing knowledge and preparing thousands of new federal leaders to help a new president succeed.

The Partnership formally launched its Center for Presidential Transition in 2016, and since then, we have sought new ways to engage the public, presidential candidates and their teams about this critical but often taken-for-granted process.

That’s why the Center launched its “Transition Lab” podcast during the 2020 presidential election cycle. David Marchick, the former Center director, and an outstanding team brought in former White House chiefs of staff, transition team leaders, unsung heroes of government and noted historians, including documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, to discuss the most successful and challenging transitions in our nation’s history.  

The lessons learned from past transitions proved especially helpful to understanding recent events, including the 2020 transition that was unlike any other in American history. The first transition to take place during a pandemic, the president-elect’s team had to organize remotely and adapt on the fly in the midst of a disputed election.

While “Transition Lab” continued to look back on what worked and what didn’t from previous transitions, it also broke down and made sense of events in real time. When President Donald Trump contested the 2020 election results, “Transition Lab” provided coverage and explanation of the legal requirements for the White House and the costs of delays in planning. “Transition Lab” became a critical resource for journalists and observers trying to make sense of and contextualize the events of 2020 and early 2021.

Presidential transitions book

This week, we are excited to share the library of knowledge compiled by the Center and through “Transition Lab” in narrative form. Our new book, “The Peaceful Transfer of Power: An Oral History of America’s Presidential Transitions,” makes accessible the many interviews, expertise and insights that came out of the “Transition Lab” podcast.

The book is a compelling read for people passionate about good governance and for future and past presidential transition personnel, policymakers and journalists who believe in safeguarding a hallmark of American democracy.

“The Peaceful Transfer of Power,” by David Marchick, Alexander Tippett and A.J. Wilson in affiliation with the Partnership, is now on sale. At the same time, the Center for Presidential Transition continues to dig deeper and issue new analyses on the history of presidential transitions, the lessons learned from 2020 and to develop resources for those who will be involved in 2024 transition planning.

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