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Presidential Transitions Are Important. So Why Aren’t They More Transparent?

Climate Justice

Next Wednesday, Public Citizen is holding an important event that aims to promote greater transparency in the presidential transition process. The transition process is among the most critical events in our constitutional system of democracy. As the Center for Presidential Transition lays out in detail in its Presidential Transition Guide, this process is where the incoming president’s policy agenda is formulated, where candidates for key administrative posts are selected, and where at least the first year of budget priorities are translated into hard numbers. 

When it comes to policy formulation, personnel selection, and budget number crunching, the stakes in this year’s presidential transition may be the highest in recent memory. With at least two more years of divided government likely, administrative policymaking, as distinct from legislation, will continue to take on a dominant role. Bottom line: The agenda the next president adopts, and the appointees he or she entrusts with implementing that agenda, will likely determine whether and how we as a nation navigate the policy challenges we face now, as well as any new ones we might encounter over the next several years. 

Remarkably, though, the presidential transition process remains largely shielded from public view. Depending on how a particular transition team is run, there is unlikely to be much in the way of meaningful opportunities for input or accountability available to the general public. Instead, as recent developments with the Trump campaign’s transition team suggest, outside access could be largely limited to big-dollar donors and corporate interests. 

Notably, both campaigns’ transition teams are set to receive $13 million in taxpayer money to support their efforts, so better public accountability and oversight of the process are also important as a matter of fiscal responsibility. We applaud Public Citizen for hosting the September 7 event and for shining a light on these issues. 

For our part, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) is committed to contributing to the presidential transition process in a manner that is both meaningful and transparent. For example, later this fall, we will release a report that highlights 20 high-priority administrative actions the next president should take to promote public health, safety, and environmental protection. This progressive regulatory agenda is the result of a collaborative effort that involves more than a dozen CPR Member Scholars and staff. 

The recommendations in our report will cover everything from general environmental policymaking to redesigning our energy system, and from consumer and worker protection to enhanced enforcement. Some recommendations will build on the accomplishments of the outgoing Obama administration. For instance, one set of recommendations focuses on addressing climate change through “supply side” policies aimed at limiting fossil fuel-based energy, which would complement President Obama’s policies to limit fossil fuel demand in the energy sector, such as the Clean Power Plan. Other recommendations look to make novel use of existing legal authorities, such as the often-overlooked Section 102(1) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), to strengthen environmental protections. 

Of course, a strong progressive regulatory agenda will mean little if the pathway for pursuing it remains blocked off. As we noted in our recent report, Memo to the Next President: A Progressive Vision of Government and Protective Safeguards, the regulatory process that the next president must use for implementing protective safeguards has grown increasingly dysfunctional, to the point that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other protector agencies are being prevented from carrying out their statutory missions in a timely and effective manner. Fortunately, the next president can and should begin the process of rebuilding the U.S. regulatory system so that it is capable of once again working for the American people. To that end, our report sets out a concrete agenda for revitalizing the regulatory system. 

In the coming weeks and months, we look forward to sharing our full set of ideas on what steps the next president should take to ensure our government remains committed to promoting our shared social and economic values through progressive policy implementation. 

In the meantime, the public is invited to attend Public Citizen’s event on promoting transparency and accountability in the presidential transition process, which is being held next Wednesday, September 7, at 9 a.m. Eastern at the National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, DC. To attend, you can RSVP here.

Climate Justice

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