The Presidential Transition FAQ

Does the president-elect get to ride around in Air Force One-elect? And other questions …

Speaking from the White House Rose Garden on Nov. 5, President Bush promised a smooth changing of the guard between his outgoing administration and Barack Obama’s incoming one: “During this time of transition,” he said, “I will keep the president-elect fully informed of important decisions.” The 77-day lame-duck interlude between now and Jan. 20 raised a slew of questions for Explainer readers:

Who pays for the transition team?
Taxpayers. Before the passage of the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, the president- and vice-president-elect and their party raised private money to support the changeover. As Rep. Dante Fascell of Florida put it during House floor debates, “It just does not seem proper and necessary to have [the president- and vice-president-elect] going around begging for money to pay for the cost of what ought to be the legitimate costs of Government.” The General Services Administration, the agency tasked with doling out funds, had $7.1 million at its disposal for the 2000-01 transition, including $1.83 million for the outgoing Clinton administration, $4.27 million for the incoming Bush team, and a $1 million cushion for any additional expenses incurred. This year, the budget provides $8.52 million.


Private donors contribute, too. This year, for example, the Obama campaign created a nonprofit entity called the “Obama Transition Project,” which accepts donations up to $5,000 for transition-related expenses.

Where does the transition team work?
The GSA has already prepared a 120,000 square-foot space in downtown Washington, D.C., for Obama’s committee. Since the 500 or so people who will work on the transition aren’t yet federal employees, they don’t have access to secure government computer networks. But the GSA has set up a separate network with access to e-mail and shared servers. Some transition team members work out of the president-elect’s home-state election headquarters—in this case, Illinois.


Does the president-elect get to fly around in a special plane, like an Air Force One-elect?
Not really. Bush gets to keep his exclusive seat aboard Air Force One until inauguration day. The Obama team may use Transition Act funds to charter a plane or hire cars.

When does the president-elect start getting intelligence briefings?
Right away. Key CIA officials met on Wednesday to discuss the transition, and on Thursday National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell will give Obama his first briefing. After an initial lay-of-the-land chat, the CIA will provide Obama with critical overnight intelligence and clue him in to any ongoing covert operations.

As Obama puts together his administration, the Joint Staff transition team—which includes representatives from the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy—will prepare briefings on developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the mechanics of managing the military, and disaster management.

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Explainer thanks Martha Kumar of Towson University.