Until recently, presidents-elect financed their own transitions. Then in 1964 Congress passed the Presidential Transitions Act, which granted the newly elected president $450,000 and the outgoing president $450,000 to help cover their transition expenses. In 1988 Congress revised the act to grant $3.5 million to each incoming administration and $1.5 million to each outgoing administration, with these amounts to be adjusted for inflation. The revised act also authorized the president-elect to raise money from private donors to cover any additional costs of the transition, provided that donations did not exceed $5,000 per donor and the names of the donors were disclosed publicly. Bill Clinton's 1992-1993 transition spent a total of $8.3 million, $4.8 million from private sources. In 2000-2001 George W. Bush spent slightly more, $8.5 million, $4.3 million from private sources. (See Table 5-11, right.) The money is used for staff salaries, travel expenses, talent searches, policy deliberations, and public relations activities. Separate federal funds are used for the inaugural ceremonies.
In many ways, the presidential transition is the most important phase of the new president's term. The transition period offers incoming presidents a chance to forge a governing strategy, aided by thorough analyses of national security and economic issues. The incoming administration of Bill Clinton was especially active during the transition period. For example, the president-elect convened an economic conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, in December 1992 to address the economic and budgetary problems facing the nation. During the five weeks it took to resolve the outcome of the disputed 2000 election, George W. Bush began transition planning on the assumption that he would win. Bush appointed Richard B. Cheney, his vice-presidential running mate, to oversee the transition.
Table 5-11 Growth of Transition Teams and Expenditures, 1952–2001
Expenditure dollars (millions)
|President ||Size of transition team ||Public funds ||Public funds ||Public funds |
| Eisenhower (1952–1953)|| 100|| 0|| 0.4|| 0.4|
| Kennedy (1960–1961)|| 50 [a]|| 0|| 1.3|| 1.3|
| Nixon (1968–1969)|| 125–150|| 0.5|| 1.0|| 1.5|
| Carter (1976–1977)|| 300|| 1.7|| 0.2|| 1.9|
| Reagan (1980–1981)|| 1,550|| 2.0|| 1.0|| 3.0|
| G. Bush (1988–1989)|| 150 [b]|| 3.5|| 0|| 3.5|
| Clinton (1992–1993)|| 450||3.5 ||4.8 || 8.3|
| G. W. Bush (2000–2001)|| 800 [c]||4.2 ||4.3 ||5 |
source: Laurin L. Henry, Presidential Transitions (Washington, D.C.: Brookings, 1960); Frederick C. Mosher, W. David Clinton, and Daniel G. Lang, Presidential Transitions and Foreign Affairs (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987); Herbert E. Alexander, Financing the 1968 Election (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1971); Financing the 1976 Election (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 1979); Financing the 1980 Election (Lexington, Mass.: Lexington Books, 1983); Herbert E. Alexander and Monica Bauer, Financing the 1988 Election (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991); Herbert E. Alexander and Anthony Corrado, Financing the 1992 Election (New York: Sharpe, 1995); General Services Administration; White House Press Office.
[a.] Estimate based on statement by Richard Neustadt that Carter’s transition staff was six times the size of Kennedy’s (Richard Neustadt, Presidential Power [New York: Macmillan, 1980], 218).
[b.] Plus 100–150 volunteers.
[c.] Includes an unspecified number of volunteers.
New presidents often are so confident in the wake of winning the election that they pay little attention to the perils awaiting them at the White House. Presidents-elect have their own agendas and sometimes are unwilling to listen to the counsel of others. Moreover, they may underestimate the challenge. As one former transition aide warned, “A transition is like assembling and then tearing down a multimillion dollar corporation in a span of ninety days. It doesn’t exist November 5 and then it is destroyed January 20. So there’s a lot of chaos. You’re going to make mistakes.”  An additional problem, observed political scientist Charles O. Jones, is that “[p]residents-elect enter the critical transition period in a physically and mentally exhausted state, typically dependent on an equally fatigued staff.” 
The time that a president-elect has to accomplish the transition from campaigning to governing is brief. Political scientist Richard E. Neustadt calls the transition the “eleven-week scramble.”  But the stakes in accomplishing a successful transition are high. Historian Carl M. Brauer notes:
Transitions are filled with peril and opportunity… . Newly elected presidents have ended wars or prolonged them. They have demonstrated acumen or ineptitude on national security and foreign policy issues. They have maximized their mandates and led Congress, or squandered their mandates and failed to lead Congress. They have inspired or failed to inspire the public through their statements and actions. They have established economic and social policies with widely varying results. They have wisely or imprudently adopted or discarded inherited policies. They have appointed people who helped them achieve their goals and who graced public service and others whom they came to regard as liabilities and mistakes. 
The extent of the new president’s electoral “mandate” is central to the transition period. Yet John F. Kennedy’s slim victory in 1960 did not stop him from taking an aggressive approach to leading the nation. Kennedy stated after the election: “The margin is narrow, but the responsibility is clear. There may be difficulties with Congress, but a margin of only one vote would still be a mandate.”  As foreseen, Kennedy had many problems with Congress. Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landslide election led to more policy victories than a slimmer electoral triumph would have allowed.
Sometimes the most important transition moves are made behind the scenes. In 1992 President-elect Clinton met with Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, to confer about what policies would reassure financial markets enough to justify keeping interest rates low—a vital condition for economic growth. Indeed, Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, nurtured a relationship with Greenspan, a Republican, to help push the president’s economic plans through Congress. At the same time, Vice President–elect Al Gore sounded out Republican leaders on Capitol Hill about various deficit-cutting measures. Gore learned from these meetings that the GOP would not provide any support on budgetary and tax issues. That moved the Clinton White House toward a partisan approach to congressional relations.
Finally, the transition period can be crucial in determining what kind of “honeymoon” the new president is likely to have wi