What Happens During a Presidential Transition?
At the beginning of a new presidential administration, the incoming President makes personnel changes including selecting new Cabinet secretaries and agency heads. These new appointees may then appoint a number of officials on the basis of their support for the President's policies and initiatives. The appointed officials are responsible for either formulating, advocating, and directing administration policies and programs; or for serving such officials in a close and confidential relationship.
Most Executive branch positions are in the Competitive Service or in a separate, but similar, competitive merit system. Government-wide, there are relatively few positions whose incumbents are subject to change during periods of transition to a new administration.
The 2008 United States Government Policy and Supporting Positions, commonly known as the Plum Book, is the most recent compilation of appointed and Schedule C positions. It lists less than 10,000 positions, as compared to the Civil Service System, which employs more than two million people.
Employees in positions that traditionally change when presidential administrations change are not part of the Competitive Civil Service. Rather, they are excepted from Competitive Civil Service requirements and protections by law, Executive order, or regulation.
At the time presidential administrations change, current incumbents of these discretionary positions customarily resign at the request of the new incoming administration officials or before a new agency head takes office. Certain individuals may be asked by the incoming administration to remain in their jobs during the transition to ensure continuity during the selection process.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) updates the Plum Book every four years at the request of Congress and it is published immediately after the election in November. An interactive version of the 2008 Plum Book is available here.
Involuntary Separations or Resignations
Presidential appointees and immediate staff: When the President accepts the resignation of a presidentially-appointed policy-making officer, the separation is involuntary. A separation is involuntary at any time the resignation is submitted and accepted, whether or not it is related to a change in presidential administrations.
Further, when it is known that a presidential appointee is leaving, the resignation of a noncareer SES or Schedule C employee who works for that presidential appointee is involuntary. Agencies should include documentation with a retirement application that the President has accepted the resignation of the appointee, or that the presidential appointee for whom a noncareer SES or Schedule C appointee works is leaving.
Requested resignations: When an agency separates employees who submit their resignations in response to a request from a recognized representative of the new incoming administration, those separations are involuntary for retirement purposes. The agency should attach a copy of the request for resignation with each individual's retirement application. Unsolicited resignations, such as those based on an anticipated request for a resignation and those prompted by personal choice, are voluntary for retirement purposes.
Caution about separations: When an agency separates employees, constitutional requirements obligate the agency to provide a hearing if an employee’s moral character is impugned by the reasons given for dismissal. These rights arise only when disreputable reasons for dismissal are recorded in any document that might be disseminated to others, either inside or outside of the government.
Overlapping in Key Positions
Agencies cannot employ two individuals in the same position at the same time, which is called "dual incumbency". However, agencies have options to ensure continuity in key positions and enable the agency to meet other transition needs.
When an incumbent's intention to leave has been documented, an agency may establish a different position to employ a designated successor for a brief period until the incumbent's departure. For example, when an office director is leaving, the agency could establish a temporary special assistant position for a short period to facilitate orientation of the incoming director to the office's operations.
OPM may authorize the use of SES limited appointment authorities for short periods of time for temporary executive positions established under such circumstances.