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White House Staffers on What Happens During a Presidential Transition

Politics By
WASHINGTON - JANUARY 20: *** EXCLUSIVE *** While Barack Obama is being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States of America at the U.S. Capitol, his family's possessions, including one of his daughter's bags, are unloaded from moving trucks and put in place in the White House living quarters on January 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Obama leads as the first African-American president of the U.S. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)
The White House during its previous transition, when Barack Obama arrived in 2009. (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)


For the first time in eight years, there will be a new presidential administration in Washington, D.C. It will be a shock for those leaving the White House and trying to adjust to civilian life. It will likely be a much bigger shock for those taking the reigns. (President Obama expressed it this way: “[A]s soon as you walk into this ­office after you’ve been sworn in, you’re now in charge of the largest organization on earth. You can’t manage it the way you would manage a family business.”)

In honor of this momentous occasion, Time has taken an epic look at what it means to have a handover happen. While the entire piece is worth exploring, here are some highlights to whet your appetite, as White House staffers discuss their personal transition to 1600 Pennsylvania.

“Most people don’t understand how the actual handover of power works. We all sit in the freezing cold. We watch the final culmination of years of effort to see our friend and boss become President of the United States. Then for the senior team, you get on a bus and they take you to the White House. They drop you off, and someone shows you your office. You walk in and there’s a computer there with a Post-it note with your password, and you’re in charge of the government. Full stop.” —Dan Pfeiffer, former senior adviser to the president

“In terms of figuring out who would be in what office, we looked at the floor plan, and we had a plan to put both of National Economic Council director Larry Summers’ domestic deputies in the West Wing. Then we actually got to the West Wing, looked around and discovered that one of the two rooms we had thought was an office was actually a foyer to the women’s bathroom. That particular seating arrangement ended up not surviving.” —Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers

“You’re literally frantically looking at the guy next to you, like, ‘Hey Gary, how the heck does the printer work? Does anyone have any idea how to order food? Does anyone have any idea?’” —Yohannes Abraham, deputy assistant to the President for the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs

“People on the campaign are used to having immediate access to the candidate. That doesn’t happen anymore. You can’t have anybody wandering into the Oval Office and getting the president’s ear. It just gets very disorganized, and you can’t manage it. You need to set in place processes for whatever the set of issues is.” —Lisa Brown, former staff secretary

“I love to watch Homeland and The Americans as much as anybody else, but you find yourself watching it with this kind of peculiar eye where you think to yourself, How is this person having this conversation on a cell phone? How is this person able to bring their phone into a secure working space? How did this person get into this facility? You find yourself as kind of an inspector general of the screenwriting for those shows.” —Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting

To read the entire article and learn more about what it’s like to go off to the White House, click here.