We the Partnership

Why the transition isn’t over: What’s next for the Biden administration

By Katie Sun | April 29, 2021

On April 22, the Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center co-hosted a virtual event featuring former senior administration officials to examine the first 100 days of President Joe Biden’s administration and the ongoing presidential transition process. The bipartisan panel discussed major milestones in the transition to governing, how previous administrations approached the beginning of a new presidency, and how the Biden administration can accomplish key personnel, management and policy goals in the next 100 days.

The panel shared insights into the primary topic of the event: the first 100 days of a new administration. Chris Lu, former deputy secretary of labor under President Obama, noted that public expectations for the first 100 days of a new administration can be unrealistically high because it must respond nimbly to changing priorities and crises right from the start. “No one loves to be judged by this 100-day mark—it’s a media creation,” he said.

Janet Napolitano, former secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, emphasized that filling key political employees is a lengthy and constant process. She said, “the [first] 100 days is an artificial metric. … You lose sight of how long transitions really are. … I almost wish the 100-days mark would go away. It won’t, but I wish it would.”

The discussion included each of the panelists reflecting on their own experiences working on presidential transitions. Lu spoke about how early transition planning can ensure continuity of government and enable a new administration to execute its policy objectives. Lu shared that the 2008 Obama team began this planning six months before Election Day, operating a “secret” office above a sub sandwich shop on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C.

Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff to President Reagan, added that building a partnership between the incoming and outcoming administration is critical to a seamless transition. He noted that the hallmark of the Carter to Reagan and Reagan to Bush transitions was teamwork—something sorely lacking during the 2020 transition cycle—and suggested that the focus should be not just on personnel, but on all aspects of the transition.

The panelists also discussed the challenges of filling more than 4,000 political appointments, roughly 1,200 of which require Senate confirmation. “I think the process needs to be fixed,” Lu said, while addressing the immense task of having to quickly replace an entire “senior leadership board.” Duberstein added that “the Senate confirmation process needs to be revised… so that things move more quickly, people are in place and the government can function.”

Sean O’Keefe, former NASA administrator under President George W. Bush, echoed this sentiment, arguing that political “horse trading” extends an already lengthy vetting process.  O’Keefe proposed that a fixed confirmation time frame could move the process along by not allowing time for it to stall.

The first few months of a new administration is critical to it success—and early transition planning and strong partnerships between incoming and outgoing administrations can lay the groundwork for a strong presidency. However, presidential transitions extend far beyond the first 100 days of a new administration.

“100 days is a cliché,” said Ann Compton, a former White House correspondent for ABC News. “It is not a number that’s based in any kind of reality… [Transitions] can last throughout the entire first year, and that’s why… our meeting today is called: It isn’t over.”

Watch the full event recording below.

Katie Sun is a former intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.