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Bill Resh

Last modified: Monday, April 23, 2012

With potential transition ahead, conference focuses on filling top federal jobs

Note to media: The conference is not open to the public, but reporters are invited to attend. Clay Johnson III will speak Friday, May 4, after a reception that begins at 6 p.m. Panel discussions are set for Friday afternoon and Saturday, May 5. Please RSVP to Andina Nagler at If you have questions about the conference, please contact Bill Resh at or 812-855-7671.

April 20, 2012

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- As the presidential campaign heats up, history tells us that behind the scenes, leading candidates are quietly planning for the potential that they'll win the White House and have scores of critical positions to fill in a hurry. Clay Johnson III directed the transition for President George W. Bush. He's the keynote speaker at a workshop in Alexandria, Va., on May 4 and 5 aimed at helping scholars and government reformers understand and improve the process of filling presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions.

The issue is timely, and not just because of the presidential election. Heightening partisanship and increasing ethical scrutiny are producing long delays in moving nominees through the appointments process. Presidents are falling back on recess appointments or leaving key jobs unfilled, resulting in questions about the role of appointees in the nation's government.

Those are questions participants will seek to answer in the workshop sponsored by Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Virginia Tech's Center for Public Administration and Policy and School of Public and International Affairs.

Conveners Matthew Dull and Patrick Roberts from Virginia Tech and William Resh from Indiana University will welcome invited participants including James Pfiffner of George Mason University, Robert Durant from American University and Henry Hogue from the Congressional Research Service. Over two days, the participants will examine the extent of vacancies, delays in confirmation and the appropriate role for the Senate.

Johnson will discuss those issues and the challenges he faced during the Bush transition and in the years after at a lecture on the evening of May 4. Johnson went on to become assistant to the president and director of presidential personnel and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. He also has contributed to efforts to smooth presidential transitions, including the White House Transition Project.

In a 2008 paper, Johnson delivered advice that's applicable today: "Six months or so before the election, designate someone to, at a minimum, plan the transition and, preferably, prepare to be the executive director or chief operating officer of the transition. Don't worry about jinxing the campaign or being too presumptuous: It is irresponsible for anybody who could be president not to prepare to govern effectively from day one."

"Whether President Obama is re-elected or defeated, we're certain to see high-profile appointees awaiting Senate confirmation next year," says Indiana University's Resh. "This workshop is a step toward understanding and improving that process for 2013 and for all future administrations."

The conference will be held at Virginia Tech's Center for Public Administration and Policy-Alexandria campus at 1021 Prince St.