Order Code RS20709
Updated February 11, 2008
CRS Report for Congress
Presidential Transitions: Background and
Analyst in American National Government
Government and Finance Division
The Presidential Transition Act (PTA), as amended, authorizes funding for the
General Services Administration (GSA) to provide suitable office space, staff
compensation, and other services associated with the transition process.' Section 5 of
the PTA authorizes the President to include in his budget request for each fiscal year in
which his regular term of office will expire, a proposed appropriation for carrying out
the purposes of the act. The President's FY2009 budget requests $8,520,000 in funding
for the upcoming presidential transition. Of this total, $1 million is provided for
briefings and related transition services for incoming personnel associated with the new
Since President George Washington first relinquished his office to incoming
President John Adams in 1797, this peaceful transition, symbolizing both continuity and
change, has demonstrated the "best of American democracy to the world.",2 Today,
however, the activities surrounding a presidential transition begin shortly after the
election, as the President-elect has less than 11 weeks to formulate the new administration
before taking the oath of office on January 20. The significance of the relatively short
transition period recently came under intense scrutiny against the background of the
historic and dramatic events surrounding the presidential election of 2000. With less than
five weeks available for formal transition preparations, Vice President-elect Richard
U.S.C. § 102 note.
Alvin S. Felzenberg, ed., The Keys to a Successful Presidency (Washington: Heritage
Foundation, 2000), p. 7. For a detailed discussion of early presidential transitions, see also
Laurin L. Henry, PresidentialTransitions(Washington: Brookings Institution, 1960).
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Cheney stated on December 14, 2000, that the transition was "well under way ...to have
a Cabinet in place by the inauguration." 3
While a formal transition process is essential to ensure continuity in the conduct of
the affairs of the executive branch, the concept of a federally funded transition period is
relatively new. Before enactment of the Presidential Transition Act in 1964, the primary
source of funding for transition expenses was the political party organization of the
As enacted in 1964, the PTA provided a $900,000 authorization for GSA to provide
suitable office space, staff compensation, and other services associated with the transition
process. Since that time, the PTA has been amended on three occasions to provide
increases in funding and to prescribe additional requirements for GSA.5
Currently, funding is authorized for an incoming Administration from the day
following the general election until 30 days after the inauguration. For the outgoing
President and Vice President, transition funding is available for seven months, beginning
one month before the inauguration, until six months aftertheir terms of office, to facilitate
their relocation to private life.6
As a condition for receiving federal funding and services, the President-elect and
Vice President-elect must formally disclose the dates, sources, and amounts of all private
contributions for the transition, with a maximum contribution of $5,000 allowed from any
person or organization. These written disclosures must be made to GSA not later than 30
days after the January 20 inauguration. The PTA also limits all temporary appointments
to executive branch vacancies to 120 days, unless a nomination has been submitted to the
The PTA was amended in 2000 to prescribe additional requirements for GSA to
coordinate the development and presentation of orientation sessions for the Presidentelect's nominees for Cabinet and high-level executive branch positions. In conjunction
with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), GSA was also required
to create a transition directory, composed of federal publications and materials pertaining
to the statutory and administrative functions of each federal department and agency. A
third major provision required the Office of Government Ethics to prepare a report on
needed improvements to the financial disclosure process for presidential nominees.
Gullo, "Cheney Gets Transition Office Keys," USA Today, Dec. 14, 2000, p. 3A.
Stat. 153. See CRS Report RL30736, PresidentialTransitions 1960-2001, by Stephanie
190 Stat. 2380; 102 Stat. 985; and 114 Stat. 711.
6 Separate legislation also provides former Presidents an annual lifetime pension and staff and
office allowances after the transition period expires, as well as Secret Service protection. See
CRS Report 98-249, FormerPresidents:FederalPensionand RetirementBenefits, by Stephanie
For FY2001, GSA was appropriated a total of $7.1 million for the 2000-2001
transition.7 Of this total, $1.83 million was provided for the outgoing Administration of
President William Clinton; $4.27 million for the incoming Administration of Presidentelect George W. Bush; and $1 million for GSA to provide orientation sessions and related
assistance for the incoming Bush appointees.8
Section 6 of the PTA authorizes the President to include in his budget request for
each fiscal year in which his regular term of office will expire, a proposed appropriation
for carrying out the purposes of the act. In order to provide federal funding in the event
of a 2004 presidential transition, the President's FY2005 budget proposal requested a
total of $7.7 million. Of this total, $1 million would be provided for briefings and related
transition services for incoming personnel associated with a new administration. 9
Currently, Section 3(f) of the PTA states that there shall be no expenditures of funds
for the provision of services and facilities in the event the President-elect is the incumbent
President, or when the Vice President-elect is the incumbent Vice President. Any funds
appropriated for such purposes "shall be returned to the general funds of the Treasury."
In the event no transition occurs, the President's FY2005 budget request for GSA
proposed to amend the PTA through appropriation language to permit the expenditure of
not more than $1 million for training and briefings for incoming appointees associated
with the second term of an incumbent President."° No other expenditure of appropriated
funds for transition purposes would be made available to the incumbent President, and the
remaining $6.7 million would be returned to the general fund of the Treasury.
The House passed H.R. 5025, the FY2005 Transportation, Treasury, and Independent
Agencies appropriations bill, on September 22, 2004. The legislation recommended for
GSA a total of $7.7 million for the expenses associated with a possible 2004-2005
presidential transition, which included $1 million to brief incoming personnel. If no
transition occurred, H.R. 5025 authorized that $1 million be used by the incumbent
President for the training of new appointees associated with a second term of office. The
House Committee on Appropriations also recommended the $1 million appropriation to
be used by the incumbent President, and stated that the remaining $6.7 million in
transition funds would be returned to the Treasury, if no transition occurred. 1 Following
its passage, H.R. 5025 was received in the Senate on September 29, 2004, and placed on
the Senate Legislative Calendar.
114 Stat. 2763.
100-398 amended the PTA in 1988 to authorize $1.5 million to be appropriated to the
outgoing administration and $3.5 million to be appropriated to the incoming administration, with
these totals to be increased in future budget requests by an inflation-adjusted amount, based on
the costs of the most recent presidential transition. P.L. 106-293 amended the PTA to authorize
$1 million for briefings and related transition expenses for incoming presidential appointees.
9 U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the UnitedStates Government,FiscalYear
Appendix (Washington: 2004), p. 972.
11 U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, Transportation, Treasury, and
IndependentAgencies AppropriationsAct, 2005, report to accompany H.R. 5025, 1 0 8th Cong.,
sess., H.Rept. 108-671 (Washington: GPO, 2004), p. 146.
In the Senate, S. 2806, the FY2005 Transportation, Treasury, and Independent
Agencies appropriations bill, also recommended a total of $7.7 million for GSA to
implement a possible presidential transition, including $1 million for incoming
appointees. However, the Senate Committee on Appropriations denied the request to
amend the PTA to allow $1 million for training and briefings for incoming appointees
associated with the second term of an incumbent President. The committee stated that it
had no objection to funding such training, but believed that "it should be properly
budgeted for and requested by the appropriate agencies. ,12 On September 15, 2004, S.
2806 was reported to the Senate and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar.
P.L. 108-309 was enacted on September 30,2004, to provide continuing non-defense
appropriations through November 20. A total of $2.5 million was authorized in the event
of a presidential transition, until enactment of the FY2005 omnibus appropriations bill.
Any transition expenditures made pursuant to P.L. 108-309 were to be charged to the
applicable authorization once the FY2005 omnibus legislation was enacted. Due to the
outcome of the 2004 presidential election, no funds were provided in P.L. 108-447, the
FY2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act.13
The President's FY2009 budget requests $8,520,000 to provide funding for the
upcoming presidential transition. Of this total, $1 million is provided for briefings and
services for incoming personnel associated with the new
As a result of the ballot challenges concerning the November 7, 2000, presidential
election, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta issued a November 13, 2000,
memorandum to executive branch agencies stating that, "because of the uncertainty over
election results, no President-elect has been identified to receive federal funds and
assistance under the Presidential Transition Act of 1963."15 The memo advised executive
branch officials to provide any assistance that was "typically" provided to presidential
candidates. Following the certification of the Florida popular vote on November 26, 2000,
by the Florida Secretary of State in favor of Governor George W. Bush, GSA
Administrator David J. Barram announced the following day that he would not authorize
the release of federal transition funds since the final outcome remained "unclear and unapparent,"16 due to ongoing legal challenges to the Florida certification. Since the PTA
U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Transportation, Treasury, and
IndependentAgencies AppropriationsAct, 2005, report to accompany S. 2806, 1 0 8 th Cong., 2 nd
sess., S.Rept. 108-342 (Washington: GPO, 2004), p. 186.
13 118 Stat. 3253.
Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the UnitedStates Government,FiscalYear
2009 Appendix (Washington: GPO, 2008), p. 1075.
Executive Office of the President, Memorandum from Chief of Staff John Podesta for the
Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, "Presidential Transition Guidance," Nov. 13,
U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Communications statement released Nov. 27,
provides no explicit criteria for determining the "apparent successful candidates," the
GSA administrator based his decision on the 1963 legislative history, which stated that,
"in a close contest, the Administrator simply would not make the decision."17 Also at
issue was the use of 90,000 square feet of office space in Washington, DC, that GSA had
leased in anticipation of the transition period between election day on November 7 and
the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2001, at a cost of approximately $700,000.18
In response to GSA's decision to withhold funding and office space, Governor Bush
announced the establishment of his transition offices in McLean, VA, to be headed by the
vice presidential candidate, former Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney. In a November
27, 2000, news conference, Cheney stated that the Bush-Cheney transition would be
funded by private contributions as a "non-profit corporation and will seek 501 (c)(4) status
from the Internal Revenue Service. "19
On December 4, 2000, oversight hearings on the presidential transition were held
before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Management,
Information, and Technology. In his opening statement, subcommittee chairman Stephen
Horn expressed concern that, in spite of long-standing congressional intent to federally
fund presidential transitions, "today - nearly four weeks after the presidential election
the administrator says he is still unable to ascertain a winner and, thus, is not
providing the appropriate assistance required by the Presidential Transition Act., 21 In a
written statement for the hearings record, Comptroller General David M. Walter wrote
that, "given the current extraordinary circumstances surrounding the election, Congress
should consider extending the existing time limitation on the obligation of funds under
the Transition Act to help mitigate the unforeseen delay in the initial release of public
funds., 21 As a result of these hearings, H.R. 5643 was introduced in the House on
December 6, 2000, to clarify the definition of "apparent successful candidates" to permit
the GSA administrator to provide transition funding and services to the President-elect
and Vice President-elect as determined by official state certifications. The legislation was
referred to the House Committee on Government Reform.
Immediately following Vice President Albert Gore's concession speech on
December 13,2000, GSA Administrator David Barram authorized President-elect George
17 Rep. Dante Fascell, "Presidential
Transition Act of 1963," remarks in the House,
CongressionalRecord, vol. 109, July 25, 1963, p. 12238.
18U.S. General Services Administration, Office of Communications,MediaAdvisoryPresidential
TransitionFactSheet, Nov. 17, 2000.
19 "Transcipt of Former Secretary Richard Cheney's
News Conference," WashingtonPost,Nov.
27, 2000, p. A9.
20 U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on
Government Management, Information, and Technology, Opening Statement by Chairman
Stephen Horn, hearings, Dec. 4, 2000.
21 U.S. General Accounting Office, PresidentialTransition:Challengesand Opportunities,Dec.
4, 2000 (Washington: GPO, 2000), p. 1.
Bush's use of federal transition funds and office space.2 2 The following day, GSA Deputy
Administrator Thurman Davis presented Vice President-elect Cheney with an electronic
card that served as the key to the Washington, DC, transition office, located at 1800 G
Street, NW. The Bush-Cheney transition officials assigned to coordinate with
congressional staff and prospective Cabinet members were the first to relocate from their
McLean, VA, headquarters to the GSA office space.
Shortly after President-elect Bush's first formal address to the nation on December
13, he received a congratulatory call from President Bill Clinton. The following day,
President-elect Bush announced his plans to travel to Washington, DC, on December 18,
to conduct separate visits with President Clinton and Vice President Gore, as well as to
conduct interviews with possible Cabinet members.23
With less than five weeks until his inauguration, President-elect Bush made his
Cabinet selections in just 20 days. According to newspaper accounts, the President-elect
and his aides used the five weeks of the election dispute to narrow their list of possible
appointments, even though they were criticized by some for "presumptuously" proceeding
with the transition. With so little time left before he took office, President-elect Bush
narrowed his selections to nominees who had previously been through Senate
confirmations in the past, selecting Donald Rumsfeld for Secretary of Defense, Colin
Powell for Secretary of State, and Norman Mineta for Secretary of Transportation. In
addition to their government and corporate expertise, the Cabinet nominees also had longstanding professional associations with the President-elect and his family.24
General Services Administration, Office of Communications statement released Dec. 13,
23 Mike Allen and Dana Milbank, "Bush Reaches Out to Democrats," Washington Post, Dec. 15,
2000, p. Al.
24 Mike Allen and Dana Milbank, "Cabinet Chosen Quietly, Quickly," Washington Post, Jan. 7,
2001, p. Al.