Episode 90

The Peaceful Transfer of Power

with David Marchick

December 8, 2022

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David Marchick
Dean of American University’s Kogod School of Business

David Marchick is the Dean of American University’s Kogod School of Business and the former Director of Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition. He is co-author along with Alexander Tippett, and collaborator A.J. Wilson, of The Peaceful Transfer of Power: An Oral History of America’s Presidential Transitions.


There are a lot of ways to strengthen the process, improve procedures, provide more money, and encourage candidates to start planning earlier and bigger.



Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: [00:00:00] Good afternoon, David, and welcome.

David Marchick: Thanks for having me.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: We’re pleased to have you at this microphone. Well, congratulations on publishing the Peaceful Transfer of Power. Very interesting book, of course about presidential Transitions, which we’ll get into in a moment. But congratulations as well on your new appointment as Dean of the Kogod School of Business of American University.

David Marchick: Thank you very much. Excited to have both of these developments, so it’s been nice fall.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Was being the dean of a business school in your aspiration set, David, or what was the backstory in that appointment?

David Marchick: The backstory is a lot of my career’s been very accidental. You know, I’ve been in government, I’ve been in the business private equity sector, and I left Carlisle in 2018 and I started teaching. Business school at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. And just loved it. I loved working with students, helping young people, and just being in a [00:01:00] university environment. And so American University was looking for a new dean of the business school and they approached me and I thought, this is a great way to, to have an impact for the next period of my phase of my life and career. And I’m loving it. It’s been a great.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Let’s move on to the peaceful transfer power. What led you to write that book, David?

David Marchick: So I worked in the 2020 cycle for an organization called the Partnership for Public Service, which is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization focused on making government work better, deliver more services, and be more efficient for the American people. The part of the Partnership for Public Service is an organization called the Center for Presidential Transition, which I ran for the cycle, and the theory was that a new president is, needs a good start to have an effective administration. And so transitions are at a of great change. They’re a time of great vulnerability for the country and the job that a [00:02:00] new president has to execute when they become president. The time, particularly getting appointments done in this 75 or 77 day period of time between the election and the inauguration it’s almost impossible to achieve everything that a president needs to do. And so the partnership for public Service has focused on helping. Candidates and president elect and their team be better, faster and smoother when they undertake a presidential transition. So I worked on the transition, I did this podcast where we interviewed chiefs of staff and leaders and transitions going back to the Carter administration. People like Jim Baker and Josh Bolton and John Podesta. And then we studied the historic transitions like Buchanan, to to Lincoln and Hoover to Roosevelt. And the podcast kind of took off. And then the transition obviously was on the front pages of the newspaper, everywhere in the world. And so we thought we’d do a book and we did.

And fortunately [00:03:00] it’s been pretty well received.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Ah, it’s a terrific book. I hope all of our listeners will buy it and read it because it’s really cramp full of details, but it’s just easy to read and the stories are terrific. I think you did 48. Podcast interviews. Is that right, David?

David Marchick: That’s right. We did 48 and about a year and a quarter, well, almost one every week and it was great. We had some wonderful authors like Michael Lewis, some historians, and then lots of former officials.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: So the book includes 26 of those interviews. How did you one select the original 48 for your podcast, and then the 26 that you included in the book?

David Marchick: So for the podcast, we wanted to cover every aspect of the transition, both the history of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, what went well and what didn’t. Then we focus on different aspects of the transition. Personnel policy working with agencies, the [00:04:00] handoff, what the outgoing administration of this is responsible for doing what the Congress’s role. And that created the body of work, which was 48 interviews. We also focused a lot on the Trump transitions. Michael Lewis wrote the book, the Fifth Risk, which was heavily about the Trump transition in, and basically the story there was Obama. The Obama administration planned to have the new administration come in and take advantage of readiness and memos, and they created office space and the Trump people just never showed up. And so that was the subject of Michael Lewis’s book. And he talked about that and then we focused on some of the historic transitions just because they’re so interesting. And as Ken Burns said, you know, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. And there are a lot of rhymes throughout the presidential transitions. Things that we saw both in 2020 and in previous transitions where if candidates [00:05:00] for office and their teams learned from the past, they would be better off in the.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: What were the, some of the better and the worst transitions?

David Marchick: Okay, well, let’s start with the best transition. The gold standard is really the Bush to Obama transition. And here let’s go back on the history. So George W. Bush came in. After a disputed election in Florida where 537 votes determine the outcome in one state, which determine who won 270 electoral votes. Because of that and the litigation and the Supreme Court case, Bush’s transition was shortened from the typical 75 or 77 days to 37 35 days. So fast forward eight months after he takes the oath of Office nine 11 happens, and at that point, he only had slightly over half of his national security officials in place across the government, and half of [00:06:00] those had only been in office for less than two months. So when the nine 11 Commission did their autopsy of what went well and what didn’t on nine 11. They found that the shortened transition in Periled Bush’s ability to get his people in place and national security positions, and therefore our national security readiness was undermined. So when he left office in, in his seventh year, he asked his chief of staff Josh Bolton to basically roll out the red carpet from whomever was. Whether it was a Democrat or Republican. So he obviously supported McCain, but he treated Obama and McCain equally in terms of transition planning. And so Josh organized the government into different committees, councils. He had memos written, he had the outgoing national security teams work with the incoming national security teams, and he created this kind of muscle memory. Which actually proved to be very prescient because at the time of [00:07:00] the election when Obama came in, we not only had two wars underway, Afghanistan and Iraq, but we also had the worst financial crisis since 1932. And Bush and Obama worked together not only on legislation on the auto rescue plan, but most importantly they work together to send a signal to markets and to the American people. That the government was there to help solve the problems associated with the financial crisis That shortened the financial crisis, made it easier, and it gave Obama running room to, to get a head start, and so Obama credited Bush with a smooth transition throughout his whole presidency. The two or three worst transitions, I think all historians would agree that the worst is 1860 Buchanan to Lincoln. It was a four month transition. That was before transitions were moved to two months and the president took o the oath of office on January 20th during the time between [00:08:00] Lincoln’s election and his swearing in. Seven states succeeded. Buchanan was paralyzed, the Congress was dysfunctional. Half the cabinet showed their loyalty to the South and Jefferson Davis was elected president of the Southern States. Meanwhile, Lincoln was in Springfield, Illinois, not able to really communicate with Washington or the American people. And so it was a, it was, that was the worst transition. Let’s fast forward to 2020 in the book I, Ken Burns came on the podcast twice the first time. He said, you know, Dave, you gotta look at the positive in the 231 years since George Washington handed the reins to John’s Adams, John Adam. Presidents have come and gone. They may not have wanted to leave, but they’ve always left. No troops have been alerted. No arms have been raised, no shots have been fired and nobody’s died. [00:09:00] So I had him on Ken Burns on the podcast after January 6th, and I said, can you, last time you were on, you said no troops were alerted. No shots were fired, no arms were raised and nobody died. And now you can’t say that. And he said, you know, Dave, I’ve chronicled the worst parts of American history, the Civil War, the Vietnam War, civil Rights, and we’re an unprecedented territory. Never before has a president tried to overturn the ele the outcome of an election, and never before have people die during the peaceful transition of power.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard to believe. It still is hard to believe for many of us at least. What’s the one overriding characteristic that could lead to the better transitions?

David Marchick: So it takes two to tango. It takes cooperation from the outgoing and it takes planning from the incoming. So in the book, we [00:10:00] present a number of recommendations of best practices. The A candidate needs to start early. It used to be that a candidate planning for a transition looked presumptuous. Now the best practice is the candidate should start planning in February or March, even before they’ve won the nomination. So Biden started talking to his team in February, March, about the transition, and got going in March. That’s best practice. Second is Go Big. Biden had more than 800 people on his team on November on the election day. Started with zero in February. So it’s a, you know, it’s a startup on steroids. Number three is to take personnel appointments as the top priority. Getting the White House team in place on day one, getting the cabinet in place quickly and having a very sophisticated personnel apparatus is really important. Then on the outgoing, whether an outgoing is [00:11:00] a second term president that. You know, leaving office no matter what, or a first term president that has lost, they need to plan, they need to organize the government, they need to prepare as if they’re gonna leave, and they need to ensure that there’s clear cooperation. George Bush, two days after the election, brought all of his staff to the south lawn of the White House and said, we have two wars going on at a terrible financial crisis. I want every single one of my employees, every single one of every single appoint. To cooperate with incoming President Obama. I know you may have philosophical differences with him, but we have two wars going on in a financial crisis, and the American people are depending on your cooperation, and they did.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Let’s turn back to the interviews for a moment. Was there anyone that you interviewed that you kind of always wanted to speak with and you had a chance to interview them?

David Marchick: Well, Jim Bakker is a hero in my book. [00:12:00] He’s, you know, one of the most effective. Officials ever to serve in Washington. He was chief of staff, secretary of Treasury, secretary of State. He ran two presidential campaigns. He probably is the most important unelected official of the post-war era. And so I was able to interview him and the stories he told were wonderful. He talked about the importance of preparation. His dad taught him the five P’s prior preparation, prevents poor performance, which I always remember. And he talked a lot about Reagan having the confidence to pick someone like him. So he said, you know, I ran two campaigns against Ronald Reagan first win. J Gerald Ford was running and we beat Reagan. And then in the primary when George Bush ran against Reagan in the Iowa primaries and lost. And he said it showed enormous confidence of the Kiper to pick someone who had ran two campaigns against him. And I doubt it’ll ever happen. And [00:13:00] Bakker did a great job. He organized the government and he bought profe, brought professionals in conservatives affiliated with Reagan. Didn’t love the fact that Bakker was chief of staff. They wanted more of a loyalist and more of an ideolog, but he brought in people to do a very good job for Reagan. And it proved successful. So that was a great interview. I.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Any surprises come out of the interviews? Anything either that you weren’t expecting or really weren’t aware of? Happen.

David Marchick: Well, Chris Christie was one of the most entertaining interviews, you know, the former governor, and he told some crazy stories about his process with Trump. You know, he said Trump called him one day during the inter, during the process and said, you know, don’t even plan. You and I are so smart, we can just take two hours after. After the election and plan out the whole transition and appoint everybody. And then he told the crazy story about two days after the election, Trump won unexpectedly. Chris Christie actually did a good job planning, [00:14:00] but then he was called to Trump Tower. And Steve Bannon sat down with him and Bannon sat him down and said, Chris, we need to make some changes in the transition. And Christie said, okay, what do we need to change? And Bannon said you’re out. And he was fired and they threw all of the work that he did in the trash. And I asked him what was the impact of that on the Trump presidency? And he basically said, the Trump never recovered. And it’s true.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Unbelievable. Well, the Senator has been, was created when? In 2008 or 2010. Yeah, and so. Been around very long is the point, but it is becoming a repository of information about transitions. What kind of role does the center play in these transitions, or what kind of role can it play in the transitions?

David Marchick: So unlike other aspects of the presidency, There’s no real depository [00:15:00] information. All this information that is used in transitions basically before the center existed, stayed in bookshelves. So there’s a great story in the book of Chris Lou who ran the Obama transition. He went to Jim Johnson, who ran the Mondale campaign, and then also ran the transition planning effort for Carrie. Chris Lou went to Jim and said, I gotta prepare for the transition. What do I do? And Johnson said, I’ve been waiting for someone like you. And he went to his closet and pulled out a box full of papers and said, here you go. Here’s all the materials. So the center has tried to bring all that information together, you know, plans, memos, organization charts timelines. From five or six transitions, including transitions that never happened. The Romney transition, the Clinton Transit, Hillary Clinton transition created a depository of information so that future transition teams don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Then it provides advice to [00:16:00] all the candidates. So in the last cycle in the Democratic primary, we were talking. Bernie Sanders team and Elizabeth Warren’s team and Pete Budha judge’s team and Biden’s team because we didn’t know who was gonna win. Then once it was clear that Biden was gonna be the nominee, we spent a lot of time with the Biden team helping them architect the whole transition. So, you know, in March or April actually it was March cuz I remember it was two days before the country shut down. I went up to Delaware and spent three hours with Ted Kaufman, who was Biden’s longtime friend, successor in the. And the chairman of his transition, and we spent three hours basically architecting the the transition, going through timelines and giving him advice on how to create the organization, and he found it very valuable. Then the Center also works with the outgoing administration facilitating conversations with the different agencies, helping agencies get ready, providing advice to agencies on what type of memos to repair, how to prepare. [00:17:00] And then it’s also kind of an interlocutor between the transition and the government. So the partnership deserves enormous credit for creating this and the center for presidential transition. Does heroic work?

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: So these transitions appear to cost 10 or 12 million. Looks like maybe 50, 60% of that is private money and the rest is government money. How can we do a better job of this? You’ve studied this now, you’ve talked to all the experts and leaders in this space. How can we do a better job of this?

David Marchick: So there is something called the Presidential Transition Act, which creates legislation and framework around presidential transitions right now, for example. After the nominating conventions, each nominee gets access to government space, government computers, laptops, cell phones, et cetera, and then that way their information is secure on a government server, et cetera, after the election. [00:18:00] The salaries of transition teams are actually paid for by the government. They become government employees. There’s no reason that the government shouldn’t pay those salaries. Prior to the election, there’s a strong interest in candidates having large transition teams to prepare for. The eventuality of becoming president or the possibility of becoming president. So more funding, moving the timelines up helping empowering career officials as opposed to political officials in the government to have more authority. So there were a lot of problems, for example, with political officials not cooperating with the Biden administration, the outgoing Trump team, not cooperating with the incoming Biden team. If you vest that authority more with career officials, they’re gonna cooperate. They don’t have the political incentives. They just want to do a good job. So there are a lot of ways to strengthen the process, improve procedures, provide more money, and encourage candidates to start planning earlier and bigger. That’s what can improve future transitions.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: So are we talking about [00:19:00] legislation or an update to.

David Marchick: Yes, we’re talking about legislation and also best practices inside the government. So right now, for example, there’s a law that allows for officials on the campaign to get cleared for security clearances, which can take months. That way if a candidate wins, they can start the day after the election working on classified material. That type of activity can be encouraged and can be brought forward to, to make the resources available earlier to candidates.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Over the course of my life, it seems to me I’m more aware now of political appointees being slowed down in Congress and politics coming into play and so on. Is that actually true? Is are we seeing more of that and can we do anything about that?

David Marchick: So a new president has the right to appoint 4,000 political positions. 1,250 of them need to be Senate confirmed 1,250. Those Senate [00:20:00] confirmations are taking longer to process. And the outcomes are much lower than they have been in the past. So for example, president Biden, who is a pro, he has a great team. He’s been in Washington forever, and he knows the Senate at the end of his first year. He only had about a third of the political appointees in place that need Senate confirmation a third because it just takes too long and by that time, officials are actually starting to leave. So a president really never catches up.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Right. That’s for sure. Dave, this has been a terrific interview. It’s a great book. People will enjoy it. It’s so easily readable and so much information there that you just don’t get when you read the normal. Press. Let me ask a final question if I could. I’ll ask you to put your dean’s hat on as well as what you learned from your exercise at the center. And that is what advice do you have for young, up and coming leaders, and particularly advice [00:21:00] that you gained from all the work you’ve done. Looking at the transfer of.

David Marchick: So actually this is something I’m spending a lot of time on at the business school where I’m the dean. Our basic premise is that leaders need to understand and be. Conversant in business, government, society. So leaders in business need to understand government. They need to sound regulations. They need to understand how to communicate with government authorities, peop leaders in government need to better understand business. And all of this has an impact on society. And so my career, for example, I’ve been in and out of the government, I’ve been in business, I’ve been in nonprofits, and now academia. And I think future leaders are are gonna follow that pattern. Where they’re gonna need to work with different parts of the world, and also they’ll go back and forth between different parts of the world. And so getting that broad set of skills, understanding different parts of society, I think is really important. To be an effective [00:22:00] leader you have to broaden your skill sets. You have to learn what the incentives are like on the other side. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the person across the table, and that’ll make you more effective.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Yep. Dave, once again, thanks so much for being here. Peaceful transfer of power is a good one. Thank you, sir.

David Marchick: Thank you very much for having me.

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