Get access

Preparing to Be President on Day One


Harrison Wellford has advised Democratic presidents-elect and presidential nominees on transition planning since 1976, when he headed the Government Reform Task Force for President-Elect Jimmy Carter. He was manager of the Carter–Reagan transition for the outgoing president in 1980–81, served as White House transition advisor to President-Elect Bill Clinton in 1992, and chaired a transition planning team for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004. Mr. Wellford has served as executive associate director of the Office of Management and Budget and as executive director of presidential reorganization planning. He practiced law at Latham and Watkins, where he chaired the energy and international practice groups. He is now managing partner of Terrawell Energy Group, which develops and invests in solar power and other renewable energy ventures.


Nearly 50 years ago, John F. Kennedy asked Clark Clifford to handle his transition planning; the day after the election, Clifford handed Kennedy a single memorandum. Transition for today’s president-elect is much more complex. Managing the shift from campaigning to governing is the president-elect’s greatest challenge and biggest opportunity. According to Martha Joynt Kumar in her foregoing essay, the newly elected would do well to learn from the successes and failures of their predecessors. In short, the risks rooted in the inexperience and hubris of new presidents may be mitigated or avoided by knowledge gained from analysis of transition precedents. In this essay, the author provides a practitioner’s checklist of dos and don’ts drawn from his experience as a manager and advisor in presidential transitions.