- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

The clock is ticking for the president-elect. With a pending 327 vote margin of victory in Florida, and likely support from overseas absentee ballots, probable President-elect George W. Bush is losing valuable time each day the outcome is in limbo. When he takes the oath office on Jan. 20, 2001, he still will not have a complete leadership team in place to govern, or a detailed game plan that takes into account the new congressional realities. In 2002 there will be the next congressional elections and, historically, the opposition party gains seats. Mr. Bush may then likely have a harder time getting legislation he can sign through that Congress.

The drill now is to put together his transition team, drawn initially from his inner core of loyal advisers. They should be working day and night now to fill the approximately 3,000 political appointments he must make. They begin with the most important cabinet positions, such as State, Defense, Treasury, and Justice. Then his transition team must work their way down to Education, Energy, Veteran's, and the rest. In addition to the lead person, there are the second, third and even fourth levels of management at each of these massive bureaucracies.

As the first appointments are made and the time-consuming security clearances completed, the transition team must expand to bring in a broader group of Republican loyalists and specialists. The more visible of these appointments all come from the White House, not the secretaries of the departments. Then come the myriad of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the Agency for International Development, the Federal Trade Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency, and so on. A delicate balance will need to be struck between loyalty to the new president and the Republican Party, as well as professional competence.

These personnel decisions will be fierce. For everyone who takes these "plum" positions, they will have to show loyalty to the president, maintain fidelity to their own core beliefs, the Constitution, and the particular dictates of the office they hold. Surely these folk have been known to look after their own interests as well. If the president-elect casts the net wide, bringing in people who have a broad range of views, he runs the risk of subverting his policy agenda. Given what Mr. Bush has said about changing the tone in Washington, it is likely that he will bring in some Democrats to his administration. If lifelong Republicans lose out on appointments to Democrats, Mr. Bush may lose Republican support. And these major presidential appointments will all require the advice and consent, in other words approval, of the Senate. That process, too, will take time.

Political novices might think it behooves the incoming president to hire the most "competent" person. Not so. While no one could seriously advocate hiring a stupid Republican loyalist, the idea of hiring a highly competent but disloyal, or politically ignorant person, would also be counterproductive. Washington eats the politically ignorant alive. Divisive policy and power battles in an administration will give rise to embarrassing leaks and soon the media will report "disarray." And these battles need not only occur between Republican loyalists and nonpolitical experts.

Despite the fact that President Reagan sprinkled neo-conservative former Democrats in his administration, perhaps the fiercest struggles were between the so-called "country club" Republicans and the conservatives. The prominence of White House chief of staff, and later secretary of the Treasury, James Baker of Texas, for instance, was contrasted with White House counselor, and later attorney general, Edwin Meese of California. The former was associated with a President Gerry Ford-style of moderation, while the latter was seen as a conservative Reagan loyalist. Each had their defenders.

Another potential chasm with which Mr. Bush will have to deal may exist between the Texans at the heart of his administration and the non-Texans. If he is to govern effectively, he will have to balance in his administration his home state with Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, and the other states that brought him political victory and some states that did not. The key financial markets, while located in Democratic New York, for instance, need to be represented on his team. Part of Mr. Reagan's leadership gift was the ability to bring together the different political factions within his administration to accomplish what is good for the country.

As Mr. Bush wrestles with these appointments and the election controversies, the political clock is always ticking. While he is working to enact complex policies related to taxes, Social Security, Medicare, education, military build-up and the ballistic missile defense, the next congressional election cycle will begin. In the best of circumstances, there really is not much time before the authority and derived power from the presidential election begins to wane. The longer the Democrats stimulate and prolong the controversy of the Florida vote, the greater the difficulties they impose on Mr. Bush to implement the policy proposals on which he ran. And that may be the point.

Michael Warder is vice president for development at The Claremont Institute in Claremont, California.

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