Memo on Presidential Transition

Editors' note: On September 15, 1960, Richard Neustadt,
then a professor of
government at Columbia, wrote a bold memo to candidate John F.
Kennedy on issues
for the anticipated transition. His memo, the first of a series,
was subtitled
"A Tentative Check-List for the Weeks Between Election and
Inaugural." Professor
Neustadt drew on ;his own insights from his influential book,

Power, which had been published the previous April. Today,
Neustadt continues
to teach, at Harvard's Kennedy School. The memo, never before
published, remains
a classic. Depending on events in November it may take on new

1. The Problem of Another "Hundred Days"

One hears all over town about "another Hundred Days" once Kennedy
is in the White
House. If this means an impression to be made on Congressmen,
bureaucrats, press,
public, foreign governments, the analogy is apt. Nothing would
help the new
Administration more than such a first impression of energy,
direction, action,
and accomplishment. Creating that impression and sustaining it
become a prime
objective for the months after Inauguration Day. Since an
impression of the
Roosevelt sort feeds on reality, and could not be sustained by
mere "public
relations," establishing conditions that will foster real
accomplishment becomes
a prime objective for the brief transition period before
Inauguration Day. But
the "Hundred Days" analogy can also be taken-and is being
taken-as an expectation
of fulfillment for every sort of legislative promise in the
Platform and the
campaign. Everybody tends to think of his pet pledge as the
accomplishment for Kennedy's first three months. Yet that timing
only brings us
to the Easter Recess of the First Session of a modern

These legislative wants are hard to square with a convincing
demonstration of
energy and accomplishment. "Another Hundred Days" as an
impression of
effectiveness is threatened by the promissory notes read into
that analogy.

In terms of legislative action, the analogy to 1933 is not apt.
Roosevelt then
did not take office until March. He had four months to organize
the take-over.
Congress was adjourned when he entered the White House and was
not due to
assemble until December. It met in special session after his
inauguration, on
his call. It met, moreover, to deal with a devastating domestic
crisis that was
seen and felt by citizens, in their own lives, all across the
country. Foreign
relations, meanwhile, raised virtually no issues that could not
be ignored or
postponed. And Roosevelt had the patronage (old style) to dole
out at a time when
jobs of any sort were highly valued. What is the analogy with

In 1948, when Truman was re-elected, there also was much talk of
"another Hundred
Days." But when he was sworn in a second time, Congress had been
in session for
three weeks, organized, bills introduced, committees working. No
sharply felt,
widely perceived crisis faced the country. Instead, in all the
realms of Cold War
and of welfare undertakings most of them unknown in 1933
government agencies and
private groups pressed diverse legislative claims, citing
campaign promises as
their authority and jostling each other in the rush to take
advantage of Truman's
"honeymoon." Weeks before inaugural, the groups concerned had
gained commitments
from Congressional leaders (whether they committed Truman, or he,
them, is in
dispute) for early floor fights on FEPC and on repeal of
Taft-Hartley. By the
time those fights had failed, the "honeymoon" was over and the
Session far
advanced with little else done. In legislative terms, it is 1949,
not 1933, that
offers an analogy and warnings for 1961.

Unlike Truman, Kennedy may come into office in the midst
of some sharp,
overt international emergency, or in the train of a sharp
economic slump. It is
at least possible, however, that January 1961 will be a time of
many incipient
crises but no "crisis." So was 1949.

It follows that, for the transition period between election and
inaugural, the
guide-lines ought to be: Postpone whatever is postponable
in the mechanics
of administration-building. Put off the novelties that have not
been thought
through. Concentrate upon the things that are immediately
relevant to showing
real effectiveness
on and after January 20. And in the doing
of those things,
keep this objective uppermost. It is the key objective for the
weeks after
November 8.

The things that cannot be postponed are enumerated below. They
are roughly
in the order in which it seems desirable to deal with them,
starting November

2. Organizing for a First Message to Congress

The most important task in the transition is the working out
of strategy and
tactics for an exploitation of the "honeymoon" ahead.
means decisions
on the substance, timing, publicity, and priority of
legislative proposals
to Congress. It means decisions of the same sort on discretionary
actions. It means decisions on relationships between projected
proposals and
actions. It means weighing short-range gains against long-range
political and other. It means judging what should be done in the
name, and what should not, and how to enforce the distinction. It
also means
evaluating fiscal implications of proposals and of actions, both,
and making some
immediate decisions on taxation and the budget.

Not all of these decisions can be taken before January 20, but
preparatory work
needs to be far advanced by then: The issues should have been
identified, the
arguments defined, preliminary judgments entered well before
Inauguration Day

The first thing to do is to make a plan, deciding
tentatively on the
timing and the scope of such a message.
This provides a
target for everybody
who has ideas, views, concerns about the program objectives of
the new regime.

The second thing to do is to establish "working groups"
and get them
with the message as their target both on things that
should be asked
of Congress and on things that could be pronounced done or
administratively ...

The third thing to do is to get a "bird-dog" on the scene,
somebody in charge of staff work on the message.
This should
be someone close
to Kennedy, very much in his confidence and very much a "staff
man" (but a
tough-minded one). His job should be to see that all the working
groups are
working, the competitors competing, gaps filled, issues raised,
arguments brought
to focus, and the President-elect informed on who is doing what,
with what, to
whom. This is a full-time job, for the whole transition
period and after.
Its holder has to be much more than a draftsman; drafting is
merely his hunting
license; his hunting ground is foreign and domestic
program, legislative
and administrative. This is somewhat like Rosenman's work
at message
season in the Roosevelt White House, or like Clifford's and
Murphy's in the
Truman White House. But in many ways it is a broader and rougher
job than theirs; they worked in an established context; this man will not ...

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3. Designating White House Aides

After Election Day the President-elect will need a small
personal staff
operate through the transition period and to take office with
him. A few staff
aides are immediately necessary; their names and jobs should be
announced at
once, so that importunate office-seekers, idea-peddlers,
pressmen, legislators,
diplomats, and cabinet-designers know who and what they are.
These necessary jobs

1) A Press Secretary, whose work after the inaugural will
be so much like
his work before that he should have the title at the outset. On
November 9,
Kennedy will be transformed in the eyes of Americans and
. He will no longer have the leeway of a
"campaigner." His
statements will be taken with the utmost seriousness.
Everything said and
done in public need be weighed as though he were already

2) An appointments aide, to guard the door and manage the
daily schedule.
Whether this person should be designated "Appointments Secretary"
depends on
whether he is meant to have autonomy, after inaugural, or to work
as a
subordinate of some other aide. If subordination is intended,
hold off on the
"Secretary" part of that title.

3) A "Number-one Boy," serving as a sort of first
assistant on general
operations, day by day. He could be called "Executive Assistant
to the
President-elect" and he could carry that title into the White
House in lieu of
Sherman Adams' title, "The Assistant to the President." It
would be well
to avoid reminders of Adams, not only for public relations but
because, once in
the White House, Kennedy may find that he needs several
"number-one boys" for
different aspects of the work; other things aside, Adams was a

4) The message-and-program aide indicated above. If the
man is a lawyer,
and if Kennedy wants him around for comparable work in later
months, he might be
designated "Special Counsel" (FDR's invention for Rosenman). But
he could just
as well be called "Special Consultant" and his long-run status
left in abeyance
for the time being. What counts in the short run is his standing
with the

President-elect, not his title.

5) A personnel consultant (discussed below). Here again,
it would be well
to treat the job as ad hoc and avoid traditional White House
titles for the time

6) A personal secretary who might remain just that after
January 20, or
who might carry higher status and more general duties afterwards,
depending on
the President's convenience and her capabilities. Meanwhile, it
would be well not
to dispose of any traditional titles one might ultimately want
for her.

These six should suffice as a nucleus to move into the White
House, January 20,
where they will find the Executive Clerk and his career
assistants on the job for
routine paper processing. Additional aides will certainly be
needed for ad hoc
trouble-shooting before inaugural; still more so afterwards. But
until the needs
are felt to be both clear and continuing, and until the men have
been tried on
the job, there is no reason to announce their designation as
permanent members
of the White House staff. Nor is there reason to give them
traditional White
House titles ...

In designating personal staff, two rules of thumb are

First, appoint men only to jobs for which the
President-elect, himself,
feels an immediate and continuing need, a need he has
defined in his own
mind, and can at once define for them. If the need is immediate
but not
continuing, offer a "consultantship," or put the man in a
department and borrow
him back.

Second, give appointees titles that square with the jobs
to be done and
choose no titles without thinking of their bureaucratic
connotations in the
outgoing regime. A title may attract a lot of "customary"
business that the
President-elect wants handled somewhere else, or not at all, or
on which he
prefers experimentation. A title also may connote a ranking in
the staff that he
does not intend.

If these rules of thumb are followed, most of Eisenhower's
current staff
positions will fall into abeyance on January 20. There is nothing
wrong with

4. Designating Science and Security Aides

Two of the positions in Eisenhower's White House present special

1) The Science Adviser. This post, created after Sputnik,
is highly valued
in the scientific community which would be disturbed if it were
not filled by
early December ...

2) The Special Assistant for National Security Affairs.
There will be no
outside pressure for filling this post and NSC can operate
without it, for a time
at least ... But if, for reasons of his own, the President-elect
wants to make
an appointment, both the title and the duties should be
considered, in advance,
with particular regard for the intended role of the Secretary of
vis-a-vis NSC.

5. Designating Executive Office Aides

Soon after November 8, the President-elect will have use for a
assistant, at one remove from personal aides, who can backstop
the White House
in coping with programming and administrative problems from
Inauguration Day
on. If he is to be of maximum assistance from the start, the
job to give him
is the Budget Directorship
...This Budget Director-designate
should be
conceived as someone capable of broad-gauged, general-purpose
service to the
President, picking up the staff work that personal aides
cannot give time to
on a continuing basis .

Besides the Budget Director, there are three top appointive
officials in the
Executive Office: the Chairman of the Council of Economic
Advisers, the Director
of the Office of Civilian Defense Mobilization, and the Executive
Secretary of
NSC ...

6. Designating Cabinet Officers

There is no operating reason why Cabinet officers and
heads of major
agencies need to be designated immediately after election. With
"working groups"
established and key staff aides appointed ... one does not need
Cabinet officers
in order to get moving toward a fast start after January 20.
Indeed, there is
advantage in holding off on most Cabinet appointments until staff
and working
groups are launched; Cabinet members then would have a framework
to fit into and
could not wander off on their own. As a rule of thumb: defer
Cabinet and major
agency designations until early December.

A possible exception is the Secretaryship of State. The
Subcommittee favors using the Secretary not just as a department
head but as a
principal assistant in the whole sphere of national security

A second possible exception is the Cabinet post, if any, where
the present
incumbent would be retained
as a gesture of bi-partisanship.
Nothing of the
sort may be contemplated. But if it is, then obviously the sooner
it were done
the better ...

In choosing Cabinet officers (and heads of major
agencies), the
President-elect will naturally consider the usual criteria of
geographic, party,
and interest-group "representativeness." Three additional
criteria are worth
bearing in mind

First is competitive balance among major differences in
policy outlook,
on which Kennedy does not choose to make up his mind for all
time. This is a very
tricky and important problem in "representativeness." If the
wants both "conservative" and "liberal" advice on economic
management, for
example, and wants the competition to come out where he can see
it and judge it,
he needs to choose strong-minded competitors and he needs to
put them in
positions of roughly equal institutional power,
so that
neither wins the
contest at a bureaucratic level too far down for the President to
judge it. For
example, if the Treasury (a powerful post) were given to a
"conservative," it
would not suffice to put his competition on the Presidential
staff; at least
two Cabinet competitors would be needed in addition.

Second is the chance for useful reorientation of a
department's role
with a change in its Secretary's traditional orientation. The
Administration, for example, has had an industrial relations
specialist as
Secretary of Labor, instead of the traditional union president or
avowedly representing "labor's voice in the Cabinet." As a
result, Mitchell has
been able to act for the Administration in labor disputes and to
keep a
supervisory eye on "independent" labor relations agencies to a
far greater degree
than his predecessors. For the unions to say nothing of
management were never
content with "labor's voice" when they wanted to deal seriously
with the
Administration. An Arthur Goldberg is the only sort of "unionist"
who could
sustain and broaden this reorientation; otherwise, reversion to
selection risks the new usefulness of this department. Other
examples could be
offered: Treasury, for one, has often been a drag on State and
Defense, in part
because of the traditional orientation of its Secretary. A
Lovett, or a Harriman,
(or a David Rockefeller!) who both meets the tradition and
transcends it, could
make a substantial difference in the future.

Third is the effect on long-run organizational objectives
and options
inherent in the personalities and interests of particular
appointees. The case
of CEA has already been mentioned; so have the cases of State,
the Security
Assistant, and the Science Advisor. Another example is the Budget
Bureau. One
more cost-accountant in the place would finish it off as a useful
source of staff
work for the President. Especially in the sphere of national
security, the
personalities and interests of initial appointees at State,
Defense, Budget, and
Treasury will go far to decide what can and cannot be done
thereafter by
way of improving "national policy machinery."

7. Organizing for Appointments below Cabinet Rank

This is an area in which the President-elect and his whole staff
could easily get
bogged down at no profit to themselves ... word should be passed
to incoming
department and agency heads that they will make nothing but
trouble for
themselves and the Administration by unselective replacements or
importations of persons at Assistant Secretary level and below.
Changes should
be made selectively and at leisure, using the guide line, "Know
who your
replacement is before you make a change."

It is no accident that in 1953 the two most effective officers in
the first weeks
after Inauguration Day were Dodge at Budget and Humphrey at
Treasury. These were
the two agencies where there was no "purging" and where inherited
staffs were
told they would be treated as reliable until they turned out
otherwise. Humphrey
and Dodge were immediately effective because they immediately had
staffs at work
behind them. For a Kennedy Administration with the "Hundred Days"
problem to
lick, the lesson is obvious.

8. Reassuring the Bureaucracy

If one means to take the steps suggested ... above, one ought to
get a maximum
of credit for them from the bureaucracy. This calls for an
early public
statement to the effect that government careerists are a national
resource and
will be treated as such
by the new regime. The reality of
that intention will
be demonstrated as those steps are taken. It will be demonstrated
further if the
working groups suggested ... above begin, informally, to draw
upon the expertise
of selected bureaucrats long before Inauguration Day.

The more career officials can look forward to January 20 with
interested, even excited anticipation, the better
the new
administration will be served in the weeks after
. To instill
anticipation is to cut off one's own nose to spite one's face.
That was the
effect in 1953.

9. Consulting with the Legislative Leadership

From Election Day on, several things should be kept in mind:

1) The Vice-President-elect will be looking for work.

2) In 1949, the new Senate leader was chosen by the Democrats
just before
Congress met, with the proviso that Barkley keep the post until
January 20. Is
this precedent to be followed in 1961?

3) Congress meets two weeks before inaugural; the Committee
Chairmen the same
faces as before
will be looking for the "customary"
laundry-list of
Presidential proposals in every sphere; in 1949, that custom
helped to
dissipate Truman's honeymoon
.They also will be thinking about
going into
business for themselves; some of them will be doing it. Finally,
they will be
touchily awaiting signs of recognition from the

4) When Congress meets, the Senate liberals apparently intend
another rules

5) Congressional leaders will have to be consulted on, or at
least informed of,
the President-elect's immediate legislative plans. Their help
will be needed in
considering and above all in sustaining priorities. But
consultation with
, how above all, when? These questions will
not necessarily
look the same from the Executive side as from the Senate.

6) The first formal meeting with the legislative leaders,
whether before
or after Inauguration Day, will tend to set the form, tone,
membership, and
timing of future meetings. What purposes are these meetings to
serve? Are they
to be intimate sessions, a la FDR, or ambassadorial
encounter, a la
Eisenhower, with staffs present and minutes taken?

10. Giving Congress Agenda Before the First

Hopefully, some non-controversial, simple, quick-action items
could be
introduced before Inauguration Day "on the
President-elect's behalf," to
"facilitate the work of the new Administration." Within reason,
the more of these
the better, and the wider their spread across committees the
better ...

11. Establishing Liaison with the Eisenhower

There seems to be no need for "general" liaison and no point in
assigning anyone
to do that meaningless job. Presumably, Eisenhower will suggest a
meeting and briefing, as Truman did in 1952, and will offer
assistance toward a
smooth transition. If he does not offer, he could be asked. Once
the offer is
made (or extorted) it should be used to establish several
specific liaison
arrangements. These include:

1) Access for the President-elect to all government intelligence
sources and for
the prospective Secretary of State to all the cable traffic he
may want to

2) Arrangements with the FBI for prompt security clearance of

3) Access for a reliable associate of the prospective Budget
Director to all
aspects of the Budget Bureau's work in preparing the 1962 budget
and in clearing
legislation before January 20. This should be for the purpose of
information, not participating in decisions.

4) Arrangements for use of Civil Service Commission staff and
facilities, and for
information on expiring appointments in the hands of the White
House Executive

5) Arrangements for consultation by incoming officials with their
opposite numbers and with departmental staffs. No limitations
should be accepted
on the freedom to inquire and consult.

6) Arrangements for taking over White House offices and

It may turn out that the international or economic situation
requires more than
a courtesy consultation between Eisenhower and Kennedy; if so,
the situation
should be met as it deserves, with the proviso that Kennedy need
make none of
Eisenhower's decisions or accept commitments carrying past
January 20. This
proviso cannot be a prohibition; the situation may be

The President-elect must be prepared for a variety of
international complications
before inaugural. What they might be and how to meet them could
be studied
now by the Nitze group.

12. Organizing for Reorganizing

Not long after Election Day, it would be well to designate the
members of the
President's Advisory Committee on Government Organization...

13. Setting Ground Rules for Press Conferences

The big "Press-Radio-TV," televised press conference is a recent
innovation; it
serves some purposes well; others badly. It does not accomplish
some of the
objectives served by the quite different institutions of
Roosevelt's time.
Whether any changes should, or could be made is open to question.
It is a
question worth pursuing with responsible journalists like
Reston. If changes
are intended, they should be instituted at the outset
; the
first press
conference after inaugural will set a pattern hard to break.

14. Installing the "Shadow Government" in

Very soon after Election Day, the President-elect will want to
decide how fast
and how formally and in what facilities at whose expense he wants
his staff and
Cabinet designees, and ad hoc working groups in

This automatically involves decision also on the timing of
vacations and of
reconnaissance trips abroad
by Presidential designees, or by
President-elect. Shall they (or he) survey the free world? And
when must they be

15. Preparing the Inaugural Address

It would be well not to begin this too early, but instead
to wait until
the main lines of a first message that is to say of an initial
program had
emerged. The Inaugural Address has to be a tone-setter. It will
help to have a
notion of what is to follow, before spending much time on this
introduction. It
will also help to wait until one knows what international and
economic conditions
to expect by January 20.

16. Arrangin the Physical Take-Over

A number of troublesome details will have to be attended to. Some
of them are
unlikely to be settled without reference to the President-elect.

1) Arranging White House office space and Executive Office
building space...

17. Arranging Initial Cabinet and NSC meetings

Eisenhower surrounded these meetings with elaborate paper-work
and preparatory
consultations. Staffs have been created in each department to
assist with
preparations and follow-up. Also, Cabinet meetings now include
more Presidential
aides than department heads. Somewhat the same thing occurs in
NSC meetings.

It is important that none of these procedures and arrangements
except as Kennedy specifically desires,
after a chance to get
his own feel
for the uses of Cabinet and NSC. Yet the first meetings of these
bodies could
automatically perpetuate all sorts of Eisenhower practices. Past
procedures will
be carried on by career staffs unless they are deliberately

It would be well, therefore, to confine early Cabinet meetings to
heads of Cabinet rank, along with the President's Executive
Assistant, and to
have only such agenda as the President may choose in consultation
with his
personal staff. As for initial NSC meetings, it would be well to
confine them to
statutory members, perhaps adding the Budget Director and the
Assistant, while the NSC Secretary stuck to "secretarial"
service, with agendas
chosen by the President ...

18. Program Development after Inauguration

Presumably the first message will not have been completed, or all
fights on it
finished, by January 20. This will remain to be put into final
form. As that is
done, attention would shift to amending Eisenhower's budget, the
next great
action with a dead-line attached around which to organize
Administration planning
and decisions. At the same time, it will be desirable to get
study groups
working, in or out of government, on the desirable projects and
administrative and legislative, which are not to be, or cannot
be, acted upon

These three steps completing the first message, amending the
budget, getting
long-range studies started will be major items of concern for
the President's
first weeks in office. They represent, really, a late stage in

Like everything before, this stage should be set in awareness
of possible
complications from abroad

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