News Journal: Obama signs “Ted Kaufman’s” Transition Act

Harry Themal 12:42 p.m. EDT March 25, 2016

Individuals are sometimes honored with having their names put on legislation at all levels of government, usually as a response to someone’s illness or to a wrong being righted. A bill signed March 18, by Preident Obama bears the name of a Delawarean, Ted Kaufman.

The “Edward ‘Ted’ Kaufman and Michael Leavitt Presidential Transitions Improvement Act of 2015,” to give S. 1172 its formal title, will further assure that President Obama’s handoff to his successor will be much smoother.

Although Kaufman has not been in the Senate since he left his 22-month term in 2010, his pioneering work on such transitions led to his being honored with that law’s title.

S. 1172 was introduced by Delaware’s senior senator Tom Carper and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, respectively the ranking Democrat and the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. In a rare bipartisan moment it passed the Senate unanimously on a voice vote.
The new measure and an earlier one passed in 2010 outline specific pre-election planning so that by the time a new president takes the oath, the machinery will have been established for an administration prepared to move into action. Some transition machinery has actually been in effect for many years. It is now lengthened to six months.

Kaufman served for more than two decades as the key adviser to Sen. Joe Biden and has continued to be a resource for the vice president. Before Biden and Obama were elected in 2008, Kaufman was in charge of the Democrats’ transition team. Leavitt, former governor of Utah, served in the same capacity in 2012 for GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

Kaufman was appointed a senator by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner to fill Biden’s seat and served till Chris Coons was elected in November 2011. Republican George Voinovich of Ohio, also a senator not running for re-election, and Kaufman helped craft a presidential transition act that relied on presidential scholars and reports made of previous transitions. Carper joined the sponsors.

The 2010 bill won major support in The Hill, a trusted publication that covers Congress. including columnist Norman Orenstein. Democrat Donna Brazile and Republican Ed Gillespie, who had worked for new administrations, wrote that the 11or 12 weeks between Election Day and Inauguration Day are too short a period for transition.

“This is especially true in our post 9/11 security environment and in times of economic uncertainty, which demand a seamless transfer of power and leave us no room for a gap in national leadership.” Today five years later similar threats exist from ISIS and others intent on destroying us and in an economic environment still in transition.

The 2010 and 2016 laws assure that a formal transition team will work with the candidates and their staffs will exist six months before the election. A career executive from the General Services Administration, White House Transition Coordinating Council and an Agency Directors Council will be compiling briefing material for the candidates.

Kaufman’s readers of this newspaper, where he writes an occasional column, and Duke University, where he has taught a course about Congress for 25 years, should take pride in the achievements of this Delawarean’s contribution to the government.

One other rare example of congressional bipartisanship:

Three weeks ago this column deplored the bureaucracy in the Department of the Army in denying inurnment in Arlington National Cemetery for the pilots of WASP, the Women Air Force Service Pilots, who flew in World War II out of the New Castle Airbase.

The House of Representatives in the record time of 11 weeks has passed an act overturning that ban. Rep. Martha McSally of Arizona, the first woman to be a fighter pilot in combat, got nearly 200 cosponsors, including Delaware’s John Carney, to win unanimous House approval this month. A companion bill is still pending in the Senate.

Harry Themal has been a News Journal editorial writer since 1989.