Ever tried to start a new job without a job description? It can get thorny pretty quickly.
Now, imagine an entire organization — the most influential in the world — with 4,100 vaguely defined job openings, all new employees and a brand-new CEO. That’s the position the executive branch of the U.S. government finds itself in each time a new president is elected.
Thanks to Brad Golson, Louisiana State ’05, the transition process between presidential administrations has gotten a little smoother. Golson started a one-year appointment in March 2016 with the Center for Presidential Transition, an arm of the Partnership for Public Service tasked with helping incoming and outgoing administrations navigate the transition process after an election. This coordinated, nonpartisan effort was the first of its kind in American presidential history and required buy-in from each of the leading Democratic and Republican campaigns.
“Whether it’s national security or economic issues, should something happen, the new president is going to have to deal with it immediately,” Golson said. “If they don’t have the full background and knowledge of those issues, we’re all up a creek. It’s just good government and good management, just like if we were a corporation.”
As part of his job, Golson managed communication with the outgoing Obama administration, interviewing officials and identifying gaps in their transition process. He and his team gathered resources and data in the months leading up to the election, analyzing it to gather critical insights and background information for the new administration, regardless of who would be elected to lead it.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty with presidential transitions is that new administrations have an average of 70 days between the election and inauguration day. In that time, Golson said, “Appointees are expected to start planning what they’re going to do in an agency, but they don’t know anything about the agency.” Adding to the challenge, campaigns can’t have contact with federal agencies before the election, so potential appointees often have a significant knowledge gap.
“There was not one set of files anywhere that had position descriptions for those 4,100 appointees, so it wasn’t clear what they do,” Golson said. Plus, he added, it’s hard for an administration to pick the right people for the nation’s most important positions without job descriptions.
In a way, Golson’s experience mirrored that of an incoming administration’s. His first task was to create his own job description, as this was the center’s first attempt to help guide a presidential transition.
Uniquely qualified for this role, Golson coordinated and managed disaster relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina as Louisiana State University’s student body president. After graduation, he moved to Washington, D.C., and took a job with the Partnership for Public Service. Since then, he’s worked for the Department of Homeland Security and is currently director of the President’s Management Advisory Board with the General Services Administration. A certified project management professional, Golson was a natural fit for a role providing best practices for governmental management.
Golson’s next task in his new position was to define and fill roles that would be essential to the work ahead. In fact, he said, “Our team started with two people, and by the end of the year it was 20. I was not just hiring them, but helping them grow as leaders.”
After building a team, Golson and the center went to work. Well before the election, he and his fellow management experts quickly identified the top 400 appointed roles in the executive branch and federal agencies, and began conducting research. They enlisted transition experts from the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations and wrote a guide containing accounts and files from those presidencies. Their attention to detail had to be masterful — taken as a whole, these hundreds of positions wield a hefty influence on American governance.
Convincing each campaign to utilize their expertise was a challenge. “The rule of the road was that we’re not taking a side politically. Someone’s going to win the election, and it’s in the best interests of the American people for them to be able to transition as efficiently and effectively as they can in 73 days,” Golson said. “There was no requirement that candidates’ teams had to show up to our meetings or use our resources — but they did.”
Golson and his team introduced their work at an April 2016 meeting with representatives from all remaining presidential campaigns: Clinton, Cruz, Kasich, Sanders and Trump. “We had to make sure they would walk away and say, ‘I can do my job so much better now,’” Golson said.
“The experience truly gave me an opportunity to impact the transition of the next administration and, in a small way, help it run smoother and provide more data to the transition teams,” Golson reflected. “It put me in a position to learn a lot more about myself.” With the pressure on in an uncertain election, there was a “constant, day-to-day assessment of the value of our work,” and Golson certainly performed.
He counts his SigEp experience as a benefit in handling the leadership challenges inherent in a fast-paced Washington job. “My time as an executive board member, Ruck facilitator and Tragos Quest to Greece mentor helped me harness and hone my skills that allowed me to be an effective manager here, to work with some top officials in these campaigns and deliver on a project.”
Somehow, Golson finds time to volunteer with SigEp’s D.C. Delta Chapter at American University and facilitate at SigEp’s Carlson Leadership Academy and Ruck Leadership Institute. When asked how he stays balanced, Golson said, “Carving out time in my schedule to spend time with friends, focusing on myself and doing things like making sure I’m eating healthy and getting a workout in. When I do those things, I’m more effective at everything I’m doing.”
And if brothers like Golson can be more effective, our country will be better for it.