The Transition to Governing Project
AEI Newsletter

AEI is undertaking a three-year project to study and facilitate the transition from campaigning to governing at the federal level. The Transition to Governing Project is funded by a major grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts and will be conducted at AEI in conjunction with the Brookings Institution and the Hoover Institution. In January, the project hosted two significant events at AEI: a luncheon discussion of the future of presidential transitions and an advisory council meeting of top executives of think tanks across the political spectrum.

"This project aims to create a political climate that focuses on governing as we enter the next election cycle and to prepare the nation for governing after the 2000 elections," noted Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at AEI and director of the project. The theme of governing is evident in the project’s two broad areas of study. First, the project will examine how governing is affected by the phenomenon identified by political scientists as the permanent campaign. Second, the project will make recommendations that will enable future presidents to get their people in place and their policy initiatives considered expeditiously.

Regarding the permanent campaign, the project will undertake the first comprehensive study of the recent tendency for campaigning to permeate all aspects of political life. Although there exists a wealth of anecdotes about a constant campaign, the permanent campaign as a larger concept—its genesis, its causes, and its effect on politics and policymaking—has not been fully explored. Neither has there been a thorough study of the permanent campaign’s many constituent parts, such as the unending search for campaign cash, the new advertising strategies of politicians and outside interests, the more ideological and less personal campaign, and the criminalization of policy differences. To better understand how our nation can focus on governing at a time when campaigning is dominant, the project has assembled some of the country’s best political scientists. Their involvement will begin with a conference this spring and will culminate in a major public conference around a book that will be published in 2000, when the campaign season is underway.

The second area of study is directed at enabling new administrations to hit the ground running. In the initial, pre-campaign stage, the project will study past transitions and will make recommendations for the future. Groups of policymakers, scholars, and journalists will be convened on a regular basis to study past presidential transitions, the role of the media in campaigns, the special problems foreign policy poses for transitions, and the place of pollsters in the campaign and the administration.

The project will also assist transition teams by making recommendations about how to improve the appointment and nomination processes so that an administration can get good people and put them in place quickly. Under the Kennedy administration, the average appointee was confirmed two-and-a-half months after the president’s inauguration; that figure rose to an average of nine months under Bush and Clinton. The project is working with key lawmakers, the White House personnel office, and the Council for Excellence in Government to streamline the process. In addition, the project is developing a website to reduce the paperwork nightmare that appointees face. The program will put all the relevant forms online, and it will enable nominees to enter information only once and to file some forms electronically.

The Transition to Governing Project starts with broad bipartisan support. While various groups will have different perspectives on the policy preferences of future administrations, all can agree that the governing process needs improvement. Along these lines, Mr. Ornstein of AEI will be joined by Thomas Mann, director of governmental studies at the Brookings Institution, and by David Brady, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, as the lead scholars on the project. Further, the project has assembled an advisory council of top think tank executives from a range of organizations that includes the Urban Institute, the Heritage Foundation, RAND, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Progressive Policy Institute.

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