TRANSITION work is not for the faint of heart. But it is also not for talkative mouths and all that blabber, since consolidation is vital for someone who wins with just a plurality. Transition is not done in the public view, you don’t work publicly on transition but set the roadmap with the vision of the elected leader and how s/he plans to implement such vision, outside the glare. Important in such early work is the metric by which the elected leader would be measured for fulfilling his campaign promises and platform. It cannot be via trial and error, rather, it should be calculated and deliberate. When everything is complete, that is the time communicating is mostly done publicly.
Crucial to transition work is who will chair the transition team. The team needs “at least one senior person to be the weight behind it.” That person should be able to make the necessary decisions for the President-elect, removing much of administrative burden, ensuring coordination and collaboration with the team of the Vice President’s. The transition team is also a reflection of the principal’s orientation. Other important tasks are internal vetting and security clearances to jumpstart the work.
The First 100 days should have been defined and carefully measured backwards or via policy back-flips, so risks are managed and all decision-makers are aware of the scenarios. If not, the First 100-day mythology could destroy the administration for making too many decisions that are not well studied. The rush causes erosion of political capital. On the other hand, non-action undermines trust. That is why part of the work during campaign is setting up the transition plan that can be operational after victory. As someone who has been part of transition work came to learn, candidates need to start early. “You wouldn’t want to vote for someone who didn’t think that the transition was a complex process that you had to think through.” In the Philippine setup, though, transition teams are very rare; more often, such teams are done by candidates who have moved up the political ladder and had already been national candidates. A local candidate running for a national position may not have thought of transition work.
Transitions are called “perilous times”—chaotic moments in history when “vital decisions are taken at feverish pace by a President-elect and his aides at a time when they have little experience or knowledge to guide them.” History is full of examples of errors committed during transition that set an administration in a woeful start, thereby jeopardizing the full term.
Transition work involves establishing key goals and organizing the infrastructure necessary to achieve them, including: “Executing a presidential transition involves establishing key goals and organizing the infrastructure necessary to achieve them, including: “1) Staffing Malacañang and the Executive Offices of the President, developing a functional decision-making structure and preparing to assume governing responsibility; 2) Making around 40,000 presidential appointments (blue book) and career (red book), some requiring confirmation by the Commission on Appointments; 3) Getting up to speed national agencies and organizing and training leadership teams for each; 4) Building a full policy platform for the new administration and planning executive actions, a management agenda, a budget proposal and potential legislation to implement those policies; 5) Preparing a 100- to 200-day plan for executing the policies laid out by the President during the campaign and getting the new administration to a quick start; and 6) Developing a strategy for communicating with the people, Congress, Supreme Court, the local government units, media, political appointees, bureaucracy and other stakeholders.”
Internal cohesion horizontally and vertically will have to be established and nurtured, hence, strategic planning and formulation of a management roadmap are critical activities to get everyone in one page, steering toward one direction. Unlike the Philippines, there is legislation in the US on presidential transitions that clearly states procedures, coverage and budget, all centered with the General Services Office. There is even a transition office used for free.
Timelines are also important to define key events that shape and define the incoming administration. For July, the President-elect will deliver his first State of the Nation Address before the 17th Congress with the President’s point-men in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The President will also submit his first budget for FY 2017. Then the Office of the President will coordinate with the convened Commission on Appointments for the confirmation of the Cabinet, ambassadors and generals, among others. But apart from all of these are the administrative issuances and executive orders that will be issued by the Duterte administration in its first weeks in office. These issuances are the realization of the platforms and promises. Considering there were no clear-cut policy platforms, the Duterte administration will need to carry a national conversation on the nuances of reforms and change it will pursue in such issues as education, health and agriculture as well as crime, drugs and corruption.
It has been said that campaigning is the easiest while governing is the hardest. Campaign staff should not be carried to the governance phase because governance requires specific skills and qualifications. Besides, having the full campaign team in transition as well as the actual governance work may be too divisive than inclusive. Experts and specialists are needed in conducting agency reviews to assist the President in revising, changing or setting aside plans, programs and activities.
In all these is the vital role of communications. One cannot just wing it. It is critical that a draft communications-rollout plan is written and reviewed. News arcs are important in putting press releases, social media plan and backgrounder on the new President as well as plan for photo and video opportunities during the rollout days. Media training sessions are also needed to ensure the President’s preferences are known. Communicating to the nation is important for any President and media—traditional or new media, which are the means to reach out and build national consensus. Truly, “when you see how the President makes political or policy decisions, you see who he is. The essence of the presidency is decision-making,” and decision-making is the narrative of leaders.