An Historic Transition

About the Author: Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator and Transition Leader.

EPA’s main headquarters building is located at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC. At this same intersection in the mid-morning of April 15, 1865, Andrew Johnson slipped into what was then called the Kirkland House hotel. About two hours later he re-emerged. He went in as Vice President. He came out as President.

Old newspaper photo of Andrew Johnson taking presidential oath of officeAndrew Johnson ‘transitioning’ at Kirkland House, 1865.

It is miraculous that during one of the most emotive and disturbing events in our history, Lincoln’s assassination, we handed off Presidential power so peacefully. We have been through 42 Presidential transitions under both banal and extraordinary circumstances and have never encountered angry mobs swarming the Capitol or soldiers marching on the White House. We take this consistently placid process for granted. Just ask anyone living in Zimbabwe, Burma or Thailand.

That said, some transitions are better than others. I believe the current transition may turn out to be the smoothest on record. The current Administration started working with the campaign staffs weeks ago to prepare for this changeover and that advanced planning is already paying dividends.

One reason is technology. We can now communicate more information more quickly to more people than ever before. For instance, if you are at EPA and have any questions regarding the Agency’s transition you can go to an intranet site and get answers. If you don’t see an answer to your question there, you can ask your question and get an answer later. In addition, on October 20, 2008 we broadcast a briefing regarding EPA’s transition throughout the agency on internet protocol television. If you missed it, you can replay it at your leisure.

When the President-elect designates an EPA transition team – and we have a clear process in place for the President-elect to notify the Agency of who is on this team — we are already prepared to give them the infrastructure and information they will need to seamlessly take the reins in January. 12th and Pennsylvania was the location of one of the most chaotic transitions in history. It will now be the site of one of its smoothest.