Presidential Transitions Legislative History: 1963 to 2016

Presidential Transitions 1963 to Present
Since the 1960 election between Kennedy and Nixon was separated by about 113,000 popular votes and Nixon won 26 states to Kennedy’s 22, Nixon also won more counties and cities against a popular vote percentage favored by Kennedy 49.72 to Nixon’s 49.55. Kennedy was declared President due to a 303 to 219 win in the Electoral College yet the last time a contiguous presidential election captivated the public and political establishment was 1916 when Wilson defeated Charles Hughes by 23 Electoral College votes and 500, 000 popular votes.
Fully three years after the election, the question for the 88th Congress addressed for the first time in US history was how to assume and ensure a smooth transition of power. The debate centered on a public vs private option since every election’s transition to power in United States history to include Kennedy / Nixon was paid by private interests and political parties. Despite public funding vs special interest concerns, seven election cycles passed since 1937 when presidential inauguration was moved to January 20 under a new 80 day timeline to organize a new government and incorporate policy prescriptions. The Congressional Research Service reports in a 2008 paper, Kennedy not only established the Presidential Commission on Campaign Costs but Dwight Eisenhower spent $200,000 on transition expenses and Kennedy $360,000. Kennedy began the advocacy of public option when the Democratic Party funded transition costs.
The Presidential Transition Act of 1963, H.R. 4638, failed in the House, passed the Senate and later became law by Conference Report votes. Nay votes in the House total 200 Democrats Vs 143 Republicans and 20 Democrat and nine Republican yeas. Present votes accounted for 60 as 42 Democrats voted present V 18 Republicans. To total, 29 yeas V 349 nays and 60 voted present.
The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 provided for the orderly transition to power to include incoming as well as outgoing administrations. The key word to orderly is after elections because the $900,000 appropriated by law to transitions was released followed by election outcomes. Orderly also assumes a new administration because incumbents fail eligibility to receive transition funds. Covered under the 1963 law and valid today is Presidents as well as Vice Presidents, incoming as well as outgoing.
Funding to new administrations is provided to the General Service Administration whose responsibility is to assist in the transition support process by providing services, office space, communications, travel and pay to incoming and outgoing administrative staff.
The Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1988, passed in the 100th Congress increased funding to $3.5 million to incoming and $1.5 million to outgoing administrations on an Inflation adjusted basis. In kind donation transparency as well as full financial disclosures were required for support staff and transition team members. A $5,000 cap was instituted from private persons as well as full declaration of names. Full enumeration of donations were not only required but subject to audit by the Comptroller of the Currency.
The 2000 Presidential Transition Act in the 106th Congress expanded GSA duties to transition by inclusion of training to senior staff and department heads, financial disclosure from presidential nominees, workshops, briefings, training and orientation, Ethics and Presidential records. The GSA was appropriated an additional $1 million to perform its expanded duties. Transition funds were appropriated yet held until the Bush/ Gore Florida question was settled by the Supreme Court. Bush was appropriated $4.27 million and $1.83 to Clinton.
The Pre Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 began the transfer of power from post to pre election as Transition services, plans and coordination becomes available to “eligible” candidates.
If an eligible candidate is on a sufficient number of state ballots, recognized by the Commission on Presidential Debates and is above about 50% in political polls then a candidate qualifies for GSA services until the General election. An eligible candidate must pass a security clearance under the 2004 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act. Candidates are eligible in May and establish a Transition Coordination Council to adjust, plan and communicate with the GSA. Candidate expenses are paid by campaigns while reimbursements from GSA funds are established by Memorandums of Understanding. For the 2016 election, $13 million was authorized to candidates and $9 million for post transition activities.
In Senate bill 1172, the Ted Kaufman and Michael Leavitt Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015 addresses budgets for management and custody of presidential records for each year in office. The General Accounting Office must report to specified congressional committees final and significant regulatory actions in the last 120 days of Presidential administrations. Significant is quantified by a regulation may affect the economy by $100 million to include the environment, productivity, jobs, public works, safety, health. Significant further refers to regulations and effects to create agency inconsistencies and alter budgets on loans, entitlements, grants and user fees. Regulatory effects encompasses past as well as future administrations. Homeland Security must provide to candidates a report on threats to national security as it may relate to campaign and transition periods.
In 1963 to 1964 based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the Federal Government employed a total of 200,000 employees on a seasonally adjusted basis, 3.1 million by 1991 and 2.8 million today. Number of political appointments as required to report in the 2015 law must be provided to congressional committees by the Office of Personnel Management for the purpose to complete the overall mission to smooth transition to Executive power.

Brian Twomey is a 20 year college professor of Political Science, brian@btwomey.com

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