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Confirmations and Continuity

…Obama is already on the ground and running…
Despite all the verbiage spilled this election, I’ve encountered no mention of the challenge that faces every new president of naming top administrators – secretaries, undersecretaries, assistant secretaries and deputy assistant secretaries, plus Executive Office staff, from the direct assistants to the president to the Council of Economic Advisors and other appendages. New Presidents also face a steep learning curve on operational matters, from dealing with intelligence briefings and to establishing personal ties (or not!) with key Congressional leaders.
The “Plum Book” drawn up every 4 years as an aid to new (and incumbent) presidents lists 7,996 positions subject to presidential appointment. While in practice many of will be filled through routine promotions of senior civil servants, in 2008 some 1,141 positions required Senate confirmation. Unless they both want to stay and an incoming president chooses to leave them in place — as President Obama did in 2009 with Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense — there is then no one to sign off on regulatory approvals and staff changes and so on until the Senate approves them. Making appointments takes months; confirmation the majority of candidates takes the better part of the year, particularly when the Senate objects to the initial nominee.
An incumbent who is re-elected need not spend time learning the ropes. (Hopefully they will also reflect on successes and failures during their first 4 years!) While many appointees will choose to move on before 2016, a second-term president likewise needs spend little time on personnel issues or other transition tasks.
So unlike 2009, when he faced transition tasks in the midst of a financial crisis, Obama is already on the ground and running. Of course he had the overhead of the election campaign, and so perforce was faced with performing two full-time jobs the past year or so. Crises (and routine tasks) kept intruding. On TV he appears visibly tired, for good reason. Our electoral system imposes a burden on maintaining efficient government operations. We’ve lessened that burden for the next four years, to our benefit.
…mike smitka…