GW Professor Hosts Series on Presidential Transitions
By Julia Parmley
A leading expert on media and government in the United States and distinguished research professor of media and public affairs at GW, Hess advised on the presidential transitions of Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, in addition to serving on the White House staffs of Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
“Transitions can be a very difficult time for the nation,” says Hess. “There is no school for presidents, and the problems of putting together an administration in 10 weeks often mean that the new president hits the ground stumbling.”
Hess is sharing his transition experiences in a series of five briefings at GW based on his latest book What Do We Do Now? A Workbook for the President-Elect. Each briefing is organized around chapters from the book, including organization of the White House and the cabinet, media relations, congressional relations, and speechwriting and crafting the inaugural address.
The panels, which began in November and will continue through Jan. 15, feature past White House aides and cabinet officials and are moderated by Frank Sesno, professor of media and public affairs and Emmy Award-winning CNN special correspondent, and Marvin Kalb, James Clark Welling Presidential Fellow and host of The Kalb Report. The program is sponsored by the Brookings Institution, where Hess is a senior fellow emeritus in governance studies.
“GW, being just four blocks from the White House, is the ideal place for a dialogue among former presidential assistants on how best to improve government services,” says Hess.
At the Nov. 11 forum, Alice M. Rivlin, former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; Edwin Meese III, counselor to President Ronald Reagan; William A. Galston, domestic affairs adviser to President Clinton; and Robert Nash, former director of the White House Personnel Office under President Clinton, discussed how a president should organize his staff and their responsibilities in the White House.
On Nov. 13, Anne Veneman, secretary of agriculture to President George W. Bush; William Emerson “Bill” Brock III, secretary of labor to President Reagan; and Barbara Hackman Franklin, secretary of commerce to President George H.W. Bush, compared notes on the qualities and skills needed to run large government agencies.
Panelists will address the topic of media relations on Dec. 1; congressional relations on Jan. 7; and speechwriting and the inaugural address on Jan. 15. All briefings are from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Jack Morton Auditorium.
Hess’ book includes diagrams of the West Wing and cabinet member seating at the Cabinet Table, as well as advice on how to hold a press conference and vet potential staff members, and transition case histories. Hess also will be a weekly commentator on Brookings’ special presidential transition project at www. brookings.edu/transition from Nov. 7 through the Jan. 20 inauguration.
“I decided I wasn’t going to write my memoirs, so the book gave me a chance to add my own stories as well as direct it to the president-elect,” he says. “The more I worked on it, the more fun it became.”
Hess has been teaching at GW since 2003. He previously served as a fellow in the Faculty of Government at Harvard University, a U.S. representative to the United Nations General Assembly, national chairman for the White House Conference on Children and Youth, and deputy assistant to the president for urban affairs.