Tevi Troy looks into the history of presidential transitions to counter false narratives.

Over the years, transitions have changed, leading to misconceptions about how they work.

Myth No. 1
A transition requires an official GSA sign-off to begin.

By law, Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, “must formally recognize Mr. Biden as the incoming president for his transition to begin,” the New York Times reported. (She has not yet done so.) “The transition process cannot formally begin until the head of the General Services Administration gives the green light,” according to the business daily Government Executive.

The truth is that a transition is about much more than getting access to each agency’s plans and paperwork, which the new team will have four years to assess and modify. Far more important is the hard work of vetting, selecting and prepping 15 Cabinet heads, about 700 Senate-confirmed nominees, 400 or so White House staff members and about 4,000 political appointees. …

… Myth No. 2
Same-party transitions are smoother.

“Interparty transitions in particular might be contentious,” a 2017 Congressional Research Service report says. A famous example of a rough opposite-party handoff is the pranking of the incoming George W. Bush staff by the outgoing Bill Clinton team, which was frustrated that Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore, lost the close and bitter election. …

… But intraparty handovers, while somewhat rare, can be challenging as well. In the 1989 transition between President Ronald Reagan and his vice president, George H.W. Bush, many Reagan staffers were surprised to find themselves without jobs as Bush took a nonideological approach that contrasted with Reagan’s. One anonymous Bush transition official legendarily told The Washington Post: “Our people don’t have agendas. They have mortgages.” Another rocky intraparty switch was between the resigning Richard Nixon and Vice President Gerald Ford in 1974. …

… Myth No. 3
Transitions start after the election.

“The day after the election, transition begins in earnest,” Voice of America reported in 2016. In the United States, the Canadian website iPolitics says, “the work of the transition teams is concentrated during the 75 days between the election and Inauguration Day.”

But a smart campaign begins this process long before winning.