DNC Convention and a Second-Term Presidential Transition

Underlying the Republican Convention last week in Tampa was speculation as to who among the litany of stage speakers might get a position in a future Romney administration. Would Kerry Healy join a Romney White House or State Department? Bob McDonnell to Transportation or Justice? Pawlenty to Education? A thorough presidential transition will occur if Governor Romney wins in November and he will have to appoint hundreds of these positions.

Less obvious are parallel debates that will occur this week in North Carolina. As the Democrats rally in Charlotte, the president and his supporters will articulate an agenda for a possible second-term in office. He will identify new policy priorities and the ways he will seek to implement policy successes such as the Affordability Care Act. He will undertake a second-term presidential transition, but who exactly will be in place to execute these plans?

Worth noting is the considerable personnel stability of the first four years in office. Eric Ostermeier of Smart Politics reports that President Obama has one of the highest Cabinet retention rates over the last 100 years; tied for fourth with Lyndon Johnson. The stability of the Cabinet is a testament to the president's executive leadership, the quality of his original appointments, and the loyalty of those chosen.

With so little turnover of the Cabinet in his first term, a second-term would likely invite consideration of new appointments across the federal government. Such turnover has become quite expected following a successful re-election. Reagan made eleven new appointments, Clinton seven, and Bush (43) nine. Moreover, research on presidential appointments through the year 2000 shows that the average tenure of a Cabinet secretary is just 34.7 months, under three years.

But more than just new appointments at the top of each agency, choosing a new secretary will also result in a shake-up of who serves as assistant, under, and deputy secretary. With new officials in place across important agencies, the direction of federal policy making and the execution of a second-term Obama agenda will shift. These types of changes often go unnoticed by the general public, less of a change in the direction of broad governmental policy, and more directly related to the internal machinations of minor divisions of each agency or the interpretation of particular regulations. All important; but not all visible.

So who would resign their post in a second-term for President Obama and who might get appointed? While commentators have opined that this matters less now than in the past, since the modern Cabinet has been stripped of many important powers, who might replace Secretary Tim Geithner at Treasury, Secretary Hillary Clinton at State, or Attorney General Holder at Justice would have far-reaching implications for the success of the next four years of the Obama administration. Look to the speakers for some possibilities: Governor Deval Patrick, Senator John Kerry, or Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. And look beneath the surface to those speaking during the day, without the attention of prime time coverage, for potential sub-Cabinet appointments that will greatly shape a future Obama administration.