Tales from the Inside: The Eeriest Day in Government

Thursday January 19, 2017

Witnessing a presidential transition from inside government will probably be one of the most interesting and affirming experiences I’ll ever have. While fascinating from a wonk standpoint, it also gave me the assurance and confidence in our government — in its institutions, its staff, its ability to withstand great turmoil and still come out strong.

And yet, the day before inauguration in 2009 will remain one of the eeriest days of my working life.

An agency begins its preparations for a transition a year before the date. Some of this is the internal operations work I mentioned before (getting a succession plan in place), or maybe working on filing to make sure everything is in proper working order. There is also the countdown from the outgoing administration, that has final agenda items it wishes to complete. (This isn’t nefarious work, sometimes they just want to see a government loan or grant processed before they leave, because they’ve already been working on it for a couple years.) The time pressure begins to mount as you approach election day, with strict deadlines that must be met if those concluding items are going to be finalized before the inauguration.

After election day, the workload doubles. In addition to the internal organizational work and the final agenda items, you now have a transition team holed up somewhere in the building. The agency prepares briefing binders to hand off to the new political staff on their first day of work, to catch them up to speed. The transition team hands down questions and requests for memos on certain topics.

All of these things are suddenly heaped on your desk. You race into work every morning, and you don’t sit down until you’re on the metro headed home at night. The day becomes a blur of activity and requests.

Then, of course, you have the office dynamics. While serving the outgoing administration to the best of your ability, you also have an eye to the incoming administration who are about to become your supervisors. You’re trying to appease both — the managers you’ve had for the past 2, 4, or 8 years and are used to taking orders from, while also trying to put your best foot forward to your new bosses, who are for now just names in a room somewhere in the building. (The fact that they are opposing political parties matters less than you’d think. To you, they are just management. Plus, I’ve heard the worst and most heated transitions are those between administrations of the same party.)

And then it’s finally the day before inauguration. You head to work with the same racehorse mentality. You’ve been trying to beat the clock for at least 6 months now, and today is the day. The day begins like any other, and everyone is literally running through the halls with last minute work items that need to be finalized.


You notice your political supervisor isn’t around.

After lunch, you notice none of the political staff is around.

And then you just stop.

Everything just stops.

Items that were absolutely critical this morning, of the utmost importance, are just…not important in the least by 1pm. A project that you’ve been racing to complete for months, just…drops. You will likely never have to work on it again.

Can you imagine a day at your company, when one hundred management staff just walks out, never to be seen again?

And so the rest of the day, you all walk around quietly, unsure what to do with yourselves.

You have no idea what your new administration wants out of you, so you just sit. And wait. For your new marching orders.




Comments are closed.