Barack Obama and George Bush walking down the White House steps (© AP Images)
Then-President George W. Bush escorts Barack Obama to the presidential limousine for the inauguration in 2009. (© AP Images)

The U.S. election is still weeks away, but both the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have mapped out their first 100 days in office. That may seem presumptuous, but it’s actually practical.

A peaceful transition of power is the hallmark of a good democracy, and the transitions between U.S. presidents have all been peaceful. “What they don’t teach you in those history books,” said David Eagles, director of the Center for Presidential Transition, “is that it’s peaceful, yes, but it’s also a very complicated process.”

Eagles compares a transition to two large corporations merging into one, “except your top 4,000 employees all quit at the exact same hour.”

The 2016 U.S. elections will be the first for the newly created Center for Presidential Transition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that aims to make sure whichever candidate wins will be ready to govern on the first day.

It’s a huge job that, until the last decade, has been done in a very short time. Consider these numbers:

Infographic showing time between elections and inauguration, and staffing needed (State Dept./J. Maruszewski)
(State Dept./J. Maruszewski)

“In a transition, you’re either coming, going or staying. And we’re working with all three,” said Eagles, referring to the incoming administration, the outgoing administration and the permanent federal agencies. Recently updated laws that created the center itself also made these provisions and requirements for each:

Incoming administration

  • The Center for Presidential Transition begins engaging with presidential candidates of both parties six months before the election.
  • Office space and logistical support are made available to candidates three business days after the last nominating convention, which this year was August 2.

Outgoing administration

  • The president must establish a “transition coordinating council” by six months before the election.
  • The president’s transition coordinating council must provide briefing materials for incoming transition teams by November 1.

Federal agencies

  • Six months before the election, each agency must appoint a career employee to oversee the transition between administrations.
  • By September 15, each agency must identify critical political positions and designate career employees to serve in an acting capacity in case of vacancy.

“If you manage these transitions strategically,” said Eagles, “we think it’s one of the greatest opportunities to make government more effective.”

Graphic reading "Elections 2016" (State Dept./J. Maruszewski)