Presidential Transition Act Summary March 10, 2020

In passing the Presidential Transition Act of 1963, Congress explained: “Any disruption occasioned by the transfer of the executive power could produce results detrimental to the safety and well-being of the United States and its people.” To promote the orderly transfer of power, Congress established a framework for the federal government to prepare for a transition from one president to another.

With strong bipartisan support, the Act has been amended over the years to recognize the increasing complexities of presidential transitions.[1] The law requires the General Services Administration to provide office space and other core support services to presidents-elect and vice Presidents-elect, as well as pre-election space and support to major candidates. The Act also requires the White House and agencies to begin transition planning well before a presidential election, benefitting both first and second-term administrations.

What are Agency and Inter-Agency Transition Planning requirements?

The Act establishes an early and organized cadence for the federal government’s transition planning:

Before the election, each agency must designate a senior career official who will be in charge of transition planning, prepare transition briefing materials, and ensure that succession plans are in place so that as political appointees depart, career officials are prepared to step in place until new political appointees arrive.
Six months before an election, the President must establish a White House Transition Coordinating Council, chaired by a senior employee of the Executive Office of the President and consisting of other high-level officials, such as cabinet officers; the Directors of the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Personnel Management, the Office of Government Ethics; the Administrator of GSA; and the Archivist of the United States. A transition representative of the major candidates also sits on the council. The council provides guidance to agencies on transition and facilitates communications between the administration and the transition teams.
The Act requires a standing Agency Transition Directors Council, co-chaired by GSA’s Federal Transition Coordinator and the Office of Management and Budget’s Deputy Director for Management, and including agency senior career officials responsible for transition activities as well as transition representative of the major candidates. This working-level council works toward an integrated, government-wide approach to transition and ensures that briefing materials are prepared.
What is the Role of the General Services Administration?

The Act requires GSA to provide office space and administrative support (such as information technology and communications capabilities) to a president-elect and vice president-elect and, recognizing a growing need for transition activities to start well before election day, the Act also requires GSA to offer office space and support to major candidates in the months preceding the election, following the political conventions. In the post-election period, GSA is also authorized to pay expenses for staff, experts, postage, and travel for the transition team of the president-elect, if the president-elect is not a president who has been re-elected. Use of government aircraft also may be provided on a reimbursable basis.

GSA also serves a liaison between transition teams and the federal government, helping, for example, to ensure that a president-elect’s “beach-head” team is cleared to enter each agency and be on the job immediately after inauguration of the new president. The law requires the GSA Administrator to designate a senior career official to serve as the Federal Transition Coordinator, who coordinates transition planning across agencies. GSA is also required to compile a report on modern transitions and develop a transition directory with comprehensive information on the officers, organization, and responsibilities of each federal agency. GSA also provides support to help outgoing presidents as they depart the White House.

Also, recognizing that incoming political appointees face unique challenges and requirements coming into federal service, the Act allows GSA to expend funds of training for new appointees during the entire duration of a president’s term, not just during transition or at the beginning of the term. GSA also provides support to help outgoing presidents as they depart the White House.

How does the Act help with transition related to national security?

The Act directs the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies responsible for conducting background investigations to conduct those investigations expeditiously, with the goal of providing appropriate security clearances before inauguration for the individuals that the President-elect has identified for high level national security positions, including secretaries and undersecretaries of cabinet-level agencies. The law also requires that the president-elect be given a classified summary as soon as possible after the election on threats to national security, covert military operations, and pending decisions on possible uses of military force. The White House Transition Coordinating Council is tasked with conducting interagency emergency preparedness and response exercises.

Separately, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004[2] allows each eligible candidate, before the election, to submit security clearance requests for prospective transition team members who will need access to classified information. The law directs that background investigations and security clearance determinations for these individuals be completed, to the fullest extent practicable, by the day after the date of the election.

What requirements are placed on recipients of transition assistance?

As a condition of receiving office space and related services, the president-elect and the vice president-elect are required to disclose to GSA all non-federal contributions received for transition activities. The transition teams must also disclose to the public the identities and sources of funding of individuals who enter federal agencies after the election as part of the President-elect’s transition team. Also, GSA, to the greatest extent practicable, must enter memoranda of understanding with each eligible candidate which includes the conditions for the services and facilities provided by GSA, designation of a transition representative to receive inquires related to transition team documents, conditions for access to agencies by the president-elect’s transition team, and agreement by transition teams to implement, enforce and publicly disclose ethics plans for transition team members.

How are presidential transitions funded?

Presidential transitions are funded through a combination of federally appropriated funds and private funds. Congress provided $9.62 million for transition activities in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020, and the President has requested $9.9 million for activities in fiscal year 2021.

To accept private funding, an eligible candidate must establish an entity that is legally separate from the campaign and that qualifies under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code. An eligible candidate may transfer into these entity contributions received for his or her general election campaign and may also solicit and accept donations directly into it. Contributions per person or organization may not exceed $5,000. As noted above, contributions must be disclosed to GSA.

What happens if a President is re-elected?

In the event that the president-elect is the incumbent or where the vice president-elect is the incumbent, federal transition funds for post-election transition activities are returned to the Treasury. The law does allow, though, for GSA to use funds for training of new political appointees throughout a president’s term.

What happens if the result of the election is unclear? The law provides that an eligible candidate has the right to the facilities and services provided to eligible candidates until the date on which the Administrator is able to determine the apparent successful candidates for the office of president and vice president.

Timeline of Requirements

GSA designates a Federal Transition Coordinator
GSA develops a transition directory with information on federal agencies
Agency Transition Directors Council meets (Not less than one meeting per year in off-election years)
Training for appointees (throughout a president’s term)
12 months before election

GSA produces report summarizing modern transition activities and relevant resources
6 months before election

President establishes a White House Transition Coordinating Council
Agency Transition Directors Council begins to meet on a regular basis
Each agency designates a senior career employee to oversee transition activities
The Federal Transition Coordinator reports to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on transition preparations
Post-Conventions through Election

3 months before the election, the Federal Transition Coordinator reports to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on transition preparations
Not later than September 1, GSA enters memorandums of understanding with eligible candidates regarding support services
Not later than September 15, heads of agencies ensure succession plans are in place for non-career positions
Not later than October 1, GSA negotiates memorandums of understanding with transition teams, including agreement by transition teams to implement and make public their ethics plans
Not later than November 1, the Agency Transition Directors Council ensures that transition briefing materials are prepared
Post-Election (if there is a change in administration)

On the day following the election, GSA begins to provide office space and support services to the president-elect and Vice President-elect, with support continuing up to 60 days after inauguration
A classified summary regarding national security is given to the president-elect as soon as possible after the election
30 days before the expiration of the term, GSA begins support to outgoing president and vice president, with support continuing for 7 months total
[1] 3 U.S.C. § 102 note. The Act has been updated in the last two decades by the Presidential Transition Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-293), the Pre-Election Presidential Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-283), the Edward “Ted” Kaufman and Michael Leavitt Presidential Transitions Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-136), and the Presidential Transition Enhancement Act of 2019 (P.L. 116-121).

[2] P.L. 108-458, as amended by the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-283).


Publication Type: Research and Publications

Publication Tags: Laws and Regulations

on this day 11/10 1993 – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Brady Bill, which called for a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases. 

1775 – The U.S. Marines were organized under authority of the Continental Congress. The Marines went out of existence after the end of the Revolutionary War in April of 1783. The Marine Corps were formally re-established on July 11, 1798. This day is observed as the birth date of the United States Marine Corps.

1801 – The U.S. state of Tennessee outlawed the practice of dueling.

1871 – Henry M. Stanley, journalist and explorer, found David Livingstone. Livingston was a missing Scottish missionary in central Africa. Stanley delivered his famous greeting: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

1879 – Western Union and the National Bell Telephone Company reached a settlement over various telephone patents.

1917 – 41 suffragists were arrested in front of the White House. 

1919 – The American Legion held its first national convention, in Minneapolis, MN.

1928 – Michinomiya Hirohito was enthroned as Emperor of Japan.

1951 – Direct-dial, coast-to-coast telephone service began when Mayor M. Leslie Denning of Englewood, NJ, called his counterpart in Alameda, CA.

1954 – The Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated in Arlington, VA.

1957 – 102,368 people attended the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams game. The crowd was the largest regular-season crowd in NFL history.

1969 – “Sesame Street” made its debut on PBS.

1970 – The Great Wall of China opened for tourism.

1975 – The U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution that equated Zionism with racism. The resolution was repealed in December of 1991.

1975 – The Edmund Fitzgerald, an ore-hauling ship, and its crew of 29 vanished during a storm in Lake Superior.

1976 – The Utah Supreme Court gave approval for Gary Gilmore to be executed, according to his wishes. The convicted murderer was put to death the following January.

1977 – The Major Indoor Soccer League was officially organized in New York City. (New York).

1982 – Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev died of a heart attack at age 75. He was suceeded by Yuri V. Andropov.

1982 – In Washington, DC, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was opened to visitors.

1984 – The U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

1986 – Camille Sontag and Marcel Coudari, two Frenchmen were released by the captors that held them in Lebanon.

1988 – The U.S. Department of Energy announced that Texas would be the home of the atom-smashing super-collider. The project was cancelled by a vote of the U.S. Congress in Oct. 1993.

1990 – Chandra Shekhar was sworn in as India’s new prime minister.

1991 – Robert Maxwell was buried in Israel, five days after his body was recovered off the Canary Islands.

1993 – John Wayne Bobbitt was acquitted on the charge of marital sexual assault against his wife who sexually mutilated him. Lorena Bobbitt was later acquitted of malicious wounding her husband.

1993 – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Brady Bill, which called for a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases.

1994 – U.S. officials announced that it planned to stop enforcing the arms embargo against the Bosnian government the following week. The U.N. Security Council was opposed to lifting the ban.

1994 – Iraq recognized Kuwait’s borders in the hope that the action would end trade sanctions.

1995 – Nigeria’s military rulers hanged playwright Ken Saro-Wiwa along with several other anti-government activists.

1995 – In Katmandu, Nepal, searchers rescued 549 hikers after a massive avalanche struck the Himalayan foothills. The disaster left 24 tourists and 32 Nepalese dead.

1996 – Dan Marino (Miami Dolphins) became the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for more than 50,000 yards. (Florida)

1997 – WorldCom Inc. acquired MCI Communication Corporation. It was the largest merger in U.S. history valued at $37 billion. 

1997 – A jury in Virginia convicted Mir Aimal Kasi of the murder of two CIA employees in 1993.

1997 – A judge in Cambridge, MA, reduced Louise Woodward’s murder conviction to manslaughter and sentenced the English au pair to time served. She had served 279 days in the death of 8-month-old Matthew Eappen.

1998 – At the White House, “The Virtual Wall” website ( was unveiled. The site allows visitors to experience The Wall through the Internet.

2001 – The World Trade Organization approved China’s membership.

2001 – The musical “Lady Diana – A Smile Charms the World” opened in Germany.

2004 – Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) was awarded the “Man for Peace” prize in Rome at the opening of a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.