- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2008

Just outside President Bush’s front door, construction began this week on grandstands along Pennsylvania Avenue for Inauguration Day.

A row of trailers for architects, engineers and foremen now occupy Lafayette Park. Signs of Mr. Bush’s impending White House departure are now unavoidable. And yet as the end of the Bush presidency nears, the pace within the White House has barely slowed, if at all.

Mr. Bush promised at the beginning of his last year to “sprint to the finish.”

Due to an unforeseen global economic crisis, but also due to the president’s determination to preside over a decidedly un-Clintonesque transition to the next administration, he is making good on his promise.

“The president forecasted it, and now we’re living up to it,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Much of the White House’s attention is now consumed with the economy, and with preparing for the upcoming summit of the Group of 20 nations in Washington.

But the Bush administration is also engaged in an unprecedented, top-to-bottom transition effort, directed by top White House officials. On Oct. 9 the president issued an executive order creating a Presidential Transition Coordinating Council, headed by Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten.

Blake Gottesman, the president’s deputy chief of staff for operations, serves as the council’s vice chairman. In 2000, he was an aide to Andrew H. Card Jr., who oversaw the Bush transition into the White House before becoming the president’s first chief of staff.

Mr. Gottesman said that the transition effort is unique from past outgoing administrations because of “the level of engagement and level of interaction … [and] how much earlier we started.”

A senior White House official said that even if past administrations had good intentions, “transitions often fell short.”

“That’s a simple reflection of the fact that transitions are difficult. It’s not enough to have good intentions. You have to have comprehensive, strategic systems in place,” the official said.

Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, a scholar of presidential transitions, was invited to attend the transition council’s second meeting, which was held Tuesday at the White House.

“You really do have people who want to make sure that this works and that the expertise that they have built on their own experience in government can translate as much as possible to the next guys,” Mr. Ornstein said.

“It’s never an easy thing,” he said. “Almost inevitably the people coming in want to do things their way and they don’t necessarily trust the people who are leaving. That’s true even if it’s the same party. This time I think it may be different.”

Mr. Ornstein said that while news outlets “overhyped” vandalism committed by some Clinton staffers on their way out of the White House in 2001, nonetheless “when Bill Clinton left the White House, his focus was on maximizing his final weeks in office, not on making sure the handoff was a smooth one.”

Mr. Ornstein said that a smooth transition “starts with the outgoing people and whether their attitude is resentment that they’re being forced to leave or that the other side won. Or there could be almost indifference.”

“I give Bush credit. It sure seems to me that he’s made a determination that making this work as well as possible is important for two reasons: This is a wartime transition and we really are in some danger here; and the second is that it becomes a part of his legacy.”

Officials with both presidential candidates declined to comment on the White House transition effort.

The transition council set up by the president and chaired by Mr. Bolten is focused on “preparing briefings for the president-elect’s team on significant pending policy issues as well as the structure of those agencies and offices,” the White House said.

“Our job is to make sure that there is minimal disruption in the services that government provides,” said Mr. Gottesman. “An easy way to look at it is to say, ‘If you were coming into government what would you want to know?’”

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