White House 101 Obama aides prep President-elect's team for transition
Obama said Wednesday that he had instructed his staff to follow the example set by President George W. Bush in 2008
On Thursday, he is scheduled to sit down in the Oval Office with Trump, now the president-elect, to discuss the daunting business of handing over the vast bureaucracy of the US government to him, including vital national security information and resources he would need in the event of a catastrophic attack.
Top advisers to Obama have spent months preparing for a transition, a highly complex venture condensed into the 72-day period between now and the Jan. 20 inauguration.
Now, it is up to them and the Trump team to set it in motion, pairing Obama administration staff members with representatives of the president-elect for crash courses in the inner-workings of the White House and federal agencies. Two war-gaming exercises are planned to help ready the new team for a terrorist strike or other national security crisis.
Obama said Wednesday that he had instructed his staff to follow the example set by President George W. Bush in 2008 and provide a professional and smooth transition for Trump’s team, despite the vast policy differences that separate the president and his successor. For all the public drama and division of the presidential campaign, in private, Obama’s aides have since July been quietly working with advisers to both Hillary Clinton and Trump to plan for the passing of power.
“As everyone has been ramping down and wrapping things up elsewhere around this building, I have been ramping up here for this next phase,” said Anita Decker Breckenridge, Obama’s deputy chief of staff.
She said she had been impressed by the personnel dispatched by both campaigns to plan the transition.
“They have taken it seriously,” she said in an interview.
Still, given that Trump’s was a nontraditional campaign that did not have scores of seasoned policy staffers or deep relationships within Washington, it is not clear who will be assigned to do the highly technical work of taking the reins of government.
“Landing teams” now in place at each federal agency will begin working as early as Thursday with aides designated by Trump to hand over key operations, some of them using sensitive technology tools, such as secure websites, to make the information more easily digestible.
At the Department of Homeland Security, officials have pre-loaded briefing materials onto tablets for the president-elect’s team in a searchable format. At the Department of Justice, officials created a cloud portal for the information.
“Our emphasis here has been putting together quality not quantity — we want to have targeted materials,” said Lee Lofthus, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for administration. “The goal here is not to be putting together phone books that people have to file through.”
But the crush of information may be onerous, particularly when it comes to Trump’s task of hiring 4,000 political appointees over a matter of weeks. Saddled with an antiquated personnel system when Obama was elected in 2008, his aides moved earlier this year to build an entirely new one designed to make it easier to track the positions, as well as the applicants and their personal and professional information.
In December, Obama’s team plans to hold the first of two war-gaming exercises to prepare Trump and his staff for a potential national security crisis.
Obama’s aides participated in a similar exercise organized by Bush’s White House the week before his 2009 inauguration, during which they sat side by side in the Situation Room and gamed out how the government would respond to a series of simultaneous explosions in U.S. cities.
The second simulation for Trump is set for January, days before he officially gains access to the nuclear codes.
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