Working together, we can build a stronger government
Growing up in Southern California, assigned reading in elementary school taught us that people everywhere are all the same inside. At my high school, each senior class participated in a retreat that revealed that everyone, regardless of what clique they belonged to, had the same insecurities and longing for connection as everyone else. So it is no surprise that, arriving in Washington nearly 20 years ago, I was predisposed to believe that red and blue have more in common than not, and that it is possible for the political parties to find common ground and work together.
That sense of unity has been a theme in my career, and it brings me to the Partnership for Public Service and the Center for Presidential Transition. John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign was a motivation toward public service, and I moved to Washington, D.C. for an internship in the George W. Bush White House.
Colleagues there introduced me to the small team organizing the new Department of Homeland Security, where the group grew close addressing daily emergencies together. As a young person, it was a powerful lesson to witness leaders like White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge demonstrate care for their teams and humility to do their best for the president and the people in this country. Colleagues later connected me to a full-time job at the White House, where President Bush had stood up a Homeland Security Council after 9/11. When Barack Obama won the 2008 election, his team invited us to stay and help integrate homeland security work into the National Security Council staff.
Working for President Obama and his team over the next seven years confirmed this truth: that there are good people everywhere dedicating themselves to solve problems for the American people and the world. Each person, organization and administration will have strengths and weaknesses, but no group has a lock on the truth. But when we put our imperfect selves together for a common purpose, we can achieve great things.
This is especially true every four years in our country when a president must either transfer power to a successor or reevaluate priorities for a second term. As Partnership CEO Max Stier says, a U.S. presidential transition is the most consequential transfer of power in the world, with 2 million federal employees, 4,000 political appointees and thousands of programs providing safety and security to the country. With so much at stake, the teams surrounding the outgoing and incoming presidents are responsible to the people in this country to share information, provide continuity and empower a new president to enact campaign promises swiftly.
Lately, the national environment can seem to discourage this type of collaboration. In recent years, I returned to DHS, a place often in the news. But underneath any controversy, I saw countless examples every day of expert civil servants and hardworking political appointees working together across departments and agencies to tackle serious issues. The government is filled with people who appreciate and uphold the responsibility of service.
I am pleased to join the Center for Presidential Transition well before the next presidential campaign gets underway. While our country has a long history of peaceful transfers of power, laws such as the Presidential Transition Act and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act require regular examination to uphold this tradition. Like any system, we must review the Senate confirmation process for inefficiencies that delay a new president’s team. And we need to update the resources to prepare the next generation of dedicated people around the country waiting for their chance to serve.
A former boss of mine used to say that, when he’s on a plane, he’s rooting for the pilot. It is a privilege to play a role in helping future presidents succeed.
Visit presidentialtransition.org to learn more about the Center for Presidential Transition.