86521023You’ve likely heard the cliche about politicians “measuring the drapes” when they expect to win an election and then to take over an important government position, which presumably comes with an office requiring new drapes.

When pundits and prognosticators use the phrase, it’s usually in the context of criticizing a candidate for acting too quickly — jumping the gun before voters have cast their ballots. But Tevi Troy writes for National Affairs that some degree of “drape measuring” makes sense for those pursuing the nation’s highest office.

This difficult balance was on my mind when, in July of 2012, I was invited to a meeting at the Washington headquarters of the Romney Readiness Project. Known inside the Romney campaign as R2P, the project (which I soon joined as director of domestic policy) was an all-out transition team, assigned to help Mitt Romney prepare for the early personnel and policy decisions he would face if he won in November. Although Romney had long since secured the needed delegates to clinch the Republican nomination, when I attended my first R2P meeting, the GOP convention was still six weeks away and the election was fully four months away. Wasn’t it much too soon to start transition planning?

As I quickly learned, however, the project was a function not of hubris but of a new federal law that will forever change the character of presidential transitions. In an effort to address precisely the impossible choice that presidential candidates face between seeming arrogant and being unprepared, Congress passed the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010. The law provides government support?—?in the form of office space, technology, vetting for security clearances, assistance from federal-agency staffs, and funding?—?to help presidential challengers begin transition efforts upon receiving their parties’ nominations. Previously, federal transition support had been available only after the election was over. The law thus moved the transition timetable up from November to summer, offering several more weeks of crucial preparation time.

The law was also meant to help change attitudes. Our government takes in nearly $2.5 trillion a year in taxes, spends more than $3.5 trillion, employs roughly 4.4 million people, and stands at the center of global diplomatic, military, and financial affairs. The moment a president-elect takes the oath of office, he inherits enormous responsibilities for which we would wish no president to be unprepared. As one of the co-sponsors of the 2010 law, Ohio Republican senator George Voinovich, explained, “Candidates taking deliberate steps to ensure a smooth transition should not be criticized as arrogantly ‘measuring the White House drapes’ before Election Day: such planning should be encouraged and supported.”

The Romney campaign was the first, and so far the only, campaign to be covered by the new law (since the incumbent president does not require a transition effort), and it sought to take its charge seriously and to make the most of the opportunity the law made available. Every non-incumbent campaign in the coming years?—?including those of both parties’ candidates in 2016?—?will face a similar obligation, and a similar opportunity.