Navigating The Transition In — And Out The transition doesn't just involve Cabinet appointments — there's also the work of determining just how the Obama White House will be run. And there's the side of transition that involves the outgoing administration, too.
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Navigating The Transition In — And Out

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Navigating The Transition In — And Out

Navigating The Transition In — And Out

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen. President-elect Barack Obama's administration has started to take shape. Yesterday, he announced that his close aid, Robert Gibbs, would be the new White House press secretary, and he chose EMILY's List executive director Ellen Moran as director of communications.

Behind the scenes, Obama staffers are also trying to figure out how the new White House will be run and how to make a smooth transition from the outgoing administration. NPR's Don Gonyea has the story.

DON GONYEA: To those who watch presidential transitions very closely, the transfer of power sets the tone for the incoming presidency. In recent weeks, there's been lots of drama as some big names have been floated for some big jobs in the Obama administration. But scholars who focus less on the headlines, and that includes Martha Joynt Kumar of Towson University, see it this way.

Dr. MARTHA JOYNT KUMAR (Department of Political Science, Towson University): So far, we're well ahead of where transitions normally are.

GONYEA: Kumar says a wise transition team tries to learn from the mistakes of past administrations. When President Clinton was elected, the transition was marked by disorganization, something that slowed White House staffing even in some critical jobs, and it bogged things down at the beginning of Clinton's first term.

As for Obama, things are going more smoothly in the early going, but Kumar says there are still big unanswered questions beyond who will get what cabinet post. What will his plan be for addressing the economic crisis? How much will he stick to his goal of pulling combat troops out of Iraq?

Dr. KUMAR: We don't know what his policy priorities are going to be. You also have the whole healthcare situation. Where is that going to fit in? Where does education fit in?

GONYEA: She says the meeting Mr. Obama has held with his campaign opponent, John McCain, and his support for Senator Joseph Lieberman to hold on to his Senate committee chairmanship despite having campaigned for McCain are both indications of how Obama will reach out to political opponents. ..TEXT: Still, all has not been perfectly choreographed in this transition. The Obama team, known for its tight message discipline during the long campaign, is also finding leaks are harder to stop during a transition when information on possible nominees has to be shared beyond the inner circle. Take Senator Hillary Clinton's consideration to be secretary of state. It's been debated loud and long in the media ever since the story leaked.

Mr. KEN DUBERSTEIN (Former Chief of Staff, Reagan Administration): Governing is not quite as clean as campaigning.

GONYEA: That's Ken Duberstein, a veteran of two previous presidential transitions while working for Ronald Reagan.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: Governing can sometimes be the sausage making, and that's what we're starting to see right now.

GONYEA: A long-time political consultant in D.C., Duberstein helped Reagan transition into and out of office. He made news this year when he endorsed Barack Obama for president. Duberstein, who was Reagan's chief of staff at the end of his two terms in office, has praise for the way the current White House is handling the transition, even amid what he calls the feeling of "Auld Lang Syne" that begins to set in. But Duberstein also recalled something he wishes he had not done back on Mr. Reagan's final day in office.

Mr. DUBERSTEIN: You know, the mistake that I made was, I asked President Reagan to come to the Oval Office one last time on January 20th, 1989 because he was president until noon. And I will never forget the look on his face as we came in off the colonnade into the Oval Office, and waiting for him was Colin Powell, his national security adviser, me, his chief of staff. And he came in off the colonnade, and the Oval Office was barren. They had already cleaned out all the furniture and furnishings.

GONYEA: For Duberstein, it was a painful moment but also a reminder that, for every preparation that an incoming president makes, there is a letting go for the current White House. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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