Washington Insider
Mulling the impending presidential transition

By Rod Nofziger
OOIDA Director of Government Affairs


As stipulated in our Constitution, every four years we elect or re-elect a president, and that president is inaugurated on Jan. 20. Since 1797, when George Washington handed over his office to incoming President John Adams, we have enjoyed peaceful transitions from one president to the next.

Though nothing quite like other parts of the world where transitions of power can be accompanied by violence and civil war, presidential transition periods in the U.S. are times of irony and uncertainty. The outgoing president retains all of the legal powers of the presidency, yet he is a “lame duck” with little political influence. On the other hand, the incoming president has an electoral mandate under his belt and plenty of political sway, but he has no formal control over the government until Jan. 20.

Election Day to Inauguration Day spans only about 11 weeks. The president-elect has a lengthy “to do” list yet only a short period of time to get things done. For starters, there are more than 1,100 presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions to fill, and thousands of other jobs in the executive branch to hire for as well. This work includes sifting through thousands of names, identifying nominees, and completing extensive background checks on those individuals.

Before his inauguration, the president-elect must also get honed up on all foreign and domestic policy matters, set up operating procedures for the new administration, prepare a legislative agenda to present to Congress and have a budget proposal for the entire federal government for the most part completed. Congress wants all that the first week of February 2009.

To add to those challenges, the transition plans of the current president and the president-elect are likely to be very different, regardless of whether they happen to be from the same political party or not.

Even if they are from the same party, the outgoing president will be concerned with preserving his legacy while the incoming president will be focused on rolling out his or her own initiatives. In other words, if Sen. McCain is elected, President Bush may be primarily worried about the past and how history will judge his administration, while president-elect McCain will be chiefly focused on the future.

If the two presidents are from opposing parties, there are likely to be more areas of conflict. President Bush will likely want to protect his policies or accomplishments from being changed by an Obama administration. He may even want to create obstacles to keep the president-elect from quickly gaining political success or from implementing policies that contradict his own. Obama, in turn, may desire to swiftly reverse some of President Bush’s past efforts.

Recently, outgoing administrations have engaged in significant regulatory actions late in their terms. Some were simply the result of procrastination and scrambling to make a deadline, while others were strategically timed to “get it while the getting is good.”

As of press time there are a handful of significant regulatory rulemakings related to trucking that have been drafted, but the White House seems to be holding off on releasing them. These include final rulemakings for hours-of-service, mandated electronic onboard recorders, and truck driver medical certification regulations.

They may also have plans to release rulemakings on matters such as mandatory driver training or CDL testing and learner’s permit standards. The current administration may even make another move toward opening U.S. highways to Mexico-domiciled truckers or try some other trucking-related shenanigans on their way out the door.

Unfortunately, small-business truckers and professional drivers have spent more time fighting against initiatives of Bush’s administration than agreeing with its efforts. Whether our next president has the last name of McCain or Obama, we can optimistically look forward to the opportunities that a new president and a new administration may bring us. LL